The issue has hung over the competition for months, potentially affecting not only RB Leipzig and Red Bull Salzburg but also several teams that stood to benefit financially from their inclusion had Leipzig been disqualified.
Last month, once they had confirmed their places in the field, both Salzburg and Leipzig submitted to UEFA their applications to compete in the Champions League, complete with documentation detailing their ownership models. Those files were then passed to the UEFA Club Financial Control Body investigatory chamber for assessment.
Though Leipzig and Salzburg made some changes to their corporate structures to comply with UEFA regulations — while Red Bull owns Leipzig, it is officially only a title sponsor of Salzburg — they were confidentially informed on May 26 that not enough had been done to separate the clubs and that the case had been referred to the Club Financial Control Body adjudicatory chamber. The two chambers are independent entities, staffed largely by legal experts and judges.
Had the adjudicatory chamber reached the same conclusion as the initial review, Leipzig would have been barred; UEFA’s regulations state that in such conflicts, the team that has finished higher in its domestic competition takes priority.
The teams won their appeal after a host of changes, particularly at Salzburg, allowed the clubs to convince UEFA that they were no longer linked. A number of Red Bull employees who held management positions at Salzburg departed, meaning there were no longer any individuals who could exert influence on both clubs. Red Bull also reviewed and reduced the scope of its financial commitment to the Austrian club. The company is expected to announce an extended sponsorship deal — lasting until 2022 — on reduced terms in the coming days, a move that it successfully argued would diminish its influence over the team’s activities.
Those changes meant the adjudicatory chamber could find no legal reason to deny each team its place in the competition.
The decision could be appealed by any club that stood to benefit from Leipzig’s absence: Hoffenheim, which would have been handed an automatic Champions League slot; Cologne, which would have been placed in the Champions League qualifying round; and Werder Bremen, which would have taken Cologne’s place in the second-tier Europa League.
Hoffenheim and Cologne confirmed on Tuesday that they had no intention of appealing the decision, and UEFA said it had not had contact from any other team indicating an intention to challenge it.
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