The referees' trade union has said it was 'dismayed' at the FA's decision to ban Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel for three matches for confronting official Mark Clattenburg after the Premier League clash against Manchester United back in October.
Mikel had admitted the charge of "using threatening and/or abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour" towards Clattenburg following the 3-2 defeat at Stamford Bridge, which came after the 25-year-old believed he was racially abused by the referee.
Clattenburg was cleared of any wrongdoing by the FA, although he missed four rounds of Premier League fixtures while a thorough investigation into the allegations was carried out.
In announcing Mikel's ban and £60,000 fine on Thursday, the FA said that his punishment would have been "significantly longer" were it not for the fact that Mikel thought he had been racially abused.
But the referees' trade union, Prospect, believes the FA has set a poor precedent by not delivering a longer sentence to Mikel.
A statement read: "Prospect, the referees trade union, today expressed dismay at the lenient punishment handed down by the FA Regulatory Commission to Chelsea player John Obi Mikel. "It is vital that officials were given real respect and this decision regrettably gave entirely the wrong message. A player in park football found guilty of behaviour like Mikel's would have faced a long-term ban."
Prospect's national secretary Alan Leighton backed the statement, suggesting the FA treated Mikel's case like any other red card offence and failed to consider the threat to Clattenburg's safety.
"For entering the referees dressing room and threatening and intimidating the referee to the extent that he feared for his safety the penalty was no longer than had the player been sent off for serious foul play," Leighton said. "This did absolutely nothing to further the Respect campaign... far too much weight had been given to the mitigating factor and that Mikel's behaviour merited a strong deterrent penalty."
Mikel will now miss the away fixtures at Sunderland and Leeds (in the Capital One Cup) and the home match against Aston Villa through suspension, although the ban does not extend to Chelsea's FIFA Club World Cup campaign, which they travel to Japan for next week.
Chelsea will also be without the midfielder shortly after the turn of the year, as he is due to fly out to South Africa to represent Nigeria at the African Nations Cup, which runs from January 19 to February 10.