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Angry referees accuse SFA of 'sending out wrong message'

Scotland's senior referees yesterday spoke of their "deep dissatisfaction" at the punishment handed out in the Nadir Ciftci case, branding it a betrayal of assurances given to them by the Scottish Football Association in the wake of the 2010 referees' strike.

The controversial incident involving Nadir Ciftci at Tannadice
The controversial incident involving Nadir Ciftci at Tannadice

Ciftci was banned for two matches, with one of them suspended, for manhandling the assistant referee Gavin Harris during Dundee United's League Cup meeting with Inverness Caledonian Thistle in October, after the charge sheet against the player was watered down from "seizing hold [of Harris] by the throat" during a mass brawl on the pitch, to merely "placing an open hand into the lower area of the assistant referee's throat".

Ciftci had previously had his red card in the same match downgraded to a yellow in a separate successful claim for wrongful dismissal, and made a plea for talks with the SFA on the subject at the earliest available opportunity.

In a statement, the Scottish Senior Football Referees' Association (SSFRA) reacted angrily to the SFA's verdict. They referred to the incident in November 2010, when officials from Israel, Luxembourg and Malta were called in to look after four matches after Scotland's Grade One referees withdrew their labour, ostensibly over the SFA's failure to defend them adequately amid criticism of referee Dougie McDonald in a Dundee United versus Celtic match that October.

"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," said the statement. "Following a weekend of action taken by some of our members in 2010, assurances were given by the SFA that it would take very seriously the protection of referees."

A statement from the SFA criticised the SSFRA for doing their talking through the media, with the governing body also sending a copy of the judicial panel's reasons to the SSFRA chairman James Bee.

". . . 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."

The former Fifa list referee Stuart Dougal expressed sympathy with his ex-colleagues but said he hoped the issue could be resolved without resorting to industrial action.

"I would say the punishment certainly doesn't fit the crime," said Dougal who retired in 2009. "To miss one match for what is in effect an assault on a match official is way out of kilter with previous punishments. But in terms of following on from here 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 saloon for the SFA. But hopefully it can be avoided and they will have a review . . . and see if the punishment should be increased upwards."

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