Court: Football clubs will not be promoted after shortened season

Dutch football association KNVB does not have to promote two football clubs out of the Eerste Divisie and into the top level Eredivisie after the football season was cut short, a court in Utrecht ruled on Thursday. The case was brought by the top two teams in the Eerste Divisie, SC Cambuur from Leeuwarden and De Graafschap from Doetinchem, which said they were unfairly penalized and that the KNVB did not stick to its own rules.

The court disagreed, saying the KNVB was not out of line when it made its decision. "The promotion-relegation scheme states that promotion only applies at the end of a regular competition. Since the competition ended nine games before the end, this is out of the question," the court said in a statement. "The regulations do not state what should be done if the competition is shortened and therefore does not provide for the situation as it is now."

Their attorney told newspaper AD that the two teams would discuss the value of filing an appeal, but no decision had been made. He was also optimistic about a meeting of KNVB members coming up on June 18, when clubs could apply pressure on the football association to include Cambuur and De Graafschap in the Eredivisie.

The disagreements had started on April 24, when the KNVB had decided that there would be no relegation or promotion this season.  That means that Cambuur and De Graafschap would both be staying in the lower-level Eerste Divisie for another season. Cambuur were 11 points ahead in the race for promotion, while De Graafschap were 7 points ahead. 

The lawyer who represented Cambuur and De Graafschap, Dolf Segaar, claimed that the KNVB acted against regulations by not letting the clubs be promoted. The KNVB used a vote from all Eredivisie clubs to decide whether teams should be relegated and promoted this season. The 16 votes in favor of promoting teams fell two votes shy of an absolute majority because of the 11 teams which chose to only vote "present."

That was not relevant, the court decided, as it sided with the KNVB's argument that the teams were being surveyed for their opinions, and that it was not a vote.

On behalf of the KNVB, Harry Knijff claimed the football association had never said that a plurality would be sufficient, nor that the vote would have an impact on the association's decision; They were merely using the votes as a consultation to help their decision, he said. Segaar had claimed that this system was not made clear to those clubs before the vote.

Segaar also said that the KNVB did not look hard enough at the prospect of a 20 team Eredivisie for next season, which would mean no relegation for Den Haag and RKC Waalwijk but would mean promotion for Cambuur and De Graafschap. De Eredivisie has 18 teams at this time.

Knijff countered, and said that the prospect of a 20 team league was considered along with other options, but was not possible due to the football calendar already being full from the KNVB Beker matches, and the end of the season playoffs. He added that the claims that the KNVB rushed their decision were untrue as meetings had taken place daily from the first moment the Prime Minister released regulations to combat the coronavirus.

The court did agree that the decision-making process at the KNVB could have been handled with more care, but that it was not handled poorly enough to warrant a judge's intervention.

It is said that both clubs miss out on millions, mainly due to television broadcast rights. It was reported by newspaper De Gelderlander that De Graafschap would lose out on 1.2 million euros in television money alone, the bulk of a total of two million euros in lost income as a result of not being promoted.

The financial director of Cambuur, Gerald van den Belt has even said he is worried about the future of the club, telling broadcaster NOS, “When you are as far ahead as we were, you start looking to the next season. In the winter break, we had already given players new contracts with Eredivisie-level salaries. Also the values of the players decrease when they are in the second division.” Cambuur will miss out on around 1.5 million euros.