If a player, or players, approaches Ivan Bebek, the referee at tonight’s match, and says there is a problem with racist abuse from the crowd, the match official will immediately adopt Uefa’s three-step protocol for dealing with such incidents.
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:
Step One – Stop the match
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 both captains being involved, too. The referee will then arrange for announcements to be made inside the stadium requesting the public to immediately desist from racist abuse.
Step Two – Suspend the match
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.
Step Three – Abandon the match
If the racist behaviour does not cease after the game has restarted, the referee moves to the last resort of stopping the game, taking the players off the field and abandoning the match.
There is a danger that if a team is 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 closures, as everybody would be affected and would be a cost penalty to all those 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 and 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.