Neil Doncaster's Blog
The Scottish disciplinary process
“How can you have an appeals process which is dependent upon the referee admitting he got it wrong in the first place?”
This was the question posed by Walter Smith earlier this year. Walter Smith is not alone in questioning why Scotland should be so out of step with what happens elsewhere in Europe. PFA Scotland, Celtic, Hearts, Gus MacPherson and John Hughes have also spoken out in the past year or so backing changes to the Scottish FA’s appeals process. I know that this is being looked at by Gordon Smith and his colleagues which in itself is encouraging.
This blog is published in the hope of providing viable alternatives to our current system. And, importantly, to explain why positive change need not cut across FIFA’s rules.
Why we need change
In our current disciplinary system, only if a referee is willing to admit he got a decision wrong can a decision be reviewed on appeal. By insisting that referees must agree to review their decisions before an appeals process can take place, we are effectively insisting referees become both judge and jury. In doing so, we risk reducing their credibility in the eyes of the paying public. We need an open and transparent appeals system – one that is entirely independent of those making the decisions in the first place.
Being a referee in the 21st century is a tough job – nobody is denying that. I have huge sympathy for any referee who makes an honest and genuine mistake while the eyes of several hundred thousand critical viewers look on. But by insisting that the referee is part of the appeals process, we make his job even tougher than it already is.
The decisions of the referee are final
So says FIFA (in Law 5 of the Laws of the Game). Those who support the status quo regularly quote this rule to say why change would be unlawful in FIFA’s eyes. It has been said that a review of a referee’s decision without any input from the referee himself would contravene FIFA’s rules. So how is it that the English FA can get away with it?
FIFA’s Disciplinary Code
The answer lies in FIFA’s own rules. Article 77 of FIFA’s disciplinary code says that its own disciplinary committee is responsible for:
a) sanctioning serious infringements which have escaped the match officials’ attention;
b) rectifying obvious errors in the referee’s disciplinary decisions;
c) extending the duration of a match suspension incurred automatically by an expulsion;
d) pronouncing additional sanctions, such as a fine.
Because FIFA’s own disciplinary committee is able to do these things in relation to a FIFA match, any other football association around the World can do the same for matches under its own jurisdiction. Hence the reason why the English FA do not force referees to review their own mistakes.
So let’s not hide behind FIFA rules. Let’s look at our own appeals system and ask ourselves how it can be improved. Let’s admit that referees have a tough job and sometimes need help to make the best decisions. Let’s not have an appeals system in place that relies on referees admitting their mistakes. In this way we will prevent compounding a genuine error on the field of play with another, this time avoidable error, which adds points or suspensions to an innocent player’s disciplinary record.
It seems to me that there are enough talented and experienced people around Scottish football to create an independent review panel. As in England, this could involve respected former players and managers. We can also make sure that these individuals are knowledgeable in the Laws of the Game and up to date with any developments on how to apply them. What is essential is that the referee himself is not part of that panel.
We need to overhaul our current appeals system. We need to ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done, by creating an independent appeals body. And we need to do so now.
I’ve put these views to the Scottish FA and I’m looking forward to working with them to make a positive change on behalf of our clubs.
There is a mood for change in Scottish football just now. With some co-operation between ourselves, the Scottish FA and our clubs, and a little perseverance, we can make a step in the right direction.
Neil Doncaster, SPL Chief Executive
Start date 2010/11
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