The A-League Disciplinary Regulations unlawfully deny a player his legal right to a fair hearing and will be struck down in court unless changed, Professional Footballers Association (PFA) Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said today.
Football Federation Australia (FFA) sought the agreement of the PFA on the eve of the A-League season to introduce some material changes to the regulations which had served the game very well since their introduction in 2008/2009.  Among the changes sought by FFA were:
• to give the Match Review Panel the right to investigate, charge and penalize a player for an on-field incident without a hearing on the question of guilt or innocence.  This can involve overturning the on-field decision of the referee or acting on incidents which the referee failed to detect; and
• to limit a player’s right at any hearing to whether he should be subject to an additional penalty over and above a mandatory penalty specified in the regulations.
Despite the PFA rejecting the changes on the basis that they violated a player’s right to a fair hearing and natural justice, FFA proceeded to implement the changes unilaterally.
“It is a fundamental right of any person who has a professional interest in the outcome of a disciplinary procedure to be given adequate notice of any charge and a hearing on the questions of both guilt/innocence and penalty,” Schwab said.  “A review process also helps ensure the correctness of all decisions.
“As it stands, the Match Review Panel can act to deny a player his right to work or make a decision that damages his reputation without even giving the player the opportunity to contest his innocence.  It could suspend a player from the Grand Final even though it is only in possession of some of the information when it makes its decision.  In particular, an over-reliance on video can give misleading results due to the limitations of the technology,” Schwab added.
In response to questions from the PFA as to how FFA thought it could act in violation of the fundamental requirements of natural justice and why it would want to do so, FFA replied that it had no obligation to do so as a “private body”.

FFA and the PFA reached agreement with the A-League clubs on the eve of the 2008/2009 season to reform the A-League Disciplinary Regulations.  Since then the on-field discipline at A-League matches has improved substantially.
Important innovations included giving players the right to challenge a red card where the referee made an “obvious error” in keeping with the FIFA Disciplinary Regulations.  Others included clarifying the role of the Match Review Panel to deal with incidents which escaped the referee’s attention.  On the eve of the 2009/10 season, the Match Review’s Panel was given the power to deal with simulation, something the PFA had recommended two seasons earlier.
During the 2009/10 season, in a case involving Steve Pantelidis of Gold Coast United, the Disciplinary Committee (which hears appeals from the Match Review Panel) held that the player was entitled to natural justice and could contest his guilt/innocence before the Disciplinary Committee as well as any penalty.  This decision appears to have prompted FFA’s move to change the regulations.