Nothing ‘frivolous’ about Review Panel


There’s been plenty of heat in the debate over the incident involving Matthew Foschini of Melbourne Victory in the match against Brisbane Roar on Saturday night.

There-s been plenty of heat in the debate over the incident involving Matthew Foschini of Melbourne Victory in the match against Brisbane Roar on Saturday night.

Fans have had their say in talk-back radio and online blogs, commentators have cast their judgments and Victory coach Mehmet Durakovic described the decision as “unacceptable”.

Mark Bosnich has added his opinion that the use of the legal word “frivolous” in the judgment handed down by the Match Review Panel was deeply offensive towards the Melbourne Victory board and management and an insult to the Victory fans.

Foshini now has a two-game suspension, one imposed for the red card and one because Melbourne Victory-s Obvious Error Application was found to have no merit.

Let-s go through this incident and identify some key facts amid the blow torch of hot opinions.
• Matthew was given a straight red card by referee Ben Williams for his tackle on Thomas Broich, which was deemed to be Serious Foul Play (eg; when challenging for the ball).
• The Victory camp concedes Foschini committed a foul tackle, but argued it only deserved a yellow card. This is a crucial point that I will return to in a moment.

In the first instance, we were dealing with an academic argument, a football talking point. Ben Williams made a decision, later validated by FFA Referees Director, Mark Shield. Melbourne Victory fans held the opinion that the decision was wrong.

In our game, everyone has the right to express an opinion, but that doesn-t change the material fact: Foschini was given a red card by a referee who had every right to make that decision under the Laws of the Game.

Whether you like it or not, football operates under a system where the referee is the judge and jury. FIFA says the referee-s decision is final with only very rare exceptions.

A red card isn-t a preliminary assessment to be later confirmed by a review – it doesn-t mean you are “on report” or “going to the tribunal” as in other Australian sports. In normal circumstances, it means you have committed a red card offence, you are leaving the field immediately and will be suspended for a minimum of one week.

The issue took on an entirely different complexion when Melbourne Victory opted to submit an Obvious Error Application in a bid to get Foschini-s red card rescinded.

The independent Match Review Panel (MRP) – consisting of Simon Micallef (Chair), Alan Davidson and Alan Contini – reviewed the Foschini incident.

It-s worth noting that Australia is one of the few national associations under FIFA that allows clubs and players to seek a review of red cards.

The Hyundai A-League has adopted a similar model as used in the English Premier League. It-s acknowledgement that referees are human and sometimes make indisputable mistakes (not just judgment calls that not everyone agrees with).

The Obvious Error system is intended to overturn red cards in exceptional cases only and as such the test is high. In this case it would have required the MRP to determine that no referee would have even awarded a yellow card to the player.

In reviewing the incident, the MRP found that Matthew Foschini indeed committed the offence of “Serious Foul Play (eg: when challenging for the ball)” against Broich and proposed a sanction of one match.

Additionally, the MRP also considered the merits of an Obvious Error Application submitted by the Victory. The MRP unanimously determined that the Obvious Error Application should be rejected and that the decision of the Referee was not an obvious error – ie the incident was not one that no referee would have even given a yellow card for which was the relevant test.

The MRP also unanimously determined that the Obvious Error Application of the Club was frivolous for the purposes of clause 9.8 of the A-League Disciplinary Regulations.

The use of the word “frivolous” was not a word conjured by the MRP to describe the Victory-s application. It-s a legal term inserted in the regulations to recognise that the Obvious Error system is to apply in exceptional circumstances only and not as a matter of course.

It is used effectively when the MRP reaches the conclusion that the application had no merit – it was doomed to fail because the relevant test was whether no referee would have awarded even a yellow card in the circumstances.

This outcome has further provoked opinions, but the sanction is placed in the regulations to make clubs think carefully before applying to the MRP with an Obvious Error Application.

If there were no threshold test or consequence, the temptation would exist for every club to challenge every red card, like buying a ticket in the lottery to see if you get lucky. That is not what the MRP is about.

The MRP does not have a mandate to “re-referee” an incident or provide a second opinion. It deals with the facts and exceptional circumstances.

This is where Victory-s admission that Foshini-s tackle deserved a yellow card becomes crucial. Under the MRP regulations, an Obvious Error includes a decision by the referee to “issue a red card when no card was warranted”.

In other words, Victory had to prove Foshini deserved no card for the tackle, but by their own submission it was worthy of a yellow. Most of the fans and pundits conceded it deserved a yellow. That being the case, the Obvious Error Application couldn-t succeed under the current regulations.

There have been various calls to review the regulations, in particular the use of the word “frivolous”. These matters will certainly be taken into account in the end-of-season review of the Hyundai A-League.

In the meantime, it-s back to the football and what a joy that will be.