Fluminense will remain in the Brazilian league despite being relegated on the field, Brazil’s sports tribunal ruled on Friday.
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The tribunal unanimously rejected an appeal by Portuguesa, which lost four points for using a suspended player in the last round.
Without the points, Portuguesa dropped below Fluminense in the 20-team standings and has to replace the traditional Rio de Janeiro club in the second division next year.
A four-time national champion, Fluminense became the first defending champ to be relegated in the Brazilian league. But it was saved by a technicality.
The ordeal, however, further embarrassed football in Brazil, which has recently made headlines for fan violence and the deaths of workers at World Cup stadiums.
Portuguesa’s suspended player, reserve midfielder Heverton, was on the field for about 15 minutes.
Portuguesa finished with 48 points and advanced to play in next year’s Copa Sudamericana, but with Friday’s ruling if fell to 44 points, two behind Fluminense.
The club said it was still considering whether to take the case outside the sports tribunals.
The tribunal session was broadcast by nearly all sports channels in Brazil and dozens of fans were cheering outside the courtroom in Rio de Janeiro.
Portuguesa said it was mistakenly advised by one of its lawyers that Heverton was suspended for one match instead of two matches. It also said the suspension shouldn’t have taken effect immediately because the player’s trial was too close to the final round.
The club also claimed the document announcing the punishment was officially published only on Monday, a day after the match. The tribunal said Portuguesa knew of the decision right away because it was represented at the player’s hearing.
It is not the first time Fluminense has benefited from an off-the-field ruling to avoid relegation. The club was demoted for the first time in 1996 but remained in the top flight because of supposed refereeing irregularities at the time. Fluminense was relegated again in 1997 and then dropped to the third flight the following year, but a change in the competition’s format allowed the club to move straight back into the first division in 2000.
Portuguesa, whose biggest achievement was a runner-up finish in the 1996 Brazilian league, last played in the second division in 2011.