On Tuesday 11th February the HKFA released a statement confirming that 1st Division and FA Cup matches involving Tuen Mun Sports Association Limited (TMSA) and Happy Valley Athletic Association Limited (HVAA) would be suspended for the remainder of the 2013/14 season. The purpose of this statement is to provide more information on the implications of that decision.
A Point of Clarification
Some media reports have linked the decision to suspend matches to recent match-fixing allegations.
It is important to point out that in relation to HVAA, the HKFA Ad hoc Committee’s remit was an investigation into the ‘viability’ of the club in terms of its governance, financial status and operational abilities. The Committee specifically did not consider match-fixing because this is now under investigation by the ICAC.
In relation to TMSA, the Committee did seek information on match-fixing in addition to reviewing the viability of the club because TMSA is not being formally investigated by the ICAC.
The Terms of Reference of the Ad hoc Committee were agreed in advance with the ICAC and on-going dialogue took place between the two bodies throughout the process. The Ad hoc Committee was very careful not to prejudice the outcome of the ICAC investigation into HVAA. Any suggestion that the HKFA has in any way deviated from the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is simply unfounded.
Grounds for the Decision to Suspend
The HKFA has written to both clubs informing them of the decision to suspend further matches and that they are being charged with bringing the game into disrepute. At this moment in time the grounds for these decisions have not been communicated. Further information will be provided to the clubs upon written request. The HKFA will not be making the grounds of the decisions public because it considers the information both confidential and commercially sensitive. The Ad hoc Committee investigated these matters objectively and thoroughly and contained no member with an interest in any first division football club. It met with representatives of both clubs and in the case of HVAA also with its mainland ‘sponsor/management partner’. A list of information and guarantees required were sent to the clubs in advance of the meetings. After the meetings the Ad hoc Committee wrote again to the clubs stating that they had not provided the requisite information and gave them one more chance to provide very specific information. There is a specific requirement within the league rules that state that the Board may require a club to provide a guarantee to meet its financial obligations towards its contracted players.
Recalibration of the league table
The HKFA has considered various scenarios regarding the amendment of the current league table and has decided that the results of all of the matches played by the two clubs this season will not be included in the table. This is seen as the fairest way to maintain the integrity of the league and is based on precedent both here in Hong Kong and elsewhere. The league table has been recalculated on this basis and is shown at Annex 1. This decision also affects the HKFA ‘fair-play’ calculation and similarly all matches involving the two teams will be discounted in the fair-play calculations. The same will apply to the ‘top scorer’ standings i.e. goals scored in the matches will not be counted. However where the matches have involved disciplinary sanctions (yellow cards, red cards etc) these will remain ‘on the record’. Suspended matches relate to 1st Division and FA Cup only. The two clubs can still participate in the Reserve team league and youth competitions.
Relegation and entitlement to apply for a Hong Kong Premier League Licence
Before the decision to suspend the two clubs was taken, the plan was for one team to be relegated from the 1st Division at the end of the current season to allow one team from the 2nd Division to join the Premier League (subject to applying for and obtaining a Hong Kong Premier League Licence). However because the two teams concerned occupied the two bottom positions in the league at the point of suspension, the HKFA does not consider it would be fair and reasonable to relegate the team that finishes 10th in the newly calibrated league. Therefore the HKFA can confirm that none of the remaining 10 teams playing matches in the 1st Division will be relegated at the end of the 2013/14 season.
Nine of these ten remaining teams have confirmed that they intend to apply for a Hong Kong Premier League Licence. There will be twelve licences available for the Premier League and therefore there will be a minimum of three licences available for other clubs to apply for. At the time of writing this statement no decision has been made as to whether or not the two suspended teams will be allowed to apply for a Hong Kong Premier League Licence (although both teams have confirmed their intention to do so). That decision will be taken at the next Board meeting and will be based on ‘sporting merit’.
Impact on players
The HKFA is particularly concerned about player welfare and will do whatever it can within its powers to minimize any hardship arising from this decision. The Association is fully aware that innocent players are caught up in this unfortunate situation. Our starting point is that the two clubs will need to honour the contracts they have entered into in accordance with Article 16 of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players which states that a contract cannot be unilaterally terminated during the course of the season. Article 13 states that contracts can be terminated by mutual consent and where the clubs and the players agree to terminate a contract, the HKFA will do its utmost to facilitate a transfer to another club. However the HKFA itself is bound by the same regulations and must observe the player registration provisions. The HKFA is seeking legal advice on this matter and may seek dispensation from FIFA. The Association is willing to have discussions with the clubs and players to agree appropriate actions.