Tom English: Too much indignation on Ciftci case

The lack of an explanation has left an information vacuum  Picture: SNS
The lack of an explanation has left an information vacuum Picture: SNS
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Up and down the country, there are football managers trying to teach football players to respect the referee’s decision.

Somebody should tell the referees that respect works both ways when it comes to making difficult calls. In crying about the verdict of the SFA Judicial Panel hearing into the Nadir Ciftci case, the whistlers’ association in Scotland came across badly. Their statement of Wednesday evening was akin to a player throwing the toys out of the pram when not getting his own way.

We should recap on some of this. During a League Cup tie against Inverness Caledonian Thistle in October, Ciftci was sent off amid a melee. That red card was an error by the officials and was later downgraded to a yellow. Ciftci was charged with violent conduct, but the charge was later dropped. He was also charged with “seizing hold by the throat” of assistant referee, Gavin Harris. That charge was later watered down to “placing an open hand into the lower area of the assistant referee’s throat.”

Now, of course, there were questions to be asked of the Dundee United striker – and a strong argument to be made that any kind of raising of a hand to an official demands a more severe sanction than the one handed down by the judicial panel. His two-match ban – one suspended until the end of the season – did not sit well with most people. The verdict demanded explanation, but, of course, we never get an explanation in these cases.

That is the wish of the judicial panel and it is understandable given the supporter outrage that can follow. Surely, though, there is a way of publishing the detail of a report without compromising the safety of the people doing the reporting. In this case, as in the case of Ian Black and the gambling saga, we are left in an information vacuum. It’s a ridiculous way to dispense justice. It seems beyond doubt that Ciftci raised his hand, in some way, to Harris, so why such a lenient punishment? What was the mitigation?

Ciftci wasn’t the only guilty man in this brouhaha, however. Officials ought not to be a protected species in the game when they make a shambles of things and, clearly, this was one such example. The Ciftci red card was proven to be wrong, the charge of violent conduct was also wrong and the accusation of grabbing Harris’s throat was wrong again. At the end of all of this it was the Scottish Senior Football Referee Association that issued an indignant statement to the media? That was a bit rich. A little too much indignation and not enough self-examination.

There is a danger of lumping all referees and assistant referees in together on this one. That would be wrong. When James Bee, the head of the Scottish Senior Referees Association, issued his statement slamming the verdict he did so, supposedly on behalf of all of his members. When Stuart Dougal did a round of interviews expressing his anger that referees were not being protected by the SFA it came across as Dougal speaking on behalf of all officials.

There is some doubt about this, though. Did Bee speak to his members before issuing his statement? Did Dougal? Did they speak to Harris, the official who was at the centre of the storm? Did they even speak to the SFA and ask how the verdict came about? The SFA says they did not.

It is believed that some referees and assistant referees do not wholly buy into what Bee and Dougal said in statements and newspaper and radio interviews. None of them agrees with the judicial panel’s verdict, but the difference is that they accept it, just like a player is supposed to accept that the referee’s decision is final.

And there is good reason for them accepting it, if not agreeing it. Not just because of a respect for authority but also because it is in the interests of the officials on duty in that League Cup tie to move on – and quickly. They performed poorly on the night. They made bad decisions. One of those errors led to a United player being wrongly sent off and United were then knocked out of the competition. If mistakes were made, Ciftci wasn’t the only one who made them. It is understood, he’s not the only one who wants to put this episode behind him without any further attention being drawn to it.

The SSFRA, as represented by Bee, said in its missive: “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.”

That’s overly dramatic and pompous. Referees are not under siege in Scotland. Things have improved from when they went on strike. To talk of “duty of care” and a “safe working environment” is to invite ridicule. To seek talks with the SFA is to invite a response from every manager in the country who might also seek talks, with the officials, in an attempt to get them to explain why they make so many horrendous errors week after week.

Justice is a two-way street.

Verdict is heavy burden for Dyson to carry

Six weeks ago, the English golfer Simon Dyson was disqualified from the BMW Masters in China for tapping down a spike mark in the line of his putt. For Dyson, there was no defence. His act during the second round of the tournament at Lake Malaren golf club was as clear a rules breach as you could possibly find and, in the weeks since, the game has waited for the Yorkshireman to be sanctioned.

Normally, we wait and wait in such circumstances. Golf has about as much of a stomach for cheating controversies as it does for lengthy debate on the dangers of doping. Many in the upper echelons of the sport would rather a blow to the head with a 5-iron than deal with an allegation of skulduggery. The establishment normally tries to play this stuff down and, too often, it has enough willing accomplices to make it happen, as Geoff Ogilvy, the former US Open champion, wrote this week in Golf World magazine.

“I like the notion that the press in all its forms exists to hold tour players accountable,” wrote the impressive Australian. “Journalists and broadcasters should not be mere cheerleaders. There’s too much of that in golf right now, to be honest. And not nearly enough untainted honesty.”

Some golf observers had low expectations ahead of Dyson’s hearing in front of the three-man European Tour committee. If Colin Montgomerie can escape with the gentlest of rebukes after doing the Jakarta Shuffle and improving his lie in 2005 then you learn to be cynical about these things.

So Dyson’s punishment is interesting. Depending on your viewpoint, it is a slapped wrist and a reprieve or a harsh penalty for a minor offence. There will be different arguments on that score, but what is beyond doubt is the clarity of the finding. Dyson has effectively been put on 18 months probation. If he was to break the rules again in that time period he will face a two-month ban. He has also been fined £30,000 and has to pay costs of £7,500. The wording of the judgement is the key. Dyson was found to have deliberately and knowingly broken the rules. His purpose was to gain an advantage. Those sections of the ruling are like howitzers. There is no attempt at a fudge. The criticism is unequivocal. It might be argued that the ruling was to be expected given the video evidence, but video evidence has pointed to the guilt of golfers in the past and it has been conveniently glossed over.

Dyson’s offence was twofold. Firstly, he got caught. Secondly, he’s not a big enough name, commercially, for the golf establishment to enter pleas of mitigation on his behalf.

The golfer must now shoulder the weight of that verdict. And that’s a heavy load that no caddie can carry for him.