FORMER referee Stuart Dougal has urged Scotland’s current group of officials not to repeat their strike action of 2010 after Dundee United’s Nadir Ciftci was given just a two-match ban for putting his hand on an assistant referee’s throat.
Dougal expressed his sympathy for the anger expressed by match officials in the wake of what they see as an unacceptably lenient punishment by the Scottish Football Association but also called on them to be “level-headed in their response”.
The Turkish forward’s ban – one game of which is suspended until the end of the season – came after the 21-year-old was found guilty at an SFA disciplinary hearing of “excessive misconduct” in the altercation with Gavin Harris during United’s League Cup quarter-final defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle in October.
Yesterday, the Scottish Senior Football Referees’ Association expressed its “deep dissatisfaction at the leniency of the sanction imposed on a player who was found guilty of physically abusing one of our members”. That prompted an angry response from the SFA, who accused the SSFRA of “inflammatory behaviour”.
The dispute threatens to create a deep rift between referees and the governing body, with fears growing that there could be a repeat of the 2010 strike.
Ciftci had already won an appeal against his sending-off in the match but was separately accused of “seizing hold” of Harris “by the throat”.
At his hearing, that was reduced to “placing an open hand into the lower area of the assistant referee’s throat”.
The referees’ association has now called for a meeting with the SFA, accusing the governing body of failing to live up to the assurances it gave to protect officials back in 2010.
Then, the referees took unprecedented strike action, claiming that the SFA was not doing enough to protect them from undue criticism and questions over their integrity from clubs, leading to increasing fears for their personal safety. Foreign referees were flown in to take charge of Scottish matches.
Dougal, who was in favour of the strike action in 2010, said: “Hopefully that can be avoided.
“I hope they’re level-headed in terms of refereeing and not stepping out of line in terms of the industrial action that we saw before. I was very much a supporter of that because it was the last chance for the SFA. But, in terms of following on from here, they will have a review, even a review of that [Ciftci] case and see if the punishment should be increased upwards.
“I think most fair-minded people, never mind ex-referees, would say that this is not right. To have a one-match ban for, in effect, assaulting a match official is way out of kilter given previous punishments handed out to other players.”
The SSFRA insists the issue is not about punishing Ciftci, but creating a deterrent to other players.
In a statement, SSFRA chairman James Bee said: “We wish to express our deep dissatisfaction at the leniency of the sanction imposed on a player who was found guilty of physically abusing one of our members.
“We feel this sends out completely the wrong message on issues surrounding the protection of match officials at all levels of the game in Scotland.
“Our association strongly believes that a thorough review of the governing body’s duty of care responsibilities to match officials should now be undertaken to ensure that referees are operating within a safe working environment.
“We will be seeking talks with the Scottish FA within the next few days to discuss matters before reporting to our members.”
However, the SFA last night responded angrily to the referees’ association.
A statement issued by the governing body read: “The Scottish FA has yet to receive any formal correspondence from the Scottish Senior Football Referees’ Association despite being made aware of a statement issued with the authority of its chairman, James Bee, via the media.
“It would have been befitting of a members’ organisation such as the SSFRA to seek an explanation for the outcome directly, without the need for such inflammatory media comments.
“Notwithstanding the lack of communication, we have forwarded the reasons of the Judicial Panel to Mr Bee for his consideration.”
Dundee United, meanwhile, fully backed their player.
“We presented video evidence but it’s all down to interpretation,” said United manager Jackie McNamara. “We all see things differently. The tribunal made their decision, we respect it and we move on.”