Celtic benefit again from UEFA ruling on player ineligibility

Published 09 August 2014 | Authored by: Adam Lovatt
In this blog, Adam Lovatt examines the seemingly controversial decision by UEFA to eliminate Legia Warsaw from this season’s Champions League for fielding an ineligible player, a decision that has led to the reinstatement of Celtic now giving them the chance to qualify.
As highlighted in a previous blog written earlier this year,1 in September 2011, Celtic benefitted from Swiss club, FC Sion, being thrown out of the Europa League for fielding ineligible players in a play-off match between the sides and were re-instated in the competition as a result.
Remarkably, three years on, Celtic have benefitted once again from a similar ruling, after Legia Warsaw were eliminated2 from the Champions League after fielding an ineligible player in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier at Murrayfield on Wednesday night.
The UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, which apply for the Champions League, are clear in stating at Article 213 that ‘a match is declared forfeit if a player who has been suspended following a disciplinary decision participates in the match.’ Article 21.4.a sets out the punishment for playing such a player: “the team forfeiting the match is deemed to have lost 3-0".
As a result, Celtic have been granted a 3-0 victory for the second leg where the ineligible player played (Legia had won the second leg 2-0 and the first leg 4-1) meaning that the Scottish champions progress to the final qualifying round on the away goals rule after a 4-4 draw on aggregate.


The facts4 surrounding the fielding of the player do indicate how the rules do not seem to be in accordance with common sense and sporting fairness. Bartosz Bereszynski was sent off in the final Europa League match played by Legia Warsaw last season and as a result was handed a three-match suspension from European competition for violent conduct. He should therefore have missed the two qualifying matches played by Legia against St Patrick’s Athletic and the first leg of the tie against Celtic. 
However, Bereszynski had not been registered in the Legia squad for the matches against the Irish champions, meaning that the suspension had not, in the view of UEFA, taken effect. Registration in the squad is required, even for those players who are unable to play in matches. This technicality is what Legia have fallen foul of but the lack of some form of understanding from UEFA for what appears to be an administrative error does not stop there.
Bereszynski only came onto the field in the second leg in the 86th minute, with the score for the two legs of the tie already at 6-1 (and 2-0 at the time for the second leg itself). He did not feature in the first leg and any impact he had on the second leg was, in light of the scoreline, completely immaterial.
UEFA are bound by the wording of their governing statutes and therefore awarded a 3-0 victory in favour of Celtic and as a result their progression to the final round of qualifiers before the lucrative money spinning group stages of the Champions League.
Legia Warsaw can of course appeal the decision, however as highlighted in the blog referred to above, UEFA do not take kindly to clubs who do not adhere to the rules of the football family. Celtic have been very lucky here and will seek to capitalise upon this second such piece of good fortune to befall them in recent times over the coming weeks and months.
In the meantime, pressure may grow for UEFA to revise its statues and take a common sense approach to decision making when clubs are unfairly punished for what appears to be nothing more than an administrative error that does not impact upon the sporting action.

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About the Author

Adam Lovatt

Adam Lovatt

Adam is a lawyer specialising in sports law with IMG. Adam has a wide range of commercial and litigation experience from his four years as a qualified solicitor. Adam has a passion for sports law and is currently undertaking a IP Law Masters programme with the University of London. He is passionate about most sports particularly football, golf and tennis.

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