In the 77th minute of England’s victory over Slovakia in last night’s World Cup qualifier, Tottenham’s midfield maestro Dele Alli, was unceremoniously body checked by former Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel.

Despite going to ground in a promising attacking position, the referee, Clement Turpin, waved play on. Television camera subsequently showed an unhappy Alli making a gesture with his middle finger. Despite some believing the gesture was aimed at the referee, Alli has this morning clarified on Twitter that the gesture was in fact made at his “good friend Kyle Walker” and apologised for any offence caused. In the meantime, FIFA has stated that it is awaiting reports from the match officials before deciding if any disciplinary action is required.

Whether or not the gesture was aimed at the referee the fact the spotlight has been placed on the incident highlights the game’s wish to offer greater protection from abuse, of all kinds, to officials throughout all levels of the game.

To this end, in July of this year the FA introduced a series of regulations designed to deal with the abuse suffered by officials at the grassroots level of the game, a problem that led some 2,000 officials to go on strike earlier this year.

The new regulations, which will affect those playing at the grassroots level (‘step five’ and below), are in force from this season and include the following sanctions:

  • an automatic 5 year ban from all football for assaulting a match official;
  • an 84 day ban and £100 fine for any physical contact with a match official; and
  • a 56 day, or 6 match ban, and £50 fine for verbal threats to a match official.

The above are the minimum sanctions to be imposed and may be increased by the Disciplinary Commission dealing with each offence depending on aggravating factors.

The announcement of these tougher rules followed the FA’s confirmation that it would trialing sin-bins at ‘step seven’ of the game and below, a topic covered by Sports Shorts previously.

130 leagues expressed an interest to trial the introduction of players spending 10 minutes out of the game if shown a yellow card for dissent, with 32 leagues comprising a mixture of men’s, women, adult, youth, Saturday and Sunday leagues being chosen for the trial. As an incentive to take part in the trial the FA has agreed to waive the standard £10 administration fee charged to clubs for yellow cards in participating leagues.

All of the above must of course be commended. Respect for match officials is of paramount importance at all levels in all sports. As a result, one may question why the FA feels it appropriate only to introduce the tougher sanctions from ‘step five’ and below. There is a strong argument to suggest that, to have the strongest possible deterrent effect, the regulations should be applicable to all levels of the game.

The best way to educate those starting out in football is to show that the FA will come down hard on those showing dissent to match officials whether you are playing on Hackney Marshes or at Wembley Stadium.