In March, the Football Association was roundly criticised for their failure to retrospectively punish Wayne Rooney for a savage elbow attack on Wigan’s James McCarthy, with chairman, David Bernstein, claiming that under FIFA guidelines, “if the referee sees the incident, which in this case he did do, the FA has no authority except in what is called exceptional circumstances, really exceptional.” This is the FA’s routine response, often maintaining that action can only be taken after an incident in the case of mistaken identity, and yet they continually appear comfortable rescinding red-card decisions despite FIFA disciplinary statutes confirming: “An expulsion automatically incurs suspension from the next subsequent match.”
Despite this seemingly concrete ruling, John Mensah recently saw his red card received during Sunderland’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool retracted following an appeal. What’s more, the actual law regarding retrospective action states that the disciplinary committee of a particular national football association 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.” As I’m sure most of you have noticed, the b) component of the above decree opens the door to what most of us would consider a natural sense of justice. The definition of an ‘obvious error’ is, of course, subjective, but no more subjective than a Regulatory Commission sitting in judgment on a claim for wrongful dismissal. If the FA can overturn a referee’s decision, why are they so reluctant to punish the culprits involved in incidents missed by a match official? Surely the authority to do so is justified based on the FA’s power to ‘rectify obvious errors?’
Last weekend was by all accounts a fairly uneventful weekend of Premiership football, but White Hart Lane, as per usual, offered an inevitable degree of drama. Heurelho Gomes delivered a predictably calamitous error to allow Blackpool to take the lead against Spurs, but it was Charlie Adam’s stamp on Gareth Bale’s ankle that produced the most controversial post-match talking point after the points were shared. Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, refused to blame Adam for ending Bale’s season prematurely, but Blackpool’s captain will now be available to feature in his club’s final two survival-deciding games despite rupturing the Welshman’s ankle ligaments.
Anyone who has since seen the challenge agrees that Adam stepped not only directly on to Bale’s ankle but also outside of the law, yet the FA will undoubtedly ignore the case particularly as Spurs are unlikely to lodge an appeal. In fairness to Lee Probert, Saturday’s referee, he had to make a decision in real time from one angle and then confirm his action immediately and in the heat of the moment. Unlike pundits and spectators, referees are not afforded the luxury of several replays in different speeds and from various angles, but there has to be a way of ensuring that players guilty of career-threatening tackles or serious assault are punished accordingly, even if the referee has initially misjudged a challenge’s severity or failed to acknowledge an infringement at all.
In 2006, Manchester City’s Ben Thatcher launched an elbow in to the head of Pedro Mendes, which knocked the Portuguese midfielder into the advertising hoardings, rendering him unconscious and requiring oxygen. Referee, Dermot Gallagher, showed Thatcher a yellow card at the time as on this occasion, it was decided that in fact Gallagher had not seen what he thought he saw, and, following review, the FA handed Thatcher an eight-game ban. Greater Manchester Police later made public their intentions to open an inquiry in to the incident had the FA not taken retrospective action. In September 2009, Eduardo da Silva was banned for two Champions’ League games by UEFA for diving to win a penalty against Celtic in the second leg of a qualifying tie. Although the suspension was overturned on appeal, how can UEFA attempt to ban a player for two games for an offence that, had it been seen by the referee, would have seen him just cautioned? The gravity of the punishment surely shouldn’t increase because the referee missed the initial offence.
It would appear that retrospective action is possible despite the FA’s denial, seeing as the association not only retains the authority to do so as stipulated by UEFA declarations but has also endeavored to punish those involved in particularly distasteful incidents in the past. I’m sure most fans would welcome the FA to interpret FIFA’s disciplinary ruling pertaining to ‘rectifying obvious errors,’ by administering appropriate sanctions to persistent bad tacklers, instead of allowing them to play the next game and beyond. However, this is the FA, an organisation that at one point believed that Steve McClaren was capable of managing England’s greatest talents at international level and who, let’s not forget, initiated the Respect Campaign to help referees – but aren’t they actually doing the exact opposite?
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