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FIFA Fair Play and the 'Quadegation'

QPR aren’t only facing a battle to avoid relegation to the Championship this season. As things stand, they face an unprecedented four-in-one relegation that would see them playing conference football next year.

 

Of course this is very unlikely. The prospect of a ‘quadegation’ (a new term I’m coining) comes from an unpaid fine for failing to adhere to the FIFA Fair Play rules while in the Championship. If QPR are relegated, it’s hard to imagine a situation where this fine wouldn’t either eventually be paid, or QPR negotiate their way back into the Championship.

 

The situation shines a light on some of the peculiarities of the FIFA Fair Play rules, the most obvious and baffling being the fact fines are handed out for financial losses. In QPR’s case, the fine could be as high as £54 million if their losses matched the £65.4 million of the 2012-13 season. Looking at the situation simplistically, clubs making big losses are usually in financial difficulty. Fining clubs in financial difficulty such large amounts only adds to their potentially crippling problems.

The Championship is the worst place for this. Teams that are unexpectedly relegated from the significantly more lucrative Premier League may have lost the backing of investors, lost the use of certain facilities, or have astronomical wage bills that may stem from long term contracts that are hard to renegotiate or terminate. Many are naturally in financial difficulties for their first few Football League seasons. Clubs like Portsmouth, who have recently been through a Premier League relegation (2009-10 season), have found their wage bills and bills for facilities enough to put them in serious financial trouble after their financial backers walked out. Imposing a fine for historical mismanagement and poor fortune would in many past cases have been catastrophic, and in Portsmouth’s case would have led to the winding up of the club.

This isn’t quite the case with QPR. In fact, the FIFA Fair Play rules were brought in for cases like QPR’s. It is Tony Fernandes’s club, and he often seems to run it on a whim. In their relegation season, QPR bought players who should definitely not be involved in a relegation battle. QPR didn’t go to huge lengths to get rid of these players after relegation, and in fact some new players were brought in. Obviously, the wage bill will have fallen, but QPR aren’t in trouble. Fernandes has bankrolled QPR, and he will be forced to pay the fine.

The Football League need to amend their FIFA Fair Play rules to make sure they do what they’re supposed to do, and ensure that historical mistakes don’t plunge a club into bankruptcy.  Yet there is more to learn from the QPR case.

The question of the ‘quadegation’ has been raised because of issues with the reality of the situation. When a team is promoted, the Premier League will not punish any club that was in breach of FIFA Fair Play regulations on their way up. When the FIFA Fair Play regulations have truly bedded in, investing a huge amount of money on a ‘big or bust’ promotion campaign will seem more and more favourable. This would effectively be cheating, but the Football League will have no real way of punishing culprits should they reach the ‘promised land’- even if it were definite that all fines would eventually be paid, the money in the Premier League could make it a profitable risk to take.

To ‘fix’ FIFA Fair Play rules in the Championship, two areas need to be addressed. Firstly, the role of the Premier League needs to be examined- rules that can’t be enforced are open to abuse. To fix the enforceability issue, the Premier League could agree to honour Football League sanctions, or the criteria for promotion to the Premier League could be amended to include a financial responsibility clause. Both of these proposals should require little extra cooperation between the Football League and the Premier League and wouldn’t be hard to implement.

Secondly the roll of fines needs to be examined- fining clubs that aren’t compliant could kill a club with real financial problems. Imposing points sanctions or imposing sanctions on abusing owners is more likely to fix the problem without risking the death of unlucky football clubs. In fact, imposing mandatory points sanctions for over spending would go some way to creating the level playing field that the FIFA Fair Play rules were designed to create, while directly tackling owners would directly affect the issue FIFA Fair Play rules are supposed to address- irresponsible ownership.

Frankly, despite the brilliant new word we’ve all gained, a ‘quadegation’ is a terrible thought. The fans are real fans, and the club is a real club. The decisions of a charismatic, irresponsible, or insane business man (who might not even support his own club) should not have the potential to consign the club to ruin so suddenly that the fans have no chance to salvage the club’s history. QPR are going to get away with it, Fernandes will eventually pay the fine, but this saga may have opened up a new chapter in unfair play.  

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