FIFA announced today its decision to fine West Ham around £71,000 for breaking rules after fielding striker Diafra Sakho in their 1-0 FA Cup win against Bristol City.
The Senegalese striker had pulled out of his country's Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a back injury, but took to the field at Ashton Gate to score the winner against Steve Cotterill's side on January 25. That was 18 days after he had pulled out of Senegal's squad through injury, and two days before their campaign came to an end when they were knocked out at the group stages.
Rules, rules, rules
In theory, West Ham's decision to field Sakho as a 57th minute substitute in the game puts them in violation of FIFA rules regarding the release of players for international duty.
Senegal were entitled to request that Sakho was made available to them for the tournament in Equatorial Guinea as well as a preparation period beforehand. In this case they requested that the striker was release from duty for a training camp from January 5 until January 16, and for the tournament until February 8 if they make the final, or until their exit.
Article 5 of Annexe 1 in FIFA's "Regulations on the status and transfer of players" say that a player is "not entitled to play for the club with which he is registered during the period for which he has been released or should have been released". Furthermore a further five days is added to the period of unavailability "in the event that the player, for whatsoever reason, did not wish to or was unable to comply with the call-up."
According to FIFA, West Ham had informed Senegal that Sakho was unable to travel and play because of a back injury. The Premier League outfit say they sent independent medical reports, as well as the club's own examinations to prove the injury was real. Senegal appeared to have declined to do their own tests.
"We've been in constant contact with the Senegal federation," said West Ham assistant manager Neil McDonald earlier this month. "There's no way he can fly, he's obviously injured and he's going to miss the African Nations Cup because of his injury and we're going to miss him because he's injured. We've been respectful, we've given them information and kept in constant contact with them. He's injured."
No aspersions have been cast over West Ham's reluctance to release Sakho, however FIFA's statement today confirmed they were in violation of "5 of Annexe 1 of the Regulations" - the key part of which is mentioned above.
FIFA's statement said: "The club has been fined CHF 100,000 in accordance with art. 10 c) and art. 15 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code (FDC) and issued with a reprimand, while the player has been sanctioned with a reprimand in accordance with art. 10 b) and art. 14 of the FDC."
Essentially that means that FIFA used their powers to fine West Ham in accordance with their Disciplinary Code which breaks down the different measures that can be taken against teams who break their rules.
However FIFA's own rules state that any club found to be in breach of the rules that West Ham have flouted should be forced to forfeit their place in the cup; or "Any match contested according to the cup system shall be regarded as having been won by the
Let off easily?
It reads: "If a club refuses to release a player or neglects to do so despite the provisions of this annexe, the FIFA Players’ Status Committee shall furthermore
request the association to which the club belongs to declare any match(es) in
which the player took part to have been lost by the club concerned."
So why haven't West Ham been kicked out of the FA Cup? It's most likely because they aren't necessarily in breach of failing to release a player by faking an injury or refusing to release him to suit their own needs for example, but for playing him before the five-day period added on to the time he was meant to be with Senegal was up.
That, presumably was seen as the lesser of two evils by FIFA who then decided to issue a fine rather than ban them altogether. It is also possible that West Ham provided mitigating circumstances.
Today's ruling could in theory start a dangerous precedent which clubs take the hit of a fine in order to retain players when they should be on international duty, something which could become a major problem for AFCON given it's timing in the middle of the season.
There's no insinuation that West Ham misled Senegal over the extent of Sakho's injury, and it's perfectly conceivable that he simply recovered from injury more quickly than expected. But FIFA's rules don't take that into consideration and going by the letter of the law the Hammers certainly seem to be fortunate not to have been kicked out of the FA Cup.
Bristol City have confirmed they are 'considering' their options ahead of a potential legal challenge, and are 'disappointed' with FIFA's ruling, while West Ham maintain their innocence.
The Hammers reportedly earned £90,000 for beating City and will take home more than £100,000 for their part in the next round of the FA Cup against West Brom, and City may well want a piece of the pie.
FIFA could choose to offer a clarification - but don't hold your breath. This one might not be over just yet.