Referee loophole allows Barton to escape charge

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The Football Association has revealed no formal action will be taken against the Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton for his controversial challenge on Dickson Etuhu at the weekend. The referee, Martin Atkinson, did not punish Barton's studs-high tackle on the Sunderland player in Saturday's 1-1 draw but did see the incident so the midfielder will not be disciplined.

Barton defended his actions, saying: "There was no malice in it, nor was it premeditated. If I caused him any injury then I apologise. Things happen in the heat of a derby game. It was only my third game back and I am still a bit rusty. If I was match-fit the situation would have been avoided."

An FA spokesman said: "The Football Association can only take action in the case of incidents that are not seen by officials.

"Whilst it is clear that the officials did not see the full extent of the incident, they did see players coming together and to take any further action would be tantamount to re-refereeing the game and this would be contrary to the laws of the game." No blame has been attached to Atkinson for his failure to take action against Barton as he was unable to see the incident clearly from his position.

His assistant also saw the coming together and according to an FA source: "No one is suggesting any of them could or should have seen what you might call the misconduct part of the incident."

Under Fifa guidelines, a retrospective charge for violent conduct can only be laid down in instances where the match official does not notice the incident at all. The Association's "fast-track" disciplinary system is designed to act as an aid to officials for incidents completely out of sight of the referee or his assistants, such as off-the-ball clashes, and replicates action which would have been imposed had the referee or his assistants seen the incident.