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Maxwell: SFA disciplinary system is still fit for purpose

Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell says education is the key to ending controversy.

Maxwell says the Scottish game is in a good place.
Maxwell says the Scottish game is in a good place. SNS Group

Scottish FA chief executive Ian Maxwell has defended the governing body's disciplinary system after a season of controversy that saw one club allege bias in decision making.

A series of high-profile incidents throughout the season saw fans and clubs question consistency in how rules were applied, not only by referees during games but particularly after the match when players and managers can be cited for offences that match officials haven't seen fully.

Maxwell played down the controversy, believing that clubs would always be unhappy with decisions that go against them. Speaking after the organisations AGM, he said no member club had proposed major changes when given the opportunity.

"I think refereeing decisions have been contentious since the start of football," he told STV. "That's what we like to sit in the pub and talk about, how we would have done it differently and what the referee sees or doesn't see.

"I think there were challenges last season and we've engaged with clubs.

"Clubs throughout the Judicial Panel Protocol review process have ample opportunity throughout the season to propose changes that they would like to see to the disciplinary process and we didn't receive anything significant over the season.

"I'm sure once the games kick off again there'll be a few decisions that people are unhappy with but that's just football."

Scottish FA compliance officer Clare Whyte has the role of issuing notices of complaint where it is believed rules have been broken and Maxwell defended Whyte in January when he felt that criticism of her role had become "personal and unfair".

'There is absolutely no club treated any differently from another. I can 100% confirm that is the case.'
Ian Maxwell

Asked after the AGM if he felt that continued criticism was unjustified, he said people didn't understand her role or the system but that work would be done to make that clear.

"I think a lot of it is unfounded because the compliance officer doesn't actually make any decisions," he said. "She just oversees the judicial process. So the compliance officer isn't involved in the decision-making process as such.

"Other individuals, whether it's the refereeing panel or the judicial panel, are the ones who make the decision but the compliance officer has been portrayed as the figurehead who decides everything but that isn't actually the case. I'm sure that understanding will become a bit clearer over the next season.

"I think [education] helps. Even the laws of the game, a lot of supporters will sit in the stand and talk about a decision but they don't understand the law and why the referee made the decision he made.

"Education is a big element and we did try it over the season and it's something we can continue to focus on."

Rangers were among the most vocal critics of the SFA last season and claimed their players "appear to be being held to a different code of conduct" to those at other clubs.

Maxwell rejected that allegation, saying: "There is absolutely no club treated any differently from another. I can 100% confirm that is the case.

"Rangers are obviously going to be entitled to their opinion and I think every club thinks every decision they are on the end of is the worst decision in football. That's just part and parcel of the game."

VAR proposal expected soon

Referees could soon be aided by VAR technology.
Referees could soon be aided by VAR technology. SNS Group

One proposed solution to aid referees is the introduction of Video Assistant Referees. 

The chief executive said that a fact-finding mission was continuing but he expected a concrete proposal to be in front of clubs soon.

"It's not straightforward in terms of how you implement it," he said. "There are different ways to do it. Scottish FA staff, in conjunction with SPFL staff, have been on a number of trips to similar sized countries across Europe that have implemented it, to pick their brains on the best way to do it.

"Once we've completed that it'll go back to the clubs to understand the appetite for it. I think we've seen recently that there are still decisions that go wrong. Does VAR help or not? 

"There are a few things that make people unsure. It's probably not the panacea that everybody wants it to be and there are still contentious decisions but that's just football. Hopefully we can get to the point soon where we're going back to the clubs with a proposal.

"There will be a cost element and we're in the process of working out exactly what that is. There are different ways to implement the systems so we'll see which one suits us best."

The health of Scottish football

Reflecting on an AGM that he said passed without any major areas of contention, Maxwell also gave his view on the current state of the game in Scotland.

"It's incredibly positive," he said. "We've got a national team head coach for the men that everyone is behind. We've got a young squad that have a great chance of qualifying for the Euros.

"We've got a women's team coach that is a terrific representative of Scottish football and she's leading a team at the World Cup. We'll see the growth of the women's game coming from that.

"We've got a hugely competitive domestic game when you look at the challenges Celtic have faced this season. I think it's an incredibly positive time."

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