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Manchester City seeks ‘impartial’ CAS hearing after Champions League ban

Manchester City celebrate a goal during their UEFA Champions League group C match against Shakhtar Donetsk (by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Manchester City has commenced an appeals process against what the English Premier League football club claims is a “prejudicial process” pursued against it by Uefa, which has resulted in a two-season ban from the Champions League.

European football’s governing body confirmed the sanctions on Friday evening, concluding what has been a lengthy probe into the Premier League champion’s alleged circumvention of its Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules.

The Adjudicatory Chamber of the Uefa Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) has found that City committed “serious breaches” of the Uefa Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations by overstating its sponsorship revenue in its accounts and in the break-even information submitted to Uefa between 2012 and 2016.

The Adjudicatory Chamber also noted that in breach of the regulations the club failed to cooperate in the investigation of this case by the CFCB. City has therefore been hit with a two-season ban from all Uefa club competitions, along with being ordered to pay a fine of €30m ($32.5m).

The decision is subject to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), an option that City will pursue. If this appeal is still proceeding when next season’s Champions League commences, City will be allowed to compete, potentially delaying any ban to 2021-22.

In a statement, City said it was “disappointed but not surprised” by the ruling, adding: “The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position.

“In December 2018, the Uefa chief investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun. The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked Uefa process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver.  The club has formally complained to the Uefa Disciplinary body, a complaint which was validated by a CAS ruling.

“Simply put, this is a case initiated by Uefa, prosecuted by Uefa and judged by Uefa. With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity.”

City has long been at odds with Uefa and in May hit out at what it claimed is a “wholly unsatisfactory, curtailed, and hostile process” after European football’s governing body confirmed that it would refer the club to the adjudicatory chamber of the CFCB.

That news came after US newspaper the New York Times earlier reported that City would be hit with a ban from the Champions League following the conclusion of the investigation into allegations that the club misled regulators over its financial affairs.

The CFCB investigatory chamber had opened an investigation into City on March 7, 2019 for potential breaches of FFP regulations that were made public in various media outlets. The FFP accusations emerged in late 2018 when a report in German magazine Der Spiegel, based on documents obtained by the Football Leaks website, claimed that City had been disguising huge investment from its owner, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, as sponsorship deals through various UAE-based companies.

One email exchange seen by Der Spiegel appeared to imply that while the total value of the Etihad airline’s sponsorship of City had reached £67.5m (€81.2m/$88.1m), only £8m of this had actually been contributed by the airline, with Abu Dhabi United Group – Sheikh Mansour’s holding company – topping the sponsorship up by almost £60m over the course of six years.

SportBusiness reported last month that City aims to sell the front-of-shirt sponsorship rights currently held by Abu Dhabi state carrier Etihad Airways. SportBusiness understands that the CAA Sports agency, which was appointed in January 2018 by the club’s ownership group City Football Group to develop global partnerships, is looking to source the new shirt sponsor.

It is thought that taking Etihad off the jersey and finding a new sponsor could raise about £50m per year for the club. Etihad has been the club’s main shirt sponsor since 2009, one year after Sheikh Mansour took over the club. The current deal was bundled with the stadium naming rights and other City assets in a 10-year agreement from 2011-12 to 2020-21.

City has a long history with Uefa when it comes to FFP. In April 2017, Uefa cleared City and French Ligue 1 champion Paris Saint-Germain of further punishment over the breach of FFP regulations in 2014.

Uefa said both City and PSG had complied with sanctions placed upon them and were able to operate under standard regulations. City and PSG were amongst the first teams to be sanctioned under FFP, which was introduced by Uefa in an effort to stop teams from overspending.