UEFA, the governing body for European football, has issued a stark warning to European clubs not to breach its licensing rules and regulations.
The UEFA Club Financial Control Body Adjudicatory Chamber (the “Adjudicatory Chamber”) imposed a €235,000 fine on FC Sion as well as a two year ban on competing in UEFA competitions for breaching the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations (2015 edition) (the “CLFFP Regulations”). This decision should certainly serve as a “sufficient deterrent” to discourage other clubs from breaching these rules.
FC Sion play in the Swiss Football League (“SFL”) and competed in the third qualifying round for the 2017/18 Europa League competition before being eliminated in the same round.
The Investigatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body notified the SFL that it was performing a compliance audit to determine whether SFL-affiliated clubs had fulfilled their obligations as defined in the CLFFP Regulations i.e were licences for participation in UEFA competitions correctly awarded?
Independent auditors indicated the existence of an overdue payable owed by FC Sion amounting to €950,000 towards FC Sochaux in France’s Ligue 2 as at 31 March 2017. This was subsequently paid by FC Sion on 7 June 2017 but was unpaid as at 31 March 2017.
The SFL conducted disciplinary proceedings against FC Sion to determine whether the club submitted potentially misleading information as part of its licensing documentation, as it did not submit the existence of the overdue payable. The SFL found that the club did not intend to mislead the SFL but it did submit incorrect licensing documentation, imposing a fine of CHF 8,000.
UEFA’s Investigatory Chamber considered the issue and held that FC Sion did not fulfil the Club licensing criterion defined in Article 49(1) of the CLFFP Regulations. This means that FC Sion did not fulfil the admission criterion for the Europa League and so should not have been eligible to compete in the competition.
The matter then came before the Adjudicatory Chamber.
Article 13 of the CLFFP Regulations imposes responsibilities on clubs applying for licences:
“The licence applicant must provide the licensor with:
All necessary information and/or relevant documents to fully demonstrate that the licensing obligations are fulfilled; and
Any other document relevant for decision-making by the licensor.
Indeed, Article 43(1) of the CLFFP Regulations requires clubs to submit a legally valid declaration confirming that “all submitted documents are complete and correct”.
Article 49(1) of the CLFFP Regulations outlines the crux of the issue:
“The licence applicant must prove that as at 31 March preceding the licence season it has no overdue payable towards other football clubs as a result of transfers undertaken prior to the previous 31 December”.
Article 4.01(c) of the Regulations of the UEFA Europa League 2017/18 requires clubs to obtain licences from their national bodies in order to be eligible to compete in UEFA competitions – clubs must:
“have obtained a licence by the competent national body in accordance with the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations and be included in the list of licensing decisions to be submitted by this body to the UEFA administration by the given deadline.”
There are two issues here: (i) FC Sion obtained its licence incorrectly, thus breaching the CLFFP Regulations, which (ii) means that FC Sion was not eligible to compete in the 2017/18 Europa League competition.
FC Sion breached Article 49(1) for having an overdue payable owed to FC Sochaux as at 31 March 2017. By failing to disclose this, FC Sion submitted incorrect licensing documentation to the SFL, thus breaching Articles 13 and 43(1) of the CLFFP Regulations. Finally, FC Sion should not have been considered eligible to compete in the 2017/18 Europa League.
FC Sion argued that it had already been sanctioned by the SFL for this and thus the Chamber would be subverting the principle ne bis in idem. The Chamber considered this argument to be “unfounded” as the proceedings before the SFL reviewed the club’s conduct against SFL licence regulation, entitling UEFA to consider the club’s conduct in relation to its CLFFP Regulations.
FC Sion also argued that if a fine amounting to the revenues received from competing in the Europa League was imposed that a sum for €229,438 be deducted from the fine amount to account for costs incurred from participating in the competition, including equipment, transport, hotel and security costs.
The Chamber ruled that FC Sion had obtained a licence in breach of UEFA Regulations, specifically failing to satisfy the requirements of Article 49(1) whilst breaching Article 13(1) and Article 43(1)(i). As the club received revenues of €235,000 from the competition, it was fined the same amount – ignoring the club’s request for deductions – whilst UEFA has excluded the club from the next UEFA competition for which the club would qualify in the next two seasons (2018/19 and 2019/20).
The decision can be found here.
UEFA also penalised three other clubs for breaching its licensing rules. FC Irtysh was fined €440,000 with a suspended three-season ban from UEFA competitions (which is triggered if the club qualifies for a UEFA competition having still not fulfilled the licensing criteria) whilst FC Vojvodina and KF Tirana had their Europa League participation bonuses of €215,000 withheld.
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