No arbitration tribunal for AFC Champions League eligibility saga yet, says HKFA

Local governing soccer body will ‘investigate the matter’ before taking any action over which clubs should represent Hong Kong at the regional competition

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 8:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 05 December, 2016, 9:32pm

The Hong Kong Football Association has played down a request by Kitchee to set up an arbitration tribunal in the wake of the recent AFC Champions League eligibility saga that involves three Premier League clubs.

Chairman of the board Brain Leung Hung-tak said they would investigate the matter before taking any action after champions Eastern were reinstated as one of two Hong Kong representative clubs for the regional top-tier competition.

“We are not setting up any tribunal at this stage,” said Leung after Monday’s board meeting. “We would make an inquiry first to gather more information so that we can get a better picture. We’ll then decide what to do next.”

Leung refused to disclose how the investigation would be conducted, but a board member said they would form a small group to serve the purpose after a compromise had been made between the parties involved.

“There have been discussions with Kitchee and we agreed to make an investigation first,” said a member. “It’s too early to launch an official tribunal to accuse anybody of making any administrative blunders on the matter. We need more information.”

Kitchee boss Ken Ng Kin had earlier accused association chief executive Mark Sutcliffe of making an administrative blunder that allowed Eastern to be reinstated in their participation in the Champions League. The 2016 Hong Kong league champions withdrew their participation in the regional competition in July due to financial difficulties but the club reverse their decision five days later.

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The board then decided in August that Kitchee, the Premier League runners-up, would replace Eastern while Play-off Cup runners-up Southern (Kitchee are the champions) would be invited to take up the second spot from Hong Kong.

However, the FA found out last month that Eastern’s spot could not be replaced by Kitchee and Kitchee would have to enter as the second team from Hong Kong.

The Football Association then re-entered Eastern, along with Kitchee for the 2017 Champions League, with Kitchee playing in the qualifying stage as the second team from Hong Kong.

Eastern ‘ready to return’ to AFC Champions League as Kitchee attack Hong Kong FA chief for ‘blunder’ in eligibility fiasco

Sutcliffe, who was asked to leave the board meeting when the discussion on Kitchee’s request was made, welcomed any form of investigation.

“I am very relaxed about it,” said Sutcliffe. “If they want to have a tribunal or any other form of investigation, that’s fine by me because I have nothing to hide. I hope it happens as soon as possible so that it can provide evidence to prove that there had not been any blunder on my part.”

Meanwhile, Leung confirmed they had been in discussions with the English Premier League with the possibility of hosting the Asia Trophy in Hong Kong again in the summer of 2017.

English Premier League clubs could be set to return to Hong Kong next summer – despite farcical scenes on ‘killer pitch’ last time

“We are confident of having the event back but the format may change,” he said. “A decision will be made by January at the latest.”

It has been proposed the two-day day event will feature three EPL sides and the Hong Kong champions and will be held in Hong Kong and the mainland separately. The Hong Kong match day has been slated for July 22. Leung also disclosed they would invite a top European side for the Re-unification Cup in August to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover.