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Breach of football competition rules: Fielding an ineligible player explained

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Wednesday, 23 April 2014 By Adam Lovatt

In this blog, Adam Lovatt highlights the ongoing issue affecting football clubs of ineligible players appearing in breach of club competition rules.

Back 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. Sion won the qualifying tie 3-1 on aggregate, but UEFA, following an appeal from Celtic, awarded Celtic a 3-0 victory for each of the home and away legs of the tie with Celtic therefore proceeding to the group stages of the competition. UEFA advised at the time that any club that refused to accept the rules of the football family ‘should not participate in it.' Sion took UEFA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport ("CAS") in an attempt to have the decision overturned; CAS found that there were no grounds to reinstate FC Sion in the Europa League and that the UEFA decision should stand.

Two recent cases in British football have brought the issue of the eligibility of players, and the potential willingness of clubs to go to Courts in such football disputes, back into the public forum.

Brora Rangers were expelled from the Breedon Aggregates League Cup (a cup competition for Highland League sides) for fielding an ineligible player in the final few minutes of their preliminary round victory over Clach on 1 March. The club won the tie 3-0 (and were indeed leading the match 3-0 at the time that the ineligible player was substituted onto the pitch). It is the first time since the cup was inaugurated in 1946 that a team has been thrown out of the competition, with Brora’s complaint being that they had no right of appeal to either the Highland Football League or the Scottish Football Association over the decision which had been made. The Highland League Management Committee, who made the decision, gave no supporting reasons as to why Brora were expelled for what was, Brora argued, a simple administrative error that did not materially affect the result of the tie. The rules of the Scottish Highland Football League at Clause 70, do prevent a player playing for a club unless he was registered before the start of that competition, which in this case, the Brora player was not. The rules do not however, provide for an appeal process in the event of a breach of the rules.

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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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