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Page last updated at 07:15 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 08:15 UK

IFA faces referees' strike threat

Referee David Malcolm
David Malcolm said referees would vote on strike action

Irish League referees have threatened to call a strike on the opening day of the JJB Sports Premiership.

The revamped 12-team league is due to kick off on Saturday but will not be able to go ahead if the referees carry out their threat over a pay dispute.

Referees want their match fee increased from 70 to 120 and have given the Irish FA until 2000 BST on Thursday to come up with the cash.

They also want assistants appointed for IFA Championship fixtures.

Referees' representative David Malcolm said they would withdraw their availability if their demands were not met.

There is a serious problem in refereeing and it has been ignored for too long
David Malcolm

"We are the poor relations of Europe and after four years of delays the Irish FA has to deal with this and deal with it today," Malcolm told BBC Sport.

"Outside of the Welsh, we are the worst paid and worst looked after referees across Europe, and that includes Belarus and Albania.

"But I would be amazed if money was the thing holding this up.

"We are looking at the more fundamental role of referees in the local game and the respect in which they are held.

"There is a serious problem in refereeing and it has been ignored for too long.

"I am here to talk all day but my colleagues have told me that if there is no significant progress by eight tonight then they will not be available on Saturday."

A strike by referees would inevitably cause chaos to the fixture schedule and embarrass the IFA just days after they unveiled their new sponsor and an advertising campaign to increase attendances.

It would be a further blow to the new 12-team set-up, coming after one of Northern Ireland's top clubs, Portadown, was excluded from the Premiership over an administrative mistake.

The Ports had their application rejected because it was submitted less than half an hour after the stipulated deadline.

Portadown are now playing in the Championship and have won their opening matches 7-0 and 5-1.

Referees are unhappy that they are being asked to officiate at Championship games without proper assistants.

Instead they have to rely on linesmen from the participating teams.

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