Penalty withdrawn: Twins Georgia and Lucy Doble were suspended from Oztag competition over an alleged breach of registration rules. Photo: Supplied
The father of twin 16-year-old-girls has taken former NRL referee Bill Harrigan to the NSW Supreme Court in a bid to overturn their 12-month suspension from playing representative Oztag games.
Canberra public servant David Doble felt the decision by Mr Harrigan to ban his daughters Lucy and Georgia from the top levels of the touch football-style code over an alleged breach of registration rules was so unfair it had to be challenged in court.
''I've always told my girls if you do something wrong, you take responsibility, but if you haven't done anything wrong, you take it as far as you need to to clear your name,'' he said.
The sisters were accused of playing for a Sydney team while living in Canberra.
Lawyers representing Mr Doble claimed in court this month the decision by Mr Harrigan, who is the tournament director for the Australian Oztag Sports Association (AOSA), had been ''grossly inappropriate, inequitable and unjust''.
After two brief court appearances, Mr Harrigan and Oztag chief executive Prue Bagnall withdrew the suspensions last week, putting an end to what could have been a costly process.
But the famously tough former State of Origin referee maintains he made the right call.
''The decision I made to suspend the two players was completely consistent with the code's player eligibility rules,'' Mr Harrigan told Fairfax Media.
''It was there in black and white for all to see … A decision was made to withdraw the suspension on compassionate grounds.''
The dispute began late last year when Mr Harrigan conducted what he said was a random audit of players following the Oztag National Championships at Coffs Harbour, where Lucy and Georgia had been playing for NSW team West Tigers.
Though they lived in Canberra, the girls had ended up playing for the Tigers because the family had been planning a move to Sydney.
The shift did not eventuate, but the girls had missed the Canberra representative trials and, having already played what they believed to be the required number of games for a junior club in western Sydney, they tried out for the Tigers.
But not long after the Coffs Harbour championships, Mr Doble was told, via the West Tigers coach, that Mr Harrigan believed the girls had not been eligible to play for the club.
Despite Mr Doble's strenuous claims he was misapplying the rules, Mr Harrigan found the girls were not eligible, and suspended them, their teammates, coach and manager from representative Oztag for 12 months.
Late last year, the penalty for the twins' teammates was suspended on compassionate grounds. The ban remained on the sisters until last week, when it was lifted following the court appearances. The coach and manager remain suspended.
''In a sport where people play because they enjoy it and they pay for the privilege, the whole thing just seemed like a witch-hunt,'' Mr Doble said.
''It's been tough on girls … They put their heart and soul into Oztag. They were representative soccer and netball players but they decided to give those up to focus on Oztag.''
During a brief hearing on January 9, it emerged the Australian Oztag Sports Association was no longer an incorporated body because the executive had forgotten to pay its fees to the NSW Department of Fair Trading, a situation that has apparently been rectified.
Mr Harrigan said he still firmly believed the sisters should not have played, and he had imposed the penalty as part of a broader crackdown on people playing for representative Oztag teams when they were not eligible to do so.
''We had an issue where this sort of thing was happening a lot - people playing rep comps when they had only played a couple of games or no games at all in that local area, he said.
''There's not much point having those rules if you're not going to enforce them.''