English FA rescinds red cards, FIFA backlash probable

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Football Association of England risked a backlash and possible disciplinary action from football's world governing body FIFA on Tuesday when it rescinded the suspensions due from red cards that had been given during the past weekend's matches to FA Premier League players Andrew Welsh of Sunderland and Paul Konchesky of West Ham United.

The FA's decision permitted Welsh to play for the Black Cats in their 2-1 loss at home to Manchester City Tuesday evening. Konchesky will also be available for the Hammers' next game on Saturday when West Ham host Bolton Wanderers. However, the FA's actions contravene FIFA regulations, which demand that any player sent off be suspended for his team's next match, with no right of appeal except for mistaken identity.

FIFA House had already been in contact with Soho Square over the past week after the FA downgraded a red card that had been given to Newcastle United's Jermaine Jenas to a yellow card on the advice of referee Steve Bennett. The FA had indicated it would eventually issue a reply to FIFA, but the decision to overturn two more cards less than a week after the FIFA communication is likely to displease FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

For the past three years especially, Blatter has been adamant that a red card in a football match must result in the player who was sent off missing his team's next game in the same competition. Blatter has clashed with the FA on this issue during that time, going so far as to threaten the English association with expulsion from FIFA. As a result, the FA agreed in 2004 to change their disciplinary process, in particular ensuring the process was expedited so that a player who was sent off did indeed miss his next match. However, it is now apparent that the FA has chosen to also allow for expedited appeals of red cards on grounds other than mistaken identity, which is not provided for in the FIFA regulations.

Although the FA has now permitted Jenas, Welsh and Konchesky to play after being sent off in a previous match, it also extended an automatic three-match ban imposed on Southend United's Freddy Eastwood by one additional match after its disciplinary panel deemed his appeal of a red card received the previous weekend to be "frivolous." The FA also rejected the appeal of Luton Town's Steve Howard, but did not extend his three-match suspension.

Unlike with Jenas, the red cards issued to Welsh and Konchesky will remain on their disciplinary records because the referees involved did not agree that they made mistakes. This means they will still receive an additional one-match ban should they be sent off again this season. Following Tuesday's decisions, half of the six red cards shown in the Premiership this season have been overturned. And in an interesting footnote, it was Jenas who Konchesky was sent off for fouling this past weekend.