Football: FA sends out right message

IN PUNISHMENT, as in refereeing, nothing undermines acceptance more than inconsistency and the Football Association's disciplinary committee have been as guilty of unfathomable decisions as any of the men in the middle, notably in the exoneration of Alan Shearer for kicking Neil Lennon last year.

This time they have got it spot on. The suspension is long enough to send out a message that referees are sacrosanct but not so severe as to appear vindictive. For once the slow pro-cesses of football's judiciary were helpful as the witch-hunt atmosphere, which had as much to xenophobia as to sensible judgement, had subsided. They were able to view Di Canio's offence for what it was: an unforgivable contact with a referee but not a violent assault. David Batty and Emmanuel Petit both pushed referees last year, but, since David Elleray and Paul Durkin kept their feet, escaped heavy sanction.

Many people, especially officials involved in park football, would have liked to see a harsher penalty, one which would have reverberated around Hackney Marshes and beyond where referees do not have police protection and players are too often ignorant of the rules and quick to anger. There is much sympathy for that view, but it would have been unjust. Each case must be viewed on its merits and Di Canio's punishment fits the crime. As it was he committed one of football's greatest sins but, in the context of a Premiership match, the contact made was slight and highly unlikely to injure.

Whether he will ever play again for Wednesday, or in this country, is yet to be seen. He will have to emulate the self-control evinced by Eric Cantona, when he returned from exile, if he is to do so successfully.

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