LONDON: Chelsea Football Club have been banned from registering new players for the next two transfer windows and fined 600,000 Swiss Francs (US$599,460), football's world governing body FIFA said on Friday (Feb 22).
The Blues were found to have breached regulations in the case of 29 minor players and have committed several other infringements relating to registration requirements for players, FIFA said.
"The disciplinary committee sanctioned Chelsea with a ban on registering new players at both national and international level for the next two complete and consecutive registration periods," the governing body said in a statement.
"This ban applies to the club as a whole - with the exception of the women’s and futsal teams - and does not prevent the release of players."
The London-based club now has 90 days to rectify the situation with regards to the 29 players, which reportedly includes Burkino Faso striker Bertrand Traore.
England's Football Association was also fined 510,000 Swiss francs (US$509,468) and given six months to address the situation concerning the international transfer and first registration of minors.
Chelsea issued a statement "categorically refuting" the findings of FIFA's Disciplinary Committee.
The club added it respects the "important work" undertaken by FIFA in relation to the protection of minors and had fully cooperated with FIFA throughout its investigation.
Chelsea had initially been charged with breaches of article 19 in respect of 92 players but FIFA found no wrongdoing in the case of 63 of those.
"The club is extremely disappointed that FIFA has not accepted the club's submissions in relation to the remaining 29 players," a statement said.
The news of a ban is a serious blow to Chelsea who have slipped to sixth in the Premier League having lost five of their last 10 games in all competitions.
Manager Maurizio Sarri, who took over in July, is already under pressure and whether he survives or not Chelsea would need squad-strengthening in the close season.
The FA said in a statement it intended to appeal against the decision and was working with FIFA and Chelsea in a constructive manner to "address the issues" raised by the case.
By contesting the ban Chelsea could delay the sanction and be free to operate in the close season transfer window while the appeal is heard by FIFA's Appeal Committee.
There is also the possibility of the matter ending up in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
In November, Chelsea said they were cooperating with a FIFA investigation into the transfer of minors after being identified by French investigative website Mediapart, one of several outlets publishing documents obtained by Football Leaks.
FIFA operate strict rules over the transfer of under 18s, designed to safeguard against exploitation and trafficking.
Players aged 18 or under can only be transferred abroad if one of three criteria are met: if their parents emigrated for non-footballing reasons, both clubs are in the EU or European Economic Area and the player is aged between 16 and 18 or the player lives within 100km of the new club.
They are not the first big club to fall foul of FIFA's rules on under 18s.
Barcelona were hit with a transfer ban of two windows in 2014 but delayed it by six months by lodging an appeal, which although eventually dismissed, allowed them to sign Luis Suarez from Liverpool and Ivan Rakitic from Sevilla.
Both moves were key to Barca winning a treble of the Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey the following season.
Real Madrid successfully appealed to CAS after being hit with a one-year ban in 2016 which was reduced to six months, meaning they only missed the January 2017 window.
Atletico Madrid, also banned for a year in 2016, saw their appeal fail, however, and were unable to add players in January or the close season of 2017.