The National Football League Players Association filed a formal grievance yesterday against the Washington Redskins for retiring running back John Riggins under a procedure that prevents Riggins from returning to the game this year.

Calling the Redskins' action "punitive and vindictive," NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey said he will ask an arbitration panel to block the Redskins and the NFL from enforcing any prohibition against Riggins playing this season.

Riggins left the Redskin training camp in Carlisle, Pa., on July 27, seeking to have his contract renegotiated, but the Redskins refused to renegotiate. He later sent a telegram to the team announcing his retirement, and on Sept. 1 the club placed him on the "left camp-retired" list, making him ineligible to play anywhere in the NFL this year.

Had Riggins been placed on a regular retired list, he would have been eligible to come back and play at any time during the season.

Under terms of the agreement between the NFL and the players association, the Redskins have 20 days to respond to the grievance, although Garvey said he has asked the time be cut to 10 days.

From there, the issue goes before an arbitration panel composed of two players, Len Hauss of the Washington Redskins and Gene Upshaw of the Oakland Raiders; and two owners, Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals and Hugh Culverhouse of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Should a majority of the panel fail to agree on a resolution, the issue would go before a jointly agreed upon arbitrator.

"Riggins and the union emphatically deny the Redskins have a right to bar Riggins from practicing his profession through the use of this arbitrary and capricious rule," said Garvey. "John Riggins has a right to retire and a right to change his mind. The Redskins would deny him those rights. It doesn't even make any sense from the team's point of view. If they need him after three or four games they can't even get him back."

At his home in Lawrence, Kan., Riggins said filing of the grievance did not necessarily mean he wanted to exercise an option to play this year.

Asked what it did mean, Riggins said, "I don't know. I am just trying to make sure my rights are not being violated."

Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard said the team will fight the grievance "pretty hard just on principle."

Earlier he had been on record as saying that Riggins had been put on the left camp-retired list "because that is where he belongs. We told John what we were going to do before we did it. If we had given him the option of coming back at any time, it could have affected the team. He's a very popular guy, and everyone wants him back and they might have started thinking he would be back."

Riggins, 31, is a 10-year veteran who was the Redskins' leading rusher last year with 1,153 yards gained.