Can sporting governing bodies impose sanctions on sporting teams who do not appear in a match or a tournament which they are scheduled to play in?

Football teams playing in the Football Association Premier League

The 20 football teams which currently ply their trade in the Football Association Premier League are regulated by the English national governing body of football – the Football Association – and must adhere to the rules of the body in charge of the league – the FA Premier League.

One of the conditions of playing in the league is that you are required to play a total of 38 games a season – playing each of the other teams in the league both home and away.

The FA Premier League Fixture List

The FA Premier League fixture list is published at the beginning of the season following a computer generated list and then in consultation with the various teams playing in the league.

When will changes be made to the Premier League fixture list?

The Premier League fixture is not completely set in stone at the beginning of the season as there is some flexibility throughout the season. Often games will be rearranged for the following reasons:

  • There has been adverse weather conditions which has resulted in the postponement of the match

  • There has been a clash between competitions – for example one team may still be remaining in the FA Cup whereas the opposition has not

  • The game may be moved to a different time on the same date or a day earlier or later due to the television broadcasting

  • The game may be moved later or earlier due to one of the teams playing in European Competition and requiring an extra days rest

The decision as to when the dates of these games will be moved rests with the FA Premier League and not the individual clubs. For example if one of the clubs has been playing in European Competition and feel that they need a rest they can make a request to the FA Premier League but the final decision will rest with the league.

Has there been a situation whereby a club has decided that it is unable to play in a match?

In the 1996/97 season Middlesbrough Football Club were scheduled to play a fixture away against Blackburn Rovers. However, following a flu virus which had been prevalent through the Middlesbrough camp decimating their squad they requesting to the Premier League that the game be rearranged due to their inability to field a team.

What did the league say?

The Premier League rejected the claim from Middlesbrough and stated that they were required to fulfill the fixture as part of their status as a Premier League club.

What happened?

Middlesbrough did not fulfill the fixture as they still felt that they did not have enough fit players. Following the fact they did not fulfill the fixture they were docked three points from their season total which effectively saw them relegated.

This case clearly shows that the decision on whether to move a fixture rests fully with the football authorities and if a team unilaterally makes this decision then they will suffer a penalty.

What would be the case if an international football team was to withdraw from an international football tournament on the eve of the tournament?

This question brings into light a much more recent case seen earlier this year. Prior to the 2010 African Nations Cup which was held in Angola, the Togolese Football Federation withdrew their team from the tournament on the eve of it beginning following a terrorist attack on their team which saw three people dead.

Were any sanctions handed down to the team?

The Continental Confederation governing the sport of football in Africa – the Confederation of African Football (CAF) – reacted angrily to the withdrawal of Togo promptly suspending them from the next two African Nations Cups to be held in 2012 and 2014.

Why did the CAF hand down such a ban to the Togolese Federation?

In withdrawing from the competition in the manner in which they did the Togolese Federation breached CAF rules in which it was not seen as a legitimate withdrawal. Regardless of the fact that the team had clearly left the tournament due to the perceived threat of their safety they had still breached the rules set down by the Confederation which governs football in Africa.

What was the response from the Togolese Federation?

The Togolese Federation remained by their decision to withdraw from the tournament and did not compete. They did however, submit a request to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to appeal the decision handed down by the CAF.

Has there been any recent developments in this case?

In mid May 2010 both the CAF and the Togolese Football Federation met together with the world governing body of football – FIFA – in order to come to a conclusion in this matter without the need for the CAS to make a decision in the case.

What was decided?

The Togolese Federation admitted that they did breach CAF rules in illegitimately withdrawing from the tournament but felt that they sufficient reason to do so. Accordingly the CAF has made the decision to enable them to compete in the 2012 and the 2014 tournaments with an adjustment to the qualifying fixtures for the 2012 tournament already being made.

Both of these cases show that teams may believe that they have a legitimate reason for not competing in a match or a tournament but that final decision must always rest with the regulatory body in charge of that match or that tournament.