FOOTBALL: Referees threaten to strike

Local football is facing the threat of a referees' strike and could be thrown into chaos just two weeks before the new season begins.

Northern Ireland referees are at loggerheads with the Irish Football Association over match and travel fees and could clash with the Association if issues are not resolved this week.

Top Irish League referee and Chairman of the Northern Ireland Referees Committee, David Malcolm, said his colleagues had not discussed strike action but admitted they were cheesed off and frustrated at the IFA's failure to deliver on promises made three years ago when referees did issue a threat to strike.

Our senior referee representatives met with the IFA in June seeking a number of improvements ranging from match fees to recruitment incentives for new referees.

They are demanding that the current match-fee of 70 ( for a senior fixture) be increased to 120, with a 5p increase in mileage expenses.

The proposals and recommendations made were referred to the IFA's Executive Committee but referees have not yet had a response and do not know where they stand with the new season set to kick-off on August 2 with the launch of the new-look IFA Championship a week ahead of the new IFA Premiership campaign starting.

The 17-club junior-ranked IFA Championship could be hit hardest with the threat that the IFA will not appoint linesmen for games a move that will anger managers, players and fans.

David Malcolm said: "We met with the IFA three years ago and they made promises that they have failed to deliver. All we are asking for is that the Association toes the line with FIFA recommendations that fees are reflective of standards of living. Currently, Northern Ireland referees have the lowest level of fee second only to Wales and its simply not good enough.

"The IFA told us three years ago that it could only pay us 25p per mile because thats all it paid its own staff. We later found out that IFA staff were on 30p per mile. When we asked the IFA to address this, we were told we would get a 5p increase again, that was three years ago."

Eircom League referees earn over three times as much as IFA referees, get 70 cent per mile and enjoy allowances for meals and loss of earnings.

But in Northern Ireland, over 600 referees pay a 15 fee to the IFA for the privilege of officiating at all levels of the game. They must purchase their own kits and it can be revealed that not a penny of the IFA’s five-figure Toyota sponsorship of match official kits was seen by the men in the middle.

Also, amazingly, senior Uefa-standard referees here who are often appointed to officiate in junior games, only lift a junior fee, a measly 30.

Malcolm added: “The IFA trumpeted its new league with 500,000 of prize money but when we asked them what the package was for referees, they told us we had nothing had been considered.

“We are trying to recruit referees but who in their right mind would fork out for their own kit, pay an annual fee just to be able to referee and then take, in some cases, a 15 match-fee?

“We have been told the two new leagues will be promoted to improve the game but it doesnt look that way from a referees point of view.”

Asked if he envisaged a strike ahead of the new season, Malcolm replied: “That is not something we have discussed. We have put our case to the IFA and we are waiting for word back. Right now we don’t know where we stand but we are cheesed off and frustrated and changes have to be made.”