New racism scandal rocks English football

Diversity report alleges that the FA’s referee system is obstructing black and Asian people from reaching elite levels of the game

English football has been rocked by a fresh racism scandal after black and Asian referees revealed the scale of abuse and prejudice that, they say, is holding them back.

A dossier compiled by match officials, and seen by the Observer, alleges that racism in the Football Association’s refereeing system is undermining efforts by black and Asian people to reach the highest levels of the game.

The diversity report submitted to the FA contains racist comments allegedly made by the observers who assess referees for promotion to the higher leagues. The FA is now facing calls for an urgent inquiry.

Tony Burnett, chief executive of the anti-racism charity Kick It Out, said: “The lack of diversity in refereeing is our biggest failure in football. Black and Asian people are not getting through to elite refereeing.”

An investigation by the Observer reveals:

•A report presented to the FA highlights allegations of racism among observers who mark referees for promotion. One observer is alleged to have told one referee: “You lot can all run fast, but that’s all you are good for.”

•The lower levels of the refereeing system have been dubbed by some referees from ethnic minorities the “black man’s graveyard” because of allegations they are blocked by a small number of white assessors from reaching the highest levels.

•There are no black or Asian referees officiating in the Premier League or Championship. There are just four referees from ethnic minorities officiating in the country’s top seven divisions.

•The FA’s 14-member referee committee, which has the task of improving diversity in the 24,500-strong referee workforce has no black or Asian representatives.

A 2015 FA report on diversity in refereeing, Widening the Net, set a target of 10% of its referee workforce being from ethnic minorities. The FA says ethnic minorities among referees has risen from about 4% in 2015 to about 8%.

Joel Mannix, chair of the Black, Asian and Mixed Heritage Ethnicity (BAME) Referee Support Group and one of the highest-ranked black referees in the country, said: “You’ve got observers who are racist and they are marking down officials on their colour.” He said reforms need to focus on representation, recruitment and retention.

The group submitted a diversity report last year to the FA that detailed alleged racist comments by observers. It compiled the report from referees from ethnic minorities to show the racial discrimination faced out by some referees. The report set out a road plan for reform. The BAME Referee Support Group now wants the FA to publish a detailed breakdown of the number of referees from ethnic minorities officiating across the various divisions.

The Observer understands that referees have also compiled evidence on one observer, including video footage seen by the newspaper, who is alleged to have made racist comments.

FA officials said that they did not comment on individual allegations, but would “investigate all alleged incidents of discrimination”. An analysis of FA figures has also found the official diversity figures cited by officials are of limited use because they are inflated by including white Polish and Irish referees as minority ethnic groups. The FA confirmed last week that all referees who were not from “white British backgrounds’ were recorded in the ethnic minority figures.

There are about 24,500 referees in England, most of whom officiate amateur Sunday league football. While amateur referees may get as little as £25 a match, the professional referees can earn more than £100,000.

Campaigners say while the football world will next year be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the FA Cup, it will also be a reminder that in its history no black or Asian referee has ever officiated at the tournament’s final.

The FA said an equality working group is working on recommendations on the recruitment, retention, support and development of referees from all backgrounds. It is also updating its diversity figures and was unable to provide any detailed breakdown of its current figures.

A spokesperson said: “We remain committed to ensuring the diversity of those playing, coaching, officiating and leading English football is truly reflective of our modern society. As part of this, within the 2018-2021 national game strategy we set inclusion targets across the game for the first time.”


Jon Ungoed-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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