WHETHER a sentence is for a criminal or a sporting offence, it is inherently wrong that the person convicted can buy himself out of jail. In essence, that is what happened in the world of Hong Kong football, and it was underlined afresh last week when the disciplinary committee of the Hong Kong Football Association (HKFA) dealt with the culprits involved in the Instant-Dict and Happy Valley First Division fracas at Mongkok Stadium. Quite correctly, the disciplinary committee cracked down hard by local standards and handed out eight- and six-match bans to the two most serious offenders, Martin Kuhl of Happy Valley, and Tim O'Shea of Instant-Dict. Taken at face value and considering the fairly truncated league and cup schedule in Hong Kong as opposed to overseas, the sentences were severe, but they did reflect the seriousness of the offences. But according to a rule that seems restricted to this footballing jurisdiction, the HKFA permits offenders - or more accurately their clubs - to 'purchase' their freedom at various rates of financial outlay. In the case of Kuhl, if Happy Valley pay $20,000, they will have their captain for the second phase of the league championship. The two teams are in very different categories. Having won the first phase, Happy Valley have realistic title ambitions. Instant-Dict, going through the worst spell in their relatively short but highly successful history, are going to be embroiled in a relegation battle. Both teams desperately need their best players for vastly different reasons and, despite their indiscipline, those involved may largely escape the major consequences of their actions. Certainly, if I was involved with the management of Happy Valley, the cheque to the HKFA would be there by tomorrow to ensure that Kuhl would be available for half of the second phase. It would be very foolish to picture the burly Kuhl as a brawling trouble-seeker who takes illegal action first and asks questions later. Although there might well be some trepidation, his name would surely be the first down on the Happy Valley teamsheet. He is a player of considerable quality whose lack of pace these days is more than compensated for by a very alert footballing brain. Kuhl's ability to switch and dictate play from his pivotal backline role cannot be disputed and is, in fact, a pleasure to watch. But he has very definite discipline problems and no later than Thursday night, with a disciplinary committee meeting 24 hours later, he had to be physically restrained and taken off the field by teammates and Valley officials after the successful game against South China. Butt of his anger this time was the South China coach Casemiro Mior, whose touchline antics are not likely to endear him to match officials or opposing teams. He might well have received a yellow card himself on Thursday night for frequently arguing with the fourth official. But Kuhl is something of a timebomb and the fuse seems to be decidedly short. It would be no surprise to learn that his volatile temperament may have restricted his English career. The point being made, however, centres on the HKFA dictating stern punishment on the one hand - and then meting out immediate clemency on the other. It centres totally around money, but is the HKFA in such a parlous financial state that it is basically bargaining justice for cash? It is an unsatisfactory state of affairs and it is something that should be addressed and altered before the commencement of another season. Instant-Dict have been hard hit following the thoroughly disgraceful exhibition with Happy Valley. They lose the influential O'Shea, vital at the back in the games ahead, and local Tim Bredbury copped four games for his part in the affair. That is subject to appeal. On top of that, they had their excellent midfielder, Tam Siu-wah, sent off in the crunch game against Sing Tao on Thursday night, which leaves the team in something of a parlous state. Biggest benefactors at the top end of the scale would seem to be South China - not without disciplinary problems themselves - who will go into the second phase largely unscathed and in a position to field a full-strength team. Valley will also lose striker John Moore, sent off on Thursday night, so South China might well start favourites to ultimately win the title under the present system. For Instant-Dict, it is going to be a very serious test of character with a much-changed team who have shown alarming signs of lack of confidence. None will genuinely believe for a moment that Instant-Dict could face relegation, but even to be in this position is alarming for a club of their stature. There are going to be some choice games in the next few weeks, with considerable onus, one fears, placed on match officials. And that brings us back to the disciplinary committee and current legislation. There will be much at stake and there should be no easy buyout for players who transgress badly. The punishment must always be seen to fit the crime. At the moment, in local football, that is not the case.