(REUTERS, AFP) - Manchester City's two-year Uefa ban from European football has been overturned by the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS), the Lausanne-based court said on Monday (July 13).
The CAS ruled that the English Premier League runners-up did not breach financial fair play (FFP) rules by disguising equity funding as sponsorship, and also imposed a lower €10 million (S$15.7 million) fine for failing to cooperate with the continental football governing body.
"The club welcomes the implications of today's ruling as a validation of the club's position and the body of evidence that it was able to present," City said in a statement.
The decision means Pep Guardiola's team will compete in next season's Champions League, for which they have qualified by finishing second to Liverpool in the Premier League. They also lead Real Madrid 2-1 in this season's round of 16 after the away leg.
City were accused of deliberately inflating the value of income from sponsors with links to the Abu Dhabi United Group, also owned by City owner Sheikh Mansour, to avoid falling foul of FFP regulations between 2012 and 2016.
The case against City was reopened when German magazine Der Spiegel published a series of leaked e-mails in 2018.
"Most of the alleged breaches reported by the (Uefa) adjudicatory chamber of the club financial control body were either not established or time-barred," CAS said in a statement.
Uefa had ruled in February that City had committed serious breaches of FFP regulations and failed to cooperate with its investigation, handing them a ban and a €30 million fine.
City denied any wrongdoing and their appeal was heard over three days by the CAS last month.
Without Champions League football, the side could miss out on at least £100 million (S$175.3 million) in prize money and broadcast revenue, as well as match day and other income.
The FFP regulations are designed to stop clubs running up big losses through spending on players. They also ensure sponsorship deals are based on their real market value and are genuine commercial agreements - and not ways for owners to pump cash into a club to get around the rules.
City cheered the decision that will have huge ramifications on the club's finances and potentially the future of Spanish manager Pep Guardiola and star players such as Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling.
"While Manchester City and its legal advisers are yet to review the full ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the club welcomes the implications of today's ruling as a validation of the club's position and the body of evidence that it was able to present," City said in a statement.
"The club wishes to thank the panel members for their diligence and the due process that they administered."
Since Sheikh Mansour's takeover 12 years ago, City's fortunes have been transformed from perennially living in the shadow of local rivals Manchester United to winning four Premier League titles in the past eight years among 11 major trophies.
Last Saturday, they secured qualification for the Champions League for a 10th consecutive season with a 5-0 win at Brighton.
More silverware could come before the end of the season as the holders face Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-finals on Saturday. They had already won the League Cup earlier for the third straight season.
City's victory in court will raise fresh questions over how effectively Uefa can police FFP.
But governing body said it remained committed to the system which limits clubs to not losing more than €30 million, with exceptions for some costs such as youth development and women's teams, over a three-year period.
"Over the last few years, Financial Fair Play has played a significant role in protecting clubs and helping them become financially sustainable and Uefa and the European Club Association remain committed to its principles."