PFA Chief Executive Brendan Schwab examines FIFA’s “obvious error” test, which is the standard that must be applied before a referee’s on-field decision can be overturned.
Article 77(b) of the FIFA Disciplinary Code is what the A-League relies upon to give the Match Review Panel the power to overturn red cards and deal with simulation.  It reads: “The Disciplinary Committee is responsible for…rectifying obvious errors in the referee’s disciplinary decisions”.  It is not a test of whether the referee was incorrect.  Under the A-League Regulations, the error must be “so obvious that no referee, in possession of all the facts, including all Broadcast Footage, could reasonably have made (it)”.

The test is intentionally a high one.  Why? To protect the integrity of the referee and his on-field decisions.  There are two limbs to it.  First, the error must be obvious.  Second, it must involve a disciplinary decision.  In the case of simulation there is a third: the error must result in a red card or a penalty.

Some of Australia’s greatest ever international players have telephoned me to give different opinions on the Round 4 incidents involving Patricio Perez and Michael Baird.  They agree only on one thing: it is impossible to argue that there is no doubt.

And that is why both players should have an appeal right.  On appeal, they would not have to show that they did not simulate.  All they would have to do is to argue that the referee’s decision was not an obvious error.

The obvious error that has to be shown is not that a penalty was wrongly awarded in both cases.  The obvious error is that the referee failed to book the players for simulation, which is defined under the Laws of the Game as an “attempt to deceive the referee through feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled”.  This is considered unsporting behavior and warrants a yellow card.

FFA CEO Ben Buckley says that the bans must stand and that “simulation (has) no place in football in Australia”.  He adds: “The Match Review Panel comprises three independent highly experienced independent professionals (sic).  They have the advantage of viewing broadcast footage with multiple angles and they have the luxury of time, unlike the referee who is operating in the match environment”.

This, of course, is not how football presently works.  Football’s policy is to show respect for the referee and attach some significant protection to his on-field decisions.

The Match Review Panel is there only to pick up obvious errors in disciplinary decisions.  It ruled on at least one of these cases without even bothering for an incident report from the referee.  How can the referee’s original view of the incident not form part of “all the facts” that the Panel is to take into account?  If, with FFA’s encouragement, the Panel continues to so broadly interpret its mandate, a system designed for the A-League to comply with FIFA requirements and which has many positive benefits will come crashing down.

Football in Australia must operate in accordance with Australian law and as part of FIFA’s global system.  We may not like simulation.  The PFA, in supporting moves to deal with simulation, has reminded FFA that the two match ban is inconsistent with the Laws of the Game.  Simulation is a yellow card offence and remains so until the Laws of the Game are changed.

Now, not even FIFA has the power to make that change.  That is a matter for the International Football Association Board.

Brendan Schwab is Chief Executive and General Counsel of Professional Footballers Australia (PFA).  He is a member of the Board of FIFPro, the world players’ union, and is Chairman of FIFPro Asia.  He is also a member of the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber.