SAO PAULO (AP) -- A civil court judge reinstated Portuguesa to the first division of the Brazilian league on Wednesday, putting popular club Flamengo in danger of relegation just a few weeks before the championship is due to kick off.
Judge Miguel Ferrari Jr. ruled Wednesday that a sports tribunal was wrong to strip four points from Portuguesa for using players who were under suspension in the last round of the 2013 season, and said Brazil's football federation would be fined if it didn't abide by the decision. The federation can appeal.
Flamengo also was stripped of four competition points for the same reason and was just outside relegation zone, so Brazil's most popular club would be the one demoted if the ruling sticks.
Fluminense was in the relegation zone before Portuguesa and Flamengo were stripped of the competition points.
The judge's decision only gives the points back to Portuguesa and doesn't specify that a club must be relegated, so there is a possibility that the Brazilian federation begins the championship with 21 clubs. The 20-team schedule has already been announced.
Flamengo has asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport to reverse last year's sports tribunal's decision, but there is no timetable on a ruling.
Wednesday's ruling in a Sao Paulo civil court, nearly four months after the 2013 competition ended, is not good news for Brazilian football as the World Cup approaches. The legal battles could keep the league from starting April 20 on schedule.
In addition, the Brazilian federation could get in trouble with FIFA because Sao Paulo-based Portuguesa sought a civil court to appeal the sports tribunal decision.
The federation recently was warned by FIFA over the lawsuits, which could be a breach of the international governing body's statutes and could lead to sanctions for clubs and the federation.
FIFA told the federation it must prohibit members from going to court over sports matters relating to a league ruling. An article in FIFA's statutes says that "recourse to ordinary courts of law is prohibited unless specifically provided for in the FIFA regulations."
In the ruling Wednesday, the judge said the Brazilian football federation could be fined if it punishes Portuguesa in any way for seeking the civil court.
The Brazilian federation has already reversed a similar ruling when upset Portuguesa fans went to court earlier this year.
Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni