It's been one of the longest wrangles in contemporary football, but the efforts of Queens Park Rangers to avoid paying a £41m financial fair play (FFP) fine have reached a new stage after the club lost their latest legal challenge. However, the saga is by no means over.
An arbitration panel of three QC's has dismissed the club's claim that the Football League's 2012 financial fair play rules were illegal under competition law and that the fine was disproportionate.
QPR were relegated in 2015 after one season in the top flight. In 2012, the Football League's FFP rules restricted clubs to losses of £8m per year. New rules were implemented last season that allow losses of £39m over three seasons. The former rules were thought to be too draconian and the new rules harmonised them with those of the Premier League.
The club announced losses of £9.8m for the 2013-14 season when they won promotion via the play offs. However, they wrote off £60m in loans as exceptional items.
Rangers’ £40m fine is thought to be the largest ever issued in sport, topping the £32m the McLaren Formula One team ended up being docked over the 2007 ‘Spygate’ scandal. It is also more than double the amount Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain ended up paying for breaching Uefa’s FFP regulations three years ago.
QPR have said that they will appeal to a new committee. This process could take two years. FFP rules have always been open to a competition law challenge and, if Britain was still in the EU (or operating under a transitional arrangement), the European Court of Justice might eventually have to make a ruling.
A statement by the Football League indicated some room for compromise: 'The board understands the challenges that this decision could create for our valued member club and will work with them when the matter finally concludes.' Both parties could agree on a much smaller fine.
The decision has implications for Bournemouth and Leicester City, who have also challenged attempts by the Football League to impose fines for losses during the seasons in which they won promotion to the Premier League. Bournemouth were fined £7.6m last year and were awaiting the outcome of the QPR decision which they had hoped would offer them an escape route.