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Kitchee SC

Kitchee demand more than HK$5 million compensation after rejection from 2017 Champions League group stage

Premier League heavyweights take action in arbitration centre against the Hong Kong Football Association, its chief executive and rivals Eastern 

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 1:11pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 10:44pm

Hong Kong Premier League heavyweights Kitchee are understood to be demanding more than HK$5 million in compensation after being refused their place in the group stages of the 2017 AFC Champions League.

The Hong Kong champions confirmed a notice of arbitration had been sent to fellow Premier League club Eastern, Hong Kong’s representative in last year’s tournament; the Hong Kong Football Association; and HKFA chief executive Mark Sutcliffe, although the club preferred not to disclose further details. 

The case is being handled by the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, of which newly elected Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah was the chairwoman until 2017. 

“We can confirm such a notice ... and the case is in progress,” said Kitchee Sports Club president Ken Ng Kin. 

“And according to the rules, no information relating to the arbitration shall be disclosed by any person without written consent of each and every party ... consequently, Kitchee cannot make any disclosure at this time,” added Ng, a former director on the HKFA board and also a special adviser.

It is understood Kitchee are holding the respondents responsible for their losses as a result of failing to start in the 2017 AFC Champions League group stage and losses suffered for hosting the Lunar New Year Cup of the same year which clashed with the qualifying round of the Champions League.   

The three respondents have denied all the claims and the four parties involved have agreed to appoint a senior counsel as the arbitrator.

Neither Sutcliffe nor Eastern was willing to comment while an HKFA official said the case was being handled by the lawyer and hopefully a resolution could be sorted out as soon as possible.

“This has given the public a very bad image on Hong Kong soccer,” the official said. “It’s never our intention to start a legal battle, but we could do little as one of three respondents.”

The eligibility fiasco started in the summer of 2016 when Eastern, the Premier League champions of that season, were entitled to represent Hong Kong in the following year’s Champions League group stage as decided by AFC rules, while Kitchee, as the Hong Kong Play-off Cup winners, could start in the qualifying round of the same tournament.

Kitchee boss Ken Ng demands answers over Hong Kong’s AFC Champions League saga

However, Eastern informed the Football Association they would withdraw because of financial difficulties, only to change their minds a few days later before informing the association.

At an HKFA board meeting in early August, it was decided Kitchee would take up the position left by Eastern, with Southern to represent Hong Kong in the qualifying round.

Kitchee were also later appointed by the HKFA to host the Lunar New Year Cup in January.

But in November, before the entry closed for the Champions League, it was discovered that Kitchee could not replace Eastern and would be forced to start in the qualifying round. Only regional champions are allowed to compete in the Champions League under AFC rules. 

Ng then lashed out at Sutcliffe for making an administrative blunder by excluding them from the group stage. 

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Eastern made gate receipts of about HK$2 million for their three home games in the Champions League, while income for the 2017 Lunar New Year Cup, which involved three overseas teams – Auckland City, FC Seoul and Muangthong United of Thailand – reached HK$1.9 million for two playing days, which was not enough to cover their expenses.