Are financial fair play rules creating a level playing field? | Fieldfisher
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Are financial fair play rules creating a level playing field?


United Kingdom

Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFP) have been a hot topic for a little while now, with Manchester City being at the forefront of most of the recent news stories. What actually are the FFP rules though?

FFP refers to the rules of the various football bodies relating to the transfers, salaries, and tax bills of the clubs. It was introduced by UEFA in order to prevent clubs overspending and endangering the future of the leagues and the individual clubs. The Premier League now has its own set of financial rules and requirements.
Manchester City previously beat charges from UEFA relating to numerous breaches of FFP at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but they now face largely similar accusations from the FA and the Premier League. Where the UEFA rules provide for a limitation period for charges to be bought (one of the primary arguments City used to beat the previous charges), Premier League rules do not. At the very least, the investigation will shine a spotlight on exactly what City have or have not done.
The accusations levelled against City relate to a period between 2009 and 2018, including an allegation of inflating the value of a sponsorship deal that softened their losses that year. The club are also accused of not accurately disclosing their manager remuneration when Roberto Mancini was in charge, and for breaching rules around profit and sustainability between 2015 and 2018.
City have said they were surprised at the charges and even said they had fully co-operated with the investigation. This is balanced with allegations from the Premier League of having to fight for every inch in the investigation, and that City refused to allow access to documents and communications for months. Whatever the cause of the delay, the initial investigation has lasted years and there is little chance that the external investigation will be any quicker. In what is by far one of the most complex investigations being carried out by the Premier League, it will likely be at least a year before we see any meaningful progress.
If City are found to have breached the rules, the Premier League has a huge range of sanctions they can apply, including backdated sanctions allowing for the deduction of points from past seasons. The harshest sanction would be for City to be ejected from the football leagues altogether. If the Premier League chooses to deduct points from previous seasons, it will have a potentially huge impact on the clubs one place either side of qualifying for European competitions, or even the title itself. Any sanction that the Premier League pursues will need to be proportionate to the offences proven. While they have no direct say, other clubs in the league are calling for City to be ejected and stripped of their titles. It is worth noting that under Premier League Rule W.51.7, the panel can combine any of these punishments together.
Additionally, City will not be able to appeal the decision of the Premier League to CAS as the court in Switzerland does not have jurisdiction over the English system. The independent investigation is being heard by a three person panel chaired by Murray Rosen KC, and any appeal would go to a separate panel in the first instance before being subject to further appeal in the English courts.
We await further updates with anticipation.
For further information regarding Fieldfisher's investigations hub, or to discuss further issues arising out of the sporting sector, please contact Andrew Sanderson.

With thanks to Legal Professional Kieran Tomlinson, co-author of this article.

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