With Sunderland AFC reportedly facing legal action from relegated Premier League clubs over its fielding of an ineligible player, speculation has risen about its prospects.David Casement QC, who has represented players, clubs, associations and other bodies in a variety of matters says it is understandable that the actions of clubs, on the pitch and off, are carefully scrutinised to see if any advantage can be obtained.“In the case of Ji Dong-won he was registered as a player for Sunderland with both the PL and the FA but it appears there was some administrative oversight in the filing of a form with FIFA. “Given the rules, the FA Premier League’s decision only to fine Sunderland is within its reasonable discretion where the breach is administrative and unintentional. The rules do not provide for automatic deduction of any points where an ineligible player is fielded. The decision is unlikely to be upset on appeal. The appeal body exercises a supervisory jurisdiction and unless it can be said the decision was outside of the range of reasonable sanctions available the decision will stand.“There is however an inconsistency in the rules from one league to another. The Premier League rules do not prescribe an automatic penalty for ineligibility unlike eg The Isthmian League Rule 6.9 which requires at least the deduction of any points gained in a match in which the ineligible player appears, although the penalty can be more severe. That inconsistency should be addressed.“A more interesting question will be whether there is a potential breach of contract claim against Sunderland which could be brought by another club, because Sunderland’s place has cost it a Premier League place. There is a contract between all Premier League clubs (Premier Legaue Rule B14) to abide by the rules and which was the basis of the multi-million pound award to Sheffield United against West Ham in respect of Carlos Tevez. I assume the lawyers acting for clubs in the relegation zone will be looking at that and considering whether they might be able to make out a case against Sunderland that the breach of contract has caused loss to another club.”
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