FIFA acts over racism, Webb defends referees' position
ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA has proposed the introduction of extra officials in stadiums to watch out for incidents of racism, plus a two-tier system of sanctions for teams whose followers indulge in discriminatory behaviour.
The new officials "would identify potential acts of discrimination with the aim of easing the pressure on referees," FIFA in a statement on Monday. They would also help gather evidence for disciplinary committees.
The inaugural meeting of FIFA's anti-racism task force also proposed that first or minor offences be punished with lighter sanctions such as playing a match behind closed doors, a warning or a fine. Serious incidents and re-offenders would be hit with points deductions, expulsion from a competition or relegation.
The proposals will be put to FIFA's Congress in Mauritius at the end of the month.
English referee Howard Webb, one of the panel members, said match officials could not always be aware of what was happening off the field.
"We are very much in the front line, we are the first port of call for the players," Webb told Reuters after the meeting.
"If we become aware of anything from the players or officials which they deem to be racist or discriminatory, then we've got an obligation to respond and referees will do that.
"You are not always aware of what's happening in the stands.
"Bear in mind that what we do as match officials is to shut the crowd out really, because we're trying to concentrate on the game itself, we are trying to focus on our job and not get distracted.
"Therefore....it's not easy to know what's happened."
Webb said the new role should be performed by someone "who has a good understanding of what constitutes a discriminatory act within the stadium, and can therefore guide the match official.
"It could be someone like a venue co-ordinator, (it) could be someone in the stand, who could take the best position to get a feel for what's going on.
"It could be they have to move around the stadium to get a feel for what's happened, but it would take some of the pressure off the match officials."
European soccer's governing body UEFA issued guidelines four years ago outlining a three-step procedure to be followed in case of racist incidents during matches, putting the onus heavily on referees.
It said the referee should first stop the match and ask for announcements to be made over the public address system. The second step would be to suspend the match for a given period of time and, finally, abandon it.
Those rules have not yet been invoked in European club competition and in March UEFA said it would "fully support" referees who enforced them.
"Why that procedure has not been invoked, I don't know," said Webb, adding he had not been involved in a match where he felt it necessary to stop play.
"Maybe (it's) because there's an educational requirement needed for referees to make them aware it does exist.
Webb was involved in an English Premier League match at Swansea City in December during which Norwich City's Sebastien Bassong complained to him about racist abuse from a man in the crowd. The man was arrested and later charged.
"It worked really well on that occasion," Webb said. "It might be that racial gestures in the crowd are brought to the attention of the referee by the players, but it's possible that we wouldn't identify it when we're concentrating on the job that we're there to do."
The task force also includes AC Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng and AZ Alkmaar's Jozy Altidore, who have both been racially abused at matches this year. However, FIFA said neither took part on Monday due to playing commitments.
Theo Van Seggelen, secretary general of the global players union FIFPro, Marcel Mathier, chairman of FIFA's disciplinary committee and Claudio Sulser, former chairman of FIFA's ethics committee, and Piara Powar, the head of European anti-racism body FARE, are also on the panel. (Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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