A former reigning footballer named Omer Riza could play a key role in the next chapter of the fierce and potentially decisive legal battle with Manchester City over UEFA over their two-year ban from European club competitions.
In 2008, the British-Turkish dual citizen, a former marginal player of Arsenal and West Ham, left the Turkish club Trabzonspor and returned to England, claiming that he had not been paid.
An arbitration board appointed by the Turkish Football Association (TFF) has ascertained that it has terminated the contract and fined 61,000 euros (£ 50,701).
So Riza appealed, first to the Arbitration Court of Sport (Cas), then to the Swiss Federal Court, and finally to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Last month, Riza – who retired as a player and is now training at the Watford academy – felt he had finally won a decade-long legal battle. The ECHR decided that the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated because the arbitration panel had been appointed by the directors of the TFF, and therefore Riza had legitimate reasons to doubt that she had dealt with her case with independence and impartiality necessary.
So what relevance does all this have for Manchester City – a dominant force in the English game – as they prepare to appeal to Cas, and intensify their fight against a shocking punishment?
A punishment that has done immeasurable damage to the club’s reputation, added to the controversy surrounding owners already accused of using the club to provide or “wash the sport” of Abu Dhabi’s image and deviate from its controversial human rights record.
A punishment that has tainted the team’s achievements has questioned the future of players, managers and finances, and could still see the Premier League docking points and strip titles.
Based on City’s typically aggressive claim in response to the ban and a £ 25 million fine, there are several parts of the defense that the club will have to assemble:
- Who deny the violation of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and have “irrefutable evidence” to prove it, despite UEFA’s guilty verdict.
- The suggestion – heavily denied – that UEFA has pre-determined its decision due to alleged leaks to the media last year that correctly predicted the referral of the case to the judicial chamber of the club’s financial control body.
According to Cas, this argument was “not without merit” when he rejected City’s attempt to have UEFA’s case rejected before a verdict was issued last year. Cas also said the losses were “worrying”. But would the club certainly need concrete evidence to keep this discussion going? The city may request access to private emails and communications, so expect a separate legal battle over disclosure when the case is heard.
- That leaked e-mails that appear to show City deceived UEFA – and which were published by the German magazine Der Spiegel – were obtained illegally and were “allegedly violated or stolen out of context materials”, therefore they should be considered inadmissible.
Although Der Spiegel’s source – Rui Pinto, the figure behind the Football Leaks website – is awaiting trial in his home country on multiple charges of cyber hacking, which he denies, sports law experts seem to agree that City will be a difficult topic to win. After all, they did not deny the authenticity of the documents.
- That the punishment is disproportionate or unfair compared to previous FFP or other club cases. City will certainly report the fact that a two-year ban is unprecedented and therefore potentially excessive. They will also refer to sponsorship agreements of other clubs with companies related to their respective owners.
- That it was a “prejudicial trial” because “judged by UEFA”, that is to say that the panel of judges was effectively biased because appointed by UEFA and therefore devoid of independence.
The latter topic in particular received little sympathy – and indeed much criticism. With highly respected legal minds such as leading British lawyer Charles Flint QC hired for their independence and integrity on the judging committee and City fully aware of the system they had joined, many have described him as disrespectful and simply sour grape.
And if you see FFP as a crude means of protecting the traditional status quo of club football or a reasonable approach that has stabilized finances, many believe that cities have violated the rules they agreed to adhere to – and therefore have deceived officials in this regard and therefore must be punished mainly because UEFA claims that the club did not cooperate in the investigation.
But did the conclusion of the Riza case just three weeks ago give City and its sizable team of lawyers a reason for optimism and partly explain their challenge?
Leading British sports lawyer John Mehrzad thinks so.
“That case will be at the forefront of their lawyers’ mind,” he says. “They can’t have lost it. I can already predict the topic that will be conducted on Cas.
“The ECHR said that in terms of a fair trial, having a disciplinary body that also appoints the panel members who carry out the decision-making process means that there is not enough distance between the two.
“In terms of expenses and appointments of the members of the chamber, they are at the behest of Uefa. This will not necessarily be enough to show a lack of impartiality, but you can see how there are arguments and they must raise those indicating now that they must be considered more in City will say that it has no choice but to adhere to these rules, and we have seen this argument about the lack of freedom used by applicants in key sporting cases in the past. “
Mehrzad predicts that, without money without object, City’s lawyers will report the precedent set by the Riza verdict to Cas, facing Uefa with the threat of dragging their case in a similar way, clarifying their willingness to bring their challenge to the higher courts. , and I hope that the governing body will offer a solution that provides for a reduction of the sentence, rather than risking the uncertainty of a legal fight pulled out.
“We have seen this in other sports law sagas,” he says. “These are cases where if you want them to run and run, the ultimate body is the ECHR.
“The Turkish trial took 10 years and if you can threaten to get a suspended penalty for so long and make a mockery of the trial, you would think they will be able to conclude a deal.”
Perhaps unsettlingly for UEFA, a leaked email published by Der Spiegel presented city attorney Simon Cliff explaining that rather than settling for the governing body, the president “would have preferred to spend £ 30 million on the world’s top 50 lawyers. to report them for the next 10 years. “
Uefa, of course, would argue that this case is very different from Turkish football more than a decade ago. However, will he be willing to run the risk of a defeat that would have important consequences?
This case has been extremely damaging to City. But there is also a real danger for UEFA, especially at a time when the grip of the European football governing body on the club’s game is under growing tension.
This occurs when the European Club Association wants the Champions League to be extended by four days during a long debate on the reform of the competition and the constant rumors of clandestine discussions about a possible escape or “Super League”.
Fifa, the world’s governing body, is preparing for an enlarged 24-team club World Cup in China next year.
There are growing fears about the threat posed by increasingly wealthy and powerful “super clubs” for the competitiveness and sustainability of national leagues.
And UEFA must try to defend its rules against clubs – such as City (owned by both the Abu Dhabi and Chinese governments) and Paris St-Germain (Qatar) – which have the support of entire nation states, not only wealthy individuals.
“There is a huge amount of uncertainty about this,” adds Mehrzad. “If City manages to get a decision on UEFA’s processes, a whole host of other clubs will be able to use it and say,” We should never have been sanctioned in the first place. “
“There is no doubt that City has enough money and a fleet of lawyers to deal with it for years, so UEFA is put in the spotlight.
“We have already seen the integrity of the previously challenged FFP system, but this could affect the whole trick of the football regulatory regime, so the repercussions are enormous.”
City’s indignant tone in their statements and the sense of challenge and confidence now emerging from the club should be seen in this context – not just as an expression of anger and shock from owners and managers who have become accustomed to getting their own way , but perhaps also as a strategy designed to send a message to UEFA.
A message that this is far from over. A message that clubs – rather than the governing body – should lay down rules in the future.
Much remains uncertain.
There is no guarantee that City will be granted suspension of the ban when they request it in the coming days at the same time as any appeal. The decision – made by a CAS official – will be based on an assessment of the merits of City’s appeal, so this initial decision will provide a strong indication of their prospects.
If an audition is not accelerated, it is likely to be halfway through the next season before a full Cas audition takes place. So if City can get the ban suspended pending the outcome of their appeal, it’s easy to see how months – or even years – of legal disputes could await, with the next federal court following Cas.
Last year, South African athlete Caster Semenya did exactly this after Cas found the IAAF (now World Athletics) in favor of the government body in his legal battle with her over the rules that require her to take drugs for the suppression. testosterone. The Swiss court temporarily suspended the sentence pending a more reasoned hearing.
These are truly extraordinary times in sports law. In addition to the City case, Cas is also asked to decide whether to support Russia’s World Anti-Doping Agency qualified ban before this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
The stakes are high in these cases. Entire governments lie behind the applicants. National prestige and reputation are online. Supporters of these parties admire their challenge, condemn the regulations and describe cases such as witch hunts, rather than sympathize with those who seek to respect the rules.
The determination and resources of sports regulators and governing bodies are being tested like never before.