A SEVEN-GAME suspension for allegedly making an obscene gesture to rival fans in a Chinese Super League game could restrict on-loan striker Joel Griffiths to just four A-League appearances for the Jets when he returns to Newcastle in January.
Playing for Beijing Guoan on Saturday, Griffiths was accused of giving a double-handed middle-finger salute to the crowd after his team's injury-time equaliser secured a 2-2 draw with league leaders Henan Jianye.
Beijing, who trail Henan by a point but with a match in hand, have four games left in their season.
Jets chief executive John Tsatsimas confirmed any remaining matches would have to be served in the A-League on Griffiths's return to Newcastle.
Griffiths is due back for the Jets on January 1 and his homecoming should have been against defending champions Melbourne Victory at EnergyAustralia Stadium on January 10.
But if the suspension stands, he will miss that match and an away double-header against Gold Coast United and Brisbane Roar on January 13 and 16 respectively, returning against Sydney FC at EnergyAustralia Stadium on January 24.
Griffiths, who was banned for five games this season for elbowing an opponent, said he was appealing against the latest suspension to FIFA because his name had been "put through the mud" in China and Australia.
"All I can say at this point is that we are taking it to FIFA, because the evidence shown is misleading and unclear," he told The Herald yesterday.
"There is a lot of politics involved in this case and there is no clear proof to the accusations.
"I was celebrating with the team, there was 25,000 fans, 11 opposing players and four officials and none of them reported this incident.
"The main reason I'm going to FIFA is my name in China and now Australia has been put through the mud and I want my name to be cleared of something I didn't do."
Griffiths was fined $8105 by the Chinese league's disciplinary committee.
His agent, John Denison, said the suspension arose from a photograph published in a Chinese newspaper and was not the result of a match official's report, or a complaint lodged by the Henan club or their supporters.
"It was actually a photo that appeared in the paper the next day," Denison said.
"If you look at the photo, it's quite unclear.
"Joel's holding two fingers up 2-2 and the only people around him were his teammates.
"There was no evidence of any interaction with the crowd or the opposition.
"He was actually given seven games for bringing the game into disrepute but there was no official report made.
"That's the defence they're using and I think that process will take place over the next couple of days, so we'll know by the end of the week . . .
"The bad thing about Joel is he's already come off a five-week ban before."
Denison said the latest setback had jeopardised Griffiths's chances of staying with Beijing Guoan.
He said the Chinese club had until November 30 to decide whether they intended taking over the rest of Griffiths's Jets contract.
"The ramifications are twofold," Denison said. "It's probably going to make it a lot harder for him to stay over there and earn a better contract and there will be a carry-over of three weeks for Newcastle when he comes back, so Newcastle's hamstrung as well.
"This means it's all up in the air now . . . It's opened up a can of worms, so we just have to sit tight."
Tsatsimas said the Jets were monitoring developments but the club and their supporters would be disappointed if Griffiths had to sit out three matches.
"My understanding is they have four games to go, so obviously any games he doesn't fulfil in that suspension he serves with the club that he would then be at, so that would certainly impact on the people that wanted to see him back here at Newcastle," he said.
"Hopefully the situation will be clarified towards the end of the week if not, early next week and we'll be better positioned to ascertain where we are with Joel in terms of coming back to Newcastle, firstly, and how he's placed in terms of his suspension.
"Joel's a quality player . . . Obviously we're disappointed about the suspension and how it impacts on the club. Ideally you'd like a player that's not suspended or doesn't come into confrontation too many times, if at all."
Brisbane hard man Danny Tiatto was suspended for one game this month for giving Melbourne fans a single-handed middle-finger salute in the Roar's 2-1 loss to the Victory.
FFA spokesman Mark Jensen said even if Griffiths played just four A-League games, he would be eligible to play finals if the Jets qualified, because he was their contracted player.
* Defender Ljubo Milicevic is still battling a heel injury and remains in doubt for the home game against Melbourne on Sunday.