System has failed referee at the centre of storm, says SFA chief

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The Independent Football

Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan has expressed sympathy for Dougie McDonald, who has retired as a category one referee. McDonald stepped down on Sunday night in an attempt to move the spotlight away from his role in the crisis engulfing Scottish football.

McDonald's decision to rescind a penalty he had awarded to Celtic last month, and subsequent admission that he had misled his supervisor and Hoops' manager Neil Lennon over the circumstances, sparked the escalation of events leading to last weekend's referees' strike action. Regan, who earlier this month rebuked McDonald for his "white lie" at Tannadice, said: "I feel sorry for him. The system has let him down. He was clearly in the wrong, he admitted that and was punished. I feel many out there have decided his punishment wasn't serious enough and as a result he's been left with huge pressure on him. There's a lesson in there for Scottish football. We need to put processes in place to give these guys the backing they need."

In an effort to avert last weekend's strike action, which saw four Scottish Premier League games played using officials from Luxembourg, Israel and Malta – two others were postponed on Sunday as a result of bad weather – the SFA offered referees a range of conciliatory measures, including a blanket ban on comments about match officials. But the officials insisted they would not back down as they ruled out any chance of a "quick fix". Regan yesterday reiterated his desire for criticism of officials to be dealt with "more seriously and with urgency".

He said: "We've made promises about taking tougher action. The way decisions are made involves committees. We need to be much quicker and consistent with punishments and be seen to be taking the issue a lot more seriously and with urgency."

Former top official Stuart Dougal has called for points deductions for clubs who repeatedly question the integrity of referees.

Regan did not rule out the sanction, but insisted the measure would take some time to implement and may not be welcomed by the SFA's member clubs. "I wouldn't personally take that course of action without detailed consultation with member clubs," added Regan. "It's one of a series of measures, an interesting one – I'm not sure the clubs would support that."

Regan also expressed his gratitude to the European officials who enabled Saturday's matches to go ahead after his contingency plan was employed, albeit with a number of stumbling blocks following late changes of heart by Polish and Portuguese referees.

"They were great, they supported the SFA and ensured the public were able to go to matches and we were grateful," added Regan.