Josh Meekings cup final ban wrong, says Fifa chief

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths (right) heads the ball which is deflected of  Caley Thistle's Josh Meekings. Picture: PA
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths (right) heads the ball which is deflected of Caley Thistle's Josh Meekings. Picture: PA
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THE Scottish Football Association has been warned by the head of Fifa’s refereeing committee that it risks setting a “very dangerous precedent” by giving a player a retrospective ban for a handball incident that went unpunished in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final between Inverness and Celtic.

Josh Meekings was issued with a one-game ban on Tuesday which means he will miss the 30 May final against Championship side Falkirk. Television cameras showed Meekings handled the ball in the box, but Celtic were not awarded a penalty – and Inverness went on to win 3-2 after extra time.

Inverness immediately lodged an appeal against the ban, which will be heard today.

“I think it would be a very, very dangerous precedent,” said Jim Boyce, a Fifa vice president.

“Who’s to say it was even intentional? Every week we have handball situations where referees make a decision.

“In this particular game, there was a referee, an assistant referee, one of these people behind the goal line and there was a fourth official and none of them made any decision. So I can’t believe that they’re going to suspend a player for a handball.”

On Tuesday Celtic wrote to the SFA asking why referee Steven McLean and his assistants did not award a penalty and send Meekings off.

Boyce told BBC Scotland that he understands Celtic’s grievance but disciplinary action against the officials in question is a matter for the SFA.

Britain’s Fifa vice-president and the head of refereeing committee is in favour of the fourth match official being able to consult a monitor should he see any key incidents that are missed by the match referee.

The SFA made no comment on Boyce’s remarks last night.

Meanwhile, former referee Steve Conroy believes under-fire official McLean should be thrown straight back into action as soon as possible.

McLean has found himself the target of Celtic fans’ fury after his failure to spot Meekings handling the ball, with some now demanding he never takes charge of their team again. He will be on duty again tomorrow – but only as a fourth official as Hamilton host Motherwell at New Douglas Park.

Conroy does not believe he should be taken out of the line of fire for too long.

He said: “I can’t speak for Steven but my own preference was to get back on the horse and get on with it.

“I think Steven is strong enough that that is what he will want as well. Should he be given a break from Celtic matches? I don’t think this should change any plans that are already in place.

“He will referee Celtic again. There is absolutely no problem with him doing it. Okay it won’t be next week because you don’t referee the same team two weeks running. But if there are plans for him to referee them before the end of the season, I don’t think this should change their thinking.”

Conroy quit refereeing in 2012, three months after awarding Rangers a controversial penalty against Dunfermline.

He gave the decision after winger Sone Aluko appeared to tumble following a foul by Martin Hardie, but an SFA disciplinary panel later ruled the Nigeria international dived and dished out a two-game ban.

Conroy then spent 12 weeks being overlooked for top-flight fixtures as he was demoted back down the leagues before he decided to resign. He later won the right to take the SFA to court for unfair dismissal.

“I know what Steven will be going through,” said Conroy, now back working as a GP. “It’s not the most pleasant of situation to be involved in.

“For some agencies to call into question your integrity for an honest mistake makes it a terrible place to be.”

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“We are extremely disappointed that this has arisen and the player himself is mentally shattered at the turn of events.

“Josh is keen to appear in person at the disciplinary hearing and we will most strongly support him by all means available.”

A disciplinary panel must prove Meekings deliberately denied Leigh Griffiths the opportunity to score after handballing his header.

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