Referees to get more power as Fifa launches new fight against racism

Published on 2 May, 2013 
By: Mark Williams

• Referees could lead players from pitch and points be deducted
• New anti-racism and discrimination task force to act quickly

Referees could be given the power to lead players from the pitch and points could be deducted from offending teams under new Fifa anti-racism proposals.

England's top referee, Howard Webb, and the departing Football Association chairman David Bernstein are among those on the 12-strong anti-racism and discrimination task force that will sit for the first time in Zurich on Monday.

It is understood that there is a growing consensus among the group around the need for strong new sanctions that will act as a better deterrent against serious racial abuse. Kevin-Prince Boateng, the Milan midfielder who led his team from the pitch during a friendly in January in response to racist abuse and met with Fifa president Sepp Blatter in March, is also on the task force.

After years of inaction, the recent conflation of high-profile incidents has led to a concerted push at Fifa's Zurich headquarters to introduce meaningful new sanctions that will heavily punish racism in the stands or on the pitch.

Blatter has gone from facing calls for his resignation in November 2011 when he said racist abuse could be solved "with a handshake" to making increasingly strident statements on the matter. He admitted in March that fines "achieve little" and said points deductions may be the way forward. The body, chaired by the Fifa vice-president and Concacaf president Jeffrey Webb, has been asked to come up with concrete proposals immediately. The Caymanian said that he does not believe financial penalties are a sufficient deterrent and advocated harsher sanctions.

The main area of debate among the 12-strong Fifa task force is likely to be whether referees should be encouraged to lead teams from the pitch in the face of serious racist abuse or whether points deductions should be applied retrospectively instead. If the former option is taken, the team whose fans forced the postponement would forfeit the match.

The task force will be expected to work quickly to draw up the menu of sanctions that will be put to the Fifa Congress in Mauritius at the end of this month. The week before, Uefa is expected to debate its own new anti-racism measures at its congress in London.

Last month, the Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino proposed a minimum 10-game ban for any player found guilty of racist abuse and the closure of stadiums if crowds were found guilty. Uefa has faced a growing chorus of disapproval for punishing racist abuse with a fine and is also keen to be seen to be taking strong action on the issue.

After the Milan incident, which led to the Italian fourth tier side Pro Patria being forced to play a match behind closed doors, Blatter said leaving the field "cannot be the solution" but later praised the player's "strong and courageous stand".

Bernstein, who will step down as FA chairman in July, will be joined by Theo van Seggelen, the head of the global players' union Fifpro, and Jozy Altidore, the AZ Alkmaar striker and US international who was racially abused during a game against Den Bosch.

The Italian journalist Gianni Merlo, chairman of Fifa's disciplinary committee Marcel Mathier, and Claudio Sulser, former chairman of Fifa's ethics committee, are also involved. Football journalist Osasu Obayiuwana, UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay and Piara Powar, head of the European anti-racism body Fare, complete the task force.

Webb, who refereed Tuesday's Champions League semi-final tie between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, will be expected to give his expert opinion on whether the plan to put more power in the hands of referees is workable.

A spate of racist incidents have bedevilled the game at both club and international level in recent months. The fallout from twin cases involving Luis Suárez, who was given an eight-match ban for racially abusing Patrice Evra, and John Terry, who was banned for four matches for insulting QPR's Anton Ferdinand, continues.

The Football Association is reviewing its own minimum sanctions for racism on the field of play in the wake of criticism that the sentence received by Terry, in particular, was too lenient.

There have been repeated cases of racism in Europe and Serbia was sanctioned by Uefa after the crowd at an Under-21 tie against England were found to have racially abused players from the away side. In San Marino, there were allegations that England fans had sung racist songs about Rio and Anton Ferdinand.

With governing bodies at national, continental and global level scrambling to be seen to belatedly beef up their punishments for racism, there is bound to be concern about how consistency can be maintained across the various rule books but Fifa is likely to argue that its rules should be adopted by all confederations.

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