By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Manchester City could play in next season’s Champions League despite a two-year UEFA ban from European competition if they ask for the suspension to be frozen by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) during their appeal, sports law experts say.
UEFA ruled on Friday that City had committed “serious breaches” of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and failed to cooperate with its investigation, handing them a European ban and a 30 million euro ($32.38 million) fine.
City, who have denied any wrongdoing, said they intended to appeal the decision to CAS in Switzerland and when they do they could ask for “provisional measures” which in effect would suspend the ban until a full hearing into the case is heard.
The Premier League champions have not indicated if they will ask for such measures and CEO Ferran Soriano said in a statement on Wednesday that he hoped for a swift end to the case.
“We are looking for an early resolution obviously through a thorough process and a fair process so my best hope is that this will be finished before the beginning of the summer and until then for us, it is business as usual,” he said
If City do not ask for provisional measures then they risk having the ban kick in during the appeal process, after the draw for next season’s Champions League has taken place.
The competition’s preliminary round draw is scheduled on June 9 and the group stage draw is set for Aug. 27.
“It is very likely indeed, practically certain, that City will seek ‘provisional measures’ from the CAS,” leading Sports Law Barrister, John Mehrzad told Reuters.
“That is their only way at present to seek such a stay of the disciplinary sanction since CAS has, at present, exclusive jurisdiction over the appeal under the UEFA Statutes.”
City are currently second in the Premier League and on course to qualify for the Champions League.
Their legal team would be keen to avoid a scenario where they successfully overturned the ban but had already suffered the cost of a season out of the competition.
The only other way a decision could be made before the start of the Champions League process is if the case were expedited.
Christopher Flanagan, managing editor of the International Sports Law Journal, said that would give both parties less time to prepare their arguments so City would be more inclined to press for provisional measures.
“That is the most likely as it would give City some certainty while they prepare for a full hearing without risking their chances of being in the Champions League next year.
“It would be a calculated gamble, though, as if they are unsuccessful a full non-expedited hearing may not take place until after the Champions League cycle is underway,” he said.
Given CAS’s normal timeframe for scheduling hearings, City’s case might not be heard until early next year, although waiting times for hearings vary. If the case was to be expedited then it could be heard by July.
Missing out on a Champions League season would cost City as much as 100 million pounds ($129.77 million) in prize money and broadcast revenue, as well as match-day and other revenues.
If City won a ‘stay’ but CAS then upheld UEFA’s ban, after the 2020-21 season was underway, then the club’s two-year suspension would take effect in the following two seasons.
While neither UEFA nor City have made many details of the case public, the decision of the CAS panel would offer an early indication of their view on the strength of City’s appeal.
“It will be very revealing to see what CAS does in terms of an application for provisional measures, as one of the factors that the president of the panel will take into account when deciding whether to grant provisional measures is the likelihood of success on the merits of the case,” said Mehrzad.
City have 10 days from the receipt of UEFA’s full reasoning of their decision to put in an appeal.
The CAS panel would then have to decide whether to accept any request for a ‘freeze’ on the ban from City, a decision which could be made by the end of March.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Ken Ferris)