Ban-on D’or: Manchester City ban overturned by CAS

July 22, 2020


3 min read

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What's going on here?

On Monday 13 July, Manchester City saw its two-year Champions League ban overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland. This means the club is now able to compete in future European competitions after the CAS found that “most of the alleged breaches [of financial fair play rules (FFP)] were either not established or time-barred”.

What does this mean?

Manchester City first came to the attention of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) after German magazine Der Spiegel published leaked internal emails at the club, which allegedly showed the club’s executives discussing ways to avoid FFP rules. The reports also suggested that the £67.5m annual sponsorship offered by Etihad Airlines had previously been paid by a company owned by Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City’s owner.

The CAS in Switzerland is considered the final arbiter of global sports disputes and has lifted the unprecedented sanction previously imposed by UEFA and reduced a €30m fine to €10m. This decision is another in a list of high profile appeals that UEFA have lost in an attempt to hold some of the largest clubs in football to account, including France’s Paris Saint Germain and Italy’s AC Milan. The CAS has also overturned another high-profile ban in football this season. On 6 December 2019, Chelsea saw their two-window transfer ban imposed by FIFA slashed to just one window.

There remains an option for UEFA to appeal the CAS decision to the Swiss Federal Court, an option enabled by the nature of sport arbitration being seated in Switzerland. A seat in arbitration determines the law governing the relationship between the tribunal and the courts, and also determines which court has supervisory jurisdiction over the arbitration. However, any appeal to the Swiss Federal on the basis of this legal mechanism is limited to the procedural aspects of the trial. In the view of Gregory Ioannidis, a leading sports lawyer who teaches at Sheffield Hallam University, “CAS judgements are rarely reversed by the Swiss Federal Court and such CAS decisions are usually solid”. Therefore, it is unlikely that European football’s governing body will take advantage of this option.

What's the big picture effect?

The current case joins a growing list of decisions in which the CAS has sided with football clubs rather than football’s governing bodies. Indeed, many now question if the CAS is the legal entity most equipped to enable governing bodies to hold the wealthiest clubs in football to account. LaLiga president Javier Tebas is one of these individuals, who told the media “we have to reassess whether the CAS is the appropriate body to which to appeal institutional decisions in football… Switzerland is a country with a great history of arbitration, the CAS is not up to standard”.

The same FFP rules in question have now been relaxed for the upcoming season as European football looks to counteract the adverse financial effects resulting from COVID-19. The combination of this decision and the CAS ruling may prompt deregulation in the sport. Such would elevate the outcome of the case to a similar standing as the Bosman ruling, a 1995 decision by the ECJ that made it easier for players to move between clubs, sparking a price hike in transfer fees and record broadcasting contracts.

Report written by Kasey Cummings

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