Ian Maxwell, Chief Executive of the Scottish FA:
It is incumbent on me to address the comments from member clubs made via the media in recent weeks, and other distracting commentary, to provide perspective and reality amid the debate on Scottish football’s disciplinary system.
Along with key Scottish FA staff, I met with Premiership clubs on Monday where we discussed and debated the differing views on the Judicial Panel Protocol. I am acutely aware that changes implemented in the summer – changes that had input from and were approved by the Judicial Panel Working Group comprising Scottish FA and SPFL staff, club, players’, managers’ and referees’ representatives – have subsequently caused some confusion and uncertainty.
We discussed the changes that have been introduced this season and have committed to ongoing discussion between now and the end of the season in order to review and, where possible, improve the disciplinary rules.
For the avoidance of doubt, however, at no point during Monday’s meeting did any discussion take place on referees from outwith Scotland, nor will the Scottish FA countenance such a notion.
It is also important that we do not conflate two separate areas: refereeing performance and disciplinary procedures. On the former, our match officials are highly respected at FIFA and UEFA level. We currently have 22 match officials on the FIFA list and while they are as susceptible to human error as players and managers, I reiterate my support to the match officials at all levels in this country. They are a vital part of our game and it is our duty as the governing body to support and encourage them as we do our players and coaches to achieve our objective of a vibrant and flourishing game in this country.
In terms of our disciplinary procedures, I am compelled to remind all stakeholders – including supporters – that the role of the Compliance Officer is to act independently and in accordance with the rule book with which she is provided.
Notwithstanding the Judicial Panel Protocol has now been in operation since 2011, misunderstanding on the remit of the Compliance Officer not only endures but in recent weeks the criticism of the incumbent has been unacceptable. Not only has it been personal in nature, it has also been grossly unfair.
The role of Compliance Officer is to ensure that all those involved in Association Football in Scotland observe the Disciplinary Rules, which includes reviewing misconduct missed by match officials and to subsequently raise a notice of complaint where appropriate.
One of the major changes made this season, agreed by all stakeholders, was to remove the burden on the Compliance Officer of having to decide both whether an incident was worthy of review and what the outcome of that review should be. Contrary to opinion, the Compliance Officer does not offer any judgement on any incident.
When an incident has been identified, the Compliance Officer asks one fundamental question: was the incident seen, in its entirety, by the match officials?
If the answer is yes, the matter is closed pursuant to IFAB Law 5: the match official’s decision is final.
If the answer is no – due to either the incident being completely missed (such as an off the ball incident) or that a significant part of the incident has been missed because the match official’s view has been obscured or blocked – the incident is referred, independently, to three former category one referees.
Each of these experts are then asked whether the incident would have resulted in a sending off offence or deemed an act of simulation had it been witnessed at the time. If all three independently reach the unanimous view that the unseen incident constituted one of these, the matter is then progressed. If not, then no retrospective action can be taken.
From then on it is for the Fast Track Tribunal to determine whether there has been a breach of the disciplinary rules.
To reiterate: the Compliance Officer does not decide what action is taken, she simply refers unseen incidents for consideration in line with the terms of the Protocol.
It is worth noting that the member clubs were emphatic in their approval of a more robust set of legal procedures to deal with on and off-field misconduct in 2011. The success of the system since its inception cannot be undervalued.
While the Scottish FA is the custodian of on-field disciplinary rules, nevertheless there is a responsibility on all stakeholders to promote the best aspects of our national game and to operate collectively with its best interests at heart.