A former referee has defended Douglas Ross, the Moray MP forced to abandon his hopes of officiating at the World Cup after an outcry about his absences from parliament.
The Conservative politician revealed yesterday that he would no longer accept football assignments when the Commons is sitting.
But Peterhead Football Club general manager Martin Johnston said he felt sorry for Mr Ross.
“At the end of the day it’s a bit over the top,” he said.
“Had this guy been representing his country at the Commonwealth or Olympic games with the chance of bringing home a gold medal would the attitude have been the same?
“I think there is a certain band of people who have seen this as an opportunity to get one over on the opposition and he has been jumped on.”
Mr Johnston said Mr Ross and his constituents had had the opportunity for him to work at the highest level of the sport snatched away.
He said: “When you think of the calibre of players in the UK who have represented their country but never had the opportunity to participate in the World Cup, for a linesman to reach that level is great. He would have been representing Scotland, Moray, the people of Elgin.
“I feel it’s a wee bit short-sighted. He has been really forced into a corner and I think it’s unjustified.”
As an ex-referee, Mr Johnston said he understood the difficulty of balancing work and a hobby but said MPs like Seb Coe had managed and Mr Ross had tried his best.
“It’s a very difficult thing to try and balance a career with a professional or amateur sport,” he said. “He said he had paired up his vote with an opposition MP to cancel it out and that is fairly commendable.
“I think a large proportion of the criticism has been unwarranted. He is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t and I’m sure he’s had to take this decision with a heavy heart.”
But Banffshire and Buchan Coast MSP Stewart Stevenson, SNP, said the fact Mr Ross will still referee at weekends away from his constituency was not good enough.
“This is an overdue but welcome first step, but it is still just not good enough from Douglas Ross,” he said.
“He continues to flout his pre-election pledge that his refereeing won’t impact on his parliamentary duties – he seems to be forgetting that his parliamentary duties don’t end when he leaves Westminster.
“He may well be hoping for sympathy that he doesn’t get a trip to the World Cup next year – but that step alone is not good enough, and he is mistaken if he thinks this puts the issue to bed.”