How Real Is The Legal Threat To Sunderland Over Ji Mishap?

Nigel Roddis

The bottom three are apparently ganging up to complain about Sunderland suddenly being too good for them to live with, but is there an actual threat there?

If you believe the papers, Cardiff City, Norwich City, and Fulham are apparently banding together to make a legal challenge over the decision not to dock points from Sunderland over the Ji Dong-won saga. It's all very sensationalist and makes for nice dramatic reading, but just how much of a threat is it to Sunderland's Premier League survival?

Well, it's always tough to say for sure as football is pretty mental, but the threat looks pretty minimal.

There is a lot of ignorance around about this situation. Words like 'ineligible', 'unregistered' and 'Wimbledon' are being thrown around as if they are everything when, in reality, the devil is in the detail.

For a start, no one disputes the fact that Ji was owned by Sunderland and, more to the point, WAS registered to play. This was a point stressed by the club in their statement last month:

Sunderland AFC confirmed that they had complied with all procedures and the Premier League stated that the player was duly registered on the extranet system and in all other Premier League mechanisms.

If you don't believe them, here is the Premier League's own published registered squad list from their own website, and remember it is the Premier League who register players, not the clubs. You can consider this permission from the Premier League to use the player. (Tavares Varela is Cabral, by the way, before you ask).

Ji_medium

Many have been using the fact that AFC Wimbledon were recently docked three points for fielding an 'ineligible player' as cause to claim Sunderland's punishment should be the same. But that doesn't hold much water.

For a start, Wimbledon and Sunderland play under different governing bodies. Sunderland answer to the Premier League, Wimbledon the Football League. Secondly, the game the player, Jake Nicholson, played in ended in a Wimbledon win, with him also getting on the scoresheet. Sunderland, by contrast, did not score a Premier League goal with Ji on the pitch and won just one point.

That point could be vulnerable under Premier League rules (see below) if they decided that sense is for sissies or something, but only that point and even then it wouldn't make any difference at all to the fates of at least two of the three relegated clubs. Crucially, though, the punishment of a fine is perfectly in line with the specific nature of the offence.

Any Club found to have played an ineligible Player in a match shall have any points gained from that match deducted from its record and have levied upon it a fine. The Company may vary this decision in respect of the points gained only in circumstances where the ineligibility is due to the failure to obtain an International Transfer Certificate or where the ineligibility is related to the Player's status only. The Board may also order that such match be replayed on such terms as are decided by the Board which may also levy penalty points against the Club in default.

Ji reportedly did not receive 'international clearance', which is basically the confirmation of a player's registration being transferred from one country's FA, in this case Germany, to another. So, according to FA rule that has been underlined, a fine is the appropriate penalty.

Ultimately, Sunderland were punished appropriately under the rules of their governing body and even if they want to break that rule the maximum point deduction permitted is massively unlikely to make one jot of difference to the league table.

It basically just looks like the biggest non-story of the weekend. Results look to have essentially made the relegation scrap a non-issue going into the final week, and the papers are pretty desperate to keep it alive somehow.

Unless something new comes to light, there doesn't look like being any kind of a threat at all.

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