Recently The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced that it was upholding the decision of UEFA to exclude Fenerbahce from UEFA club competitions for two seasons. This outcome should not have come as a surprise to anyone who has been following the case, however eyebrows will have almost certainly been raised surrounding the timing of the decision. This being the day after they were knocked out of the Champions League at the play-off stages by Arsenal.
The allegations of match fixing relate to a 4-3 victory against Sivasspor on the final day of the 2010-2011 season, a victory which won the Turkish side the league title. A widespread investigation took place, which eventually lead to convictions for 93 defendants including club executives, players and the club chairman Aziz Yildirim, who was originally given a prison sentence for his involvement. Following this outcome the Turkish Football Federation withdrew the league champions from the 2011-2012 Champions League. Fenerbahce were however allowed to compete in the 2012-2013 competition, pending a final decision by UEFA. Although they were knocked out in the play-off round by Spartak Moscow, they subsequently progressed to the semi-final in the Europa League.
In July 2013, following a lengthy UEFA investigation, the club were banned from European competitions for two years. This decision was appealed to CAS, the international body based in Switzerland who consider appeals against UEFA decisions, who ordered that the bans be lifted pending the appeal. This then allowed Fenerbahce to be included in the third qualifying round of the Champions League, which they won, and the play-off round against Arsenal. A two day hearing took place on 21 and 22 August, however the decision was not released until the day after the play-off fixture.
Although there are obviously procedures in place which have to be followed, the decision to allow the Turkish side to compete in the play-off round must surely be questioned. With the benefit of hindsight, is it right that the club were permitted to compete, when in all likelihood even if they had of progressed they would have subsequently been removed from the competition? More importantly however, although the full reasoned decision is yet to be released it will also be interesting to see if there is any mention of what will happen to the monetary reward for reaching the play-offs, which currently stands at EUR 2,100,000. Now that the decision is known, will the club be legally entitled to keep this fee? This amount does not however take into account any fee due to the club due to contractual obligations from their sponsors. Most football club sponsorship agreements have a clause whereby extra money is owed the further the club progress through various competitions. Will we see a legal argument unravel in relation to whether this money should still be paid? Additionally, most footballers will have a similar clause in their contracts. Legally it will be difficult to argue against these fees being paid, however will that prevent the sponsors from trying?
Whatever the financial outcome it is clear that both UEFA and CAS have lessons to learn from this case, as well as the similar cases of Metalist Kharkiv and Besiktas which saw the same scenarios repeated in the Europa League. Although their blushes may have been spared due to the fact that Fenerbahce were knocked out of the competition, UEFA will certainly not want a repeat of the potential scenario of a club progressing through to the group stages, only to be removed the day after, following a disciplinary process which began more than 12 months before.