- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

SAO PAULO (AP) - The Brazilian football federation said Thursday it has been warned by FIFA over the series of lawsuits filed in civil courts against a ruling of the sports tribunal which changed the relegation spots in the Brazilian league last year.

The federation released a statement saying FIFA warned that the lawsuits could be a breach of the governing body’s statutes and lead to sanctions for clubs and the federation itself.

The sports tribunal stripped four points from Portuguesa because it used a suspended player in the league’s final round last year, dropping the club into the relegation zone and benefiting defending champion Fluminense, which avoided relegation as a result. The traditional Rio de Janeiro club had become the first titleholder to be demoted in the Brazilian league.

Upset Portuguesa fans went to court against the decision and lawsuits are ongoing, and in some cases the federation was ordered to reinstate the club in the first division. Public prosecutors are also seeking legal action against the federation because of the sports tribunal’s decision, and they are also investigating whether officials from Portuguesa received money to deliberately get the team relegated by withholding information about the player’s suspension.

Despite the court actions, the federation on Thursday released the upcoming season’s schedule without Portuguesa in the top flight. This year’s league is scheduled to start on April 20, although the lawsuits may not be finalized by then.

FIFA told the federation it is responsible for “prohibiting” members from going to court over sports matters and “asked the Brazilian entity to take the necessary measures to put an end” to the lawsuits, the federation’s statement said.

An article in FIFA’s statutes says it is prohibited for members to take “disputes affecting leagues” to civil courts and says that “recourse to ordinary courts of law is prohibited unless specifically provided for in the FIFA regulations.”

Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular club, also lost four points for using a player irregularly in the final round last year, dropping it to just outside the relegation zone. The club has asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reverse the sports tribunal’s decision, afraid that it may end up in the second division depending on the outcome of the court actions related to Portuguesa.

Portuguesa recently accused the Brazilian federation of offering a loan on the condition that it accepted the sports tribunal decision and ceased all legal actions to remain in the first division.

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