David Casement QC of Kings Chambers has commented following the news that Sunderland AFC is reportedly facing legal action from relegated Premier League (PL) clubs over its fielding of an ineligible player.
Casement, who has represented players, clubs, associations and other bodies in a variety of matters, said it is understandable that the actions of clubs, on the pitch and off, are carefully scrutinised to see if any advantage can be obtained.
‘In the case of Ji Dong-won, he was registered as a player for Sunderland with both the PL and the FA [Football Association] but it appears there was some administrative oversight in the filing of a form with FIFA,’ he said.
‘Given the rules, the FA PL’s decision only to fine Sunderland is within its reasonable discretion where the breach is administrative and unintentional. The rules do not provide for automatic deduction of any points where an ineligible player is fielded. The decision is unlikely to be upset on appeal. The appeal body exercises a supervisory jurisdiction and unless it can be said the decision was outside of the range of reasonable sanctions available the decision will stand.’
Casement noted that there is, however, an inconsistency in the rules from one league to another. He said that the PL rules do not prescribe an automatic penalty for ineligibility unlike, for example, the Isthmian League Rule 6.9, which requires at least the deduction of any points gained in a match in which the ineligible player appears, although the penalty can be more severe. According to Casement, that inconsistency should be addressed.
He continued: ‘A more interesting question will be whether there is a potential breach of contract claim against Sunderland that could be brought by another club, because Sunderland’s place has cost it a PL place. There is a contract between all PL clubs (PL Rule B14) to abide by the rules and that was the basis of the multi-million-pound award to Sheffield United against West Ham in respect of Carlos Tevez.
‘I assume the lawyers acting for clubs in the relegation zone will be looking at that and considering whether they might be able to make out a case against Sunderland that the breach of contract has caused loss to another club.’