Uefa now has a clear strategy to deal with racist chants – about time, too
If a player approaches Ivan Bebek, the referee at this evening’s Bulgaria v England match in Sofia, and says there has been racist abuse from the crowd, the match official will immediately adopt Uefa’s threestep protocol.
Although he will have been trained for such a moment, and have the support of Uefa’s match delegate and match observer, there is a tremendous onus on the referee, who may well not have heard the abuse himself.
This is what he will do:
The referee will have a meeting at the side of the pitch with the match delegate and both managers. I would be in favour of the captains being involved, too. The referee will then arrange for announcements to be made requesting the fans to desist from racist abuse.
If the racist behaviour does not stop after the resumption of the game, the referee will suspend the match and take the players off the field of play. The match is suspended for a reasonable period of between five and 10 minutes. A second announcement is made and then the game is restarted.
If the racist behaviour does not cease after the game has restarted, the referee moves to the last resort of stopping the game and abandoning the match.
There is a danger that if a team are losing, there may be some idiots who would want to see the game abandoned. In those cases, the only sensible and effective punishment is stadium closure, as everybody would be affected and it would be a cost penalty to all involved.
But Uefa’s protocol is a sensible process that does everything possible to avoid the ultimate decision. While you can understand a player who has been abused contemplating walking off unilaterally or with team-mates, they now know that Uefa has a clear strategy in place to deal with the situation.
There was a time, when I was refereeing, when I am sure racism from spectators occurred but we had no guidance or advice so, regrettably, games were allowed to continue and offenders went unpunished.
Nowadays, we are much more aware of sensitivities around racist actions. With raised awareness has come increased training and now Uefa’s protocol, which I fully endorse. In fact I would also like to see it introduced in the Premier League and other competitions here. Racist abuse is not allowed on the streets, and should not be allowed in our stadiums either.