SUNDERLAND are confident any legal action taken against it by relegated clubs over the fielding of ineligible player Ji Dong-won will not succeed.
Claims emerged yesterday that Cardiff City, Fulham and Norwich City are considering joining forces to argue that Sunderland should have been docked points for the South Korean’s registration not being fully completed at the start of the season.
The Black Cats accepted a substantial six-figure fine after alerting the Premier League that Ji’s name did not appear on the international doping authorities list.
That discovery revealed that while Ji was a registered Sunderland player and featured on the Premier League’s list of registered players, he had not been RE-REGISTERED for international clearance when he returned from a loan spell at Augsburg last year.
It was a clerical error rather than any attempt to gain an advantage.
And while Ji played four league games in technical breach of the rules, Sunderland failed to win any of them – in fact one of the matches he played in was a defeat to Fulham.
Partially for that reason, Fulham were not interested in a legal challenge to get the club docked points rather than be fined.
But now there are reports that the bottom three clubs might jointly mount a legal challenge which, if successful, could see points docked and reprieve the side which finishes third bottom.
It remains very much unclear whether a legal bid will be formally mounted, but, if it is, both Sunderland and the Premier League will be confident it will fail.
The fielding of an ineligible player is taken extremely seriously by football authorities and strong punishments, including huge fines and/or the docking of points, can follow.
But there are also degrees of seriousness.
At one end of the scale there is the Carlos Tevez affair at West Ham where the league was deceived and an attempted cover-up made. West Ham were fined £25million but were not docked points.
At the other end of the scale is Sunderland’s case, which amounts to one form out of several not being successfully filed.
On top of that, it was Sunderland who brought the matter to the Premier League’s attention as soon as it was brought to theirs.
A statement from the club when the matter first came to light earlier this year, stated: “Sunderland confirmed 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.
“The club has never accepted any wrongdoing, but did acknowledge that a technical fault occurred and as such were fined by the Premier League accordingly.”
The League has acknowledged Ji was correctly registered when first signed and also correctly registered on Sunderland’s squad list at the start of the season.
After an investigation, the League found an online form had not been properly submitted to FIFA after Ji’s return from Augsburg.
Given the very technical circumstances of the infringement and the fact Sunderland had raised the alarm. the League decided that a significant fine was appropriate at the time and feels exactly the same way now.
As far as the Premier League are concerned, the case is closed.
The only issue would appear to be that the matter was not made public at the time and only emerged subsequently through newspapers later.
Those involved might consider that an error on reflection.
But the circumstances of the offence make it unlikely any legal action would succeed in points being docked.