By Paul Gardner
The lack of transparency in the MLS disciplinary procedures continues to irritate me. I would have thought that it would also be a matter of some concern to MLS as well. But apparently not.
We are still getting regular weekly communications from the MLS Disciplinary Committee (DisCo), setting out whatever measures they have taken to punish, or increase the punishment of, players guilty of various offenses.
These reports are good, as far as they go. Which is not far enough. To start with, we are not told who it is who is making the judgments and handing out the punishment. The names of the DisCo’s five members are kept secret.
Why? Because, we are told by MLS, that enables the members to do their work free from the pressure that they would surely suffer if their names were made public. A further reason for the anonymity is a fear by MLS that it would be difficult to find people (they are ex-players, ex-coaches and ex-referees) willing to take on the job if they felt their names were to be published.
The same clandestine atmosphere surrounds the workings of the Independent Review Panel that rules on appeals by clubs against red-card decisions. Again, we are not allowed to know who the members of this Panel are -- we’re simply told that the panel consists of one representative from the U.S. Soccer Federation, Canadian Soccer Association, and Professional Referees Organization (PRO).
In addition to hiding the identity of its members, the DisCo can also be accused of not leveling with us when it reports its findings. All we get is a record of what actions it has taken. But we need to know more. We need to know which game incidents it chose to investigate -- allof them.
Which will automatically tell us which incidents are not considered worth looking at. If the DisCo does investigate an incident but decides not to take any action, we need to know about that, and the reasoning behind the decision.
In a recent column I focused on three incidents of what I considered to be reckless play that occurred in the Red Bulls-Chivas USA game played on March 30. I suggested they should be looked at by the Disco. This was not a frivolous request. Two of the incidents involved elbow-to-head clashes. Concussion territory -- an area where you would expect MLS to show great caution. I considered that the referee in this game, Juan Guzman, treated the incidents too lightly.
Did the DisCo look at these incidents? I have no way of knowing. If they did, then I do know that they decided to take no action, because the incidents did not feature in the DisCo weekly report. But I think the committee members should be required to explain their decisions, regardless of whether they condemn or absolve a player.
I am suggesting that Guzman should have yellow-carded both offenders. He did not caution either of them. So my criticism is firstly of the players for reckless play, and ultimately of the referee for being too lenient. But the DisCo is not in the business of punishing referees.
The IRP might implicitly discipline a referee by overturning a red card. But the IRP has a problem in dealing with referees. IRP goes so far as to include the world “independent” in its name. But one of its three members is “a representative of the Professional Referees Organization (PRO).” PRO occupies office space at MLS headquarters in Manhattan, and is largely financed by MLS. And we are being asked to believe that PRO is an independent body?
There is just too much secrecy involved in the decision-making of these two bodies, the DisCo and the IRP. In the incidents investigated, all the participants are identifiable -- the referee, the players, maybe coaches -- and open to pressure and possible abuse. Well, I‘m afraid that’s part of the game nowadays. It does not seem right to me that the MLS panel members should be protected from this slice of reality.
This is not a country where the idea of secret tribunals sits well. The phrase “not only must justice be done it must also be seen to be done” applies perfectly here. FIFA has come to realize, over the past few years, that a lack of transparency can cause serious problems.
We need to know the make up of these two bodies. Who are the individuals who are handing down the judgments? What are the criteria for being on these panels? Who selects the members? Are there any conflicts of interest? Do members recuse themselves if there are? It would greatly interest me to know about the ex-players. Are they -- can both of them be -- defenders? Because defenders and attackers usually have rather different angles on contentious plays.
While MLS wrestles with the problem of allowing us to know who its secret panel members are, it can take one important step toward transparency by giving us a fullreport every week from the DisCo -- to include all those cases it decided not to investigate, all the cases it did investigate but decided to take no action, plus the reasoning for each decision.