Monday 19 February 2018

Scots ready to send SOS to Irish referees

Gavin McCafferty and Ronnie Esplin

IRISH referees could be asked to save this weekend's SPL fixtures after Scotland's Category One officials confirmed their intention to strike.

The Scottish FA are scouring Europe for replacements for their referees and Irish officials are among the most likely candidates, as the Airtricity League is in its close season.

The FAI say they would have to broach the matter with their referees before committing.

An FAI spokesman said: "If there is an official request we we will consider it, but obviously we would have to consult with our referees first."

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan expressed his sympathy for under-fire referees, who took their stance amid safety fears, and vowed to reach a resolution to avert this weekend's action. But he has already begun the process of finding referees to take their place for this weekend's matches in the SPL and other senior fixtures.

A statement from Regan read: "While we remain hopeful that the situation can be resolved to everyone's satisfaction, we have no option but to draw up contingency plans, which will involve sourcing match officials in other countries."

He added: "At this stage we are not in a position to talk about which countries they would come from. We are in very early-stage discussions with other associations across Europe. We have the backing of the SPL to take that action and we are waiting for our own referee committee to approve that action."

Referees acted unanimously at their monthly meeting on Sunday, issuing a statement that read: "The incessant and adverse nature of recent comments on referees has placed intolerable pressures on personal and professional lives.

"Statements questioning honesty and integrity have been aimed across refereeing in general and have led to an unprecedented level of abuse and genuine concerns for safety and for the ability to carry out normal family and business commitments.

"The group appreciated the full impact this decision will have on fans this weekend and for that reason it was not taken lightly. However, it was believed to be necessary and will hopefully put an end to the more extreme attacks on referees."

It is understood that Category Two officials backed their colleagues on Sunday, although they plan to officiate games in the junior leagues. Lower-grade officials are unlikely to break the strike and some referees from abroad may think twice.

SFA president George Peat called for an end to the attacks on referees' integrity, saying: "The behaviour of some people in recent weeks has tarnished the image of Scottish football. It has demeaned the game. The culture of inference, innuendo and conspiracy theories must stop."

Peat did not name any clubs but there was little doubt he was referring to Celtic, whose chairman John Reid last week called for the SFA to sack Dougie McDonald over his admission that he misled Celtic manager Neil Lennon over the circumstances surrounding his penalty U-turn at Tannadice on October 17.

Irish Independent

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