ZURICH, May 6 (Reuters) - Referees are on the front line in the fight against racism but cannot always be expected to be aware of what is going on off the field, English referee Howard Webb said on Monday.
Webb took part in the first meeting of FIFA’s anti-racism task force and said that one suggestion was the use of off-pitch officials to help referees identify serious incidents.
“We are very much in the front line, we are the first port of call for the players,” Webb told Reuters after the meeting which he described as a “brainstorming” session.
“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.”
But he said that, ideally, referees needed help to take the pressure off them.
“We talked about the limitations because you are not always aware of what’s happening in the stands,” he said.
”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 a fair comment to stay it’s not easy to know what’s happened.”
He added: ”The point was made this morning and...there was a discussion about maybe someone having a specific role of just identifying those types of behaviour, (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 something 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 of what to do in case of racist incidents during matches, putting the onus heavily on referees.
It said that 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.
So far, those rules have not 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.
“We need key indications to the officials of what they can do and can’t do, and what they need to do should something come to their attention.”
Webb was involved in an English Premier League match at Swansea City in December where 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,” said Webb. “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.” (Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Justin Palmer)