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Manchester City's Champions League ban appeal up in the air due to coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus outbreak has condemned the world of football to a near-total shutdown and schisms remain over the short-term future of the game.

Debates rage over what to do with the remainder of current seasons; when should they resume? How should they restart? Should they be voided altogether?

Manchester City, currently banned from the Champions League for the next two years by UEFA over a serious breach of Financial Fair Play regulations, are among those clubs caught in the crossfire with potential knock-on effects for Pep Guardiola’s side.

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The Premier League champions have appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn the decision but that case is up in the air with no current date for it to be heard and the Swiss institution not hosting any in-person hearings until May at the earliest.

The situation is further complicated by the uncertainty surrounding the European footballing calendar with all leagues, other than Belarus, shut down and no way of knowing when they will be completed. Champions League football is also suspended with no plans to restart and City’s second leg against Real Madrid was postponed just before all football in England was closed down.

City deny any wrongdoing over UEFA's investigation. However, with an appeal not going to be heard any time soon, the club could lodge an application to “stay” the punishment which, if upheld, would allow them to play in next season’s competition. That possibility has seemingly not gone down well with City's league counterparts; eight sides in the top 10 have reportedly written to CAS outlining their objections.

John Shea, a dispute resolution lawyer at Lewis Silkin’s sports practice, says City’s Premier League rivals are not currently parties in the case and would have to prove they would be affected by any “stay”.

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“An application to stay the execution of a decision is usually submitted at the same time as the statement of appeal. City’s appeal was submitted back in February and at that stage I don’t think City requested a stay because CAS proceedings can proceed on an expedited basis, meaning a decision could be made by the summer and before the start of next season,” he told Goal.

“However, Covid-19 may have affected this timetable especially, so there is likely to be a backlog and that’s assuming that it is safe to return at that stage.

“Arbitrators and parties are now encouraged to conduct hearings by video conference or to render decisions based on written submissions, but this is unlikely to be appropriate in a case of this importance.

“Under R37 of the CAS code, a party may apply for a stay of the decision through what is called provisional measures and if such an application is made, the other party is required to respond to the application within 10 days.

“Other Premier League clubs are not currently parties to the proceedings but if they can prove that they are directly affected by the decision, for example because they could qualify for the Champions League in City’s place, then they might have standing to intervene in the CAS proceedings and make submissions.

A season out of Europe could potentially cost as much as £100 million ($123m) and City had hoped for an early resolution before the coronavirus outbreak took hold.

CEO Ferran Soriano said shortly after the ban was announced that he hoped it would be settled by early summer. He also denied the allegations, insisting the club will do "everything that can be done to prove" their innocence.

City say they have “irrefutable evidence” that the claims are not true while Mr Shea believes the club will also argue about the manner of UEFA's investigation.

Khaldoon Al Mubarak Ferran Soriano Manchester City 2019-20Getty Images

“It’s clear from the statements that City made following the decision and from their previous attempt at CAS to stop the disciplinary case being referred to UEFA's adjudicatory chamber, that they are certainly peeved about how the disciplinary process has been conducted with various media leaks and so I have no doubt they will raise a number of procedural arguments,” he said.

“In any event, the CAS panel will consider this case de novo which means they will review all the evidence and arguments from both parties afresh and reach its own decision, which City have actually welcomed by referring to the need for an impartial judgment at CAS.

“City refer to irrefutable evidence in support of its position so notwithstanding all their arguments regarding procedural unfairness, it’s certainly possible that they will deny that sponsorship deals were inflated and that there has been a breach of the regulations. I’ve not seen the evidence so I obviously can’t comment on whether City are likely to succeed with such an argument or not.

“I strongly suspect that City will also try to challenge the legality of the FFP regulations on the basis that they contravene EU competition law. CAS previously deemed them to be compliant with EU competition law in the case involving Galatasaray in 2016, but I am expecting City to raise fresh arguments on this issue.

“Finally, I fully expect City to argue that the sanction of a two-season ban is disproportionate. AC Milan were also handed a two-year ban in 2018 for failing to comply with the FFP regulations. On appeal to CAS, it was held that the Adjudicatory Chamber had failed to consider all the facts and so it referred the case back to the Adjudicatory Chamber to make a proportionate decision based on all the facts.”

City also have another trick up their sleeve, according to Mr Shea. He says they can look to the example of former Peru captain Paolo Guerrero, who was allowed to play in the 2018 World Cup when a Swiss supreme court froze a 14-month ban for a positive drugs test.

“If City’s appeal is rejected, they could potentially take the case to the Swiss Federal Tribunal for a further appeal or even the European Commission, European Court of Justice in Luxembourg or European Union Court of Human Rights depending on the arguments,” Mr Shea added.

“At that point, the club could seek a suspension of the sanction in order to play in next year’s Champions League - an example of this is the Peru player Guerrero.”