UEFA and FIFA warned referee will be killed if football does not solve abuse crisis

UEFA and FIFA have been warned that an ‘evolution’ of abuse towards match officials will eventually lead to a referee being murdered. Charity Ref Support UK CEO Martin Cassidy admits he dreads the day he receives a call to inform him of the killing of a referee. 

At the end of a season in which high-profile incidents of abuse towards referees have increased, tensions reached a boiling point when Premier League official Anthony Taylor was hounded by Roma fans inside Budapest airport. Taylor, who was alongside his wife and young children, appeared helpless as hundreds of supporters of the Italian club screamed abuse with several seen trying to pursue the match official.

The 44-year-old had refereed Roma’s Europa League defeat against Sevilla. After the game, head coach Jose Mourinho waited for Taylor in the car park of the Puskas Arena to call the team of English officials “f****** crooks”. Mourinho's actions were followed by Roma fans harassing Taylor at the airport.

And Cassidy believes that progressively worsening behaviour towards officials will naturally evolve. He fears that a referee will be killed in the future if the trend continues at its current rate. After Ref Support UK’s tweet containing the video of Taylor being abused gained over nine million views, Cassidy has warned UEFA and FIFA to get a grip of the situation. 

“There is a clear pathway to a disaster. Many grassroots referees are looking at [the Taylor incident] and thinking, ‘That’s going to happen to me’. The only difference is that there won’t be a camera crew at a grassroots game and nine million views on a Twitter account. There’s a disaster if UEFA and FIFA don’t get a hold over this,” Cassidy, CEO of the charity that provides support to referees, told Express Sport

“I think everyone is realising that the accountability of these actions and these words really does end in that sort of incident away from the cameras at grassroots games. None of it surprises me, it just shocks me that it’s been caught on camera. Most grassroots referees will be familiar with that sort of behaviour.”

Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes avoided punishment in March after he appeared to push assistant referee Adam Nunn during the Red Devils’ 7-0 defeat by Liverpool. Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic was not so lucky, receiving an eight-match suspension after he shoved referee Chris Kavanagh in an FA Cup tie against United. 

Jurgen Klopp received a touchline ban and a fine after celebrating in the face of fourth official Jonathan Brooks before implying that referee Paul Tierney had shown bias against his Liverpool side, who had just beaten Tottenham 4-3 at Anfield. 

Cassidy continued: “The Bruno Fernandes incident has been diluted. Adam Nunn was trying to prevent him from running to Trent Alexander-Arnold, doing a good job of preventing Fernandes from fighting a Scouser in front of the Kop. But it was Nunn who got shoved in the back by Fernandes. 

“Then there was the Mitrovic incident, and this evolution of terrible behaviour makes me worry that the next step is a match official being killed. The FA are doing their bit but what are UEFA doing? They’ve done very little to address racism, so I’ve got no confidence that they will stop referee abuse.

“I think what also needs to be clarified is, what’s the protocol for match officials? Going to an airport, I know the protocol starts a couple of days before and a day or two after the game. The match officials travel all over the world, so what’s gone wrong here in a UEFA competition? UEFA can’t seem to protect fans, especially after last year with Liverpool, and they now can’t seem to protect match officials.”

The Football Association announced this week that it will introduce points deductions at grassroots level for teams who are guilty of abusing match officials, many of whom are volunteers. It is a positive step that has been welcomed by all the key stakeholders in the grassroots game. 

However, Cassidy wants UEFA, FIFA and the International Football Association Board (IFAB), who create the Laws of the Game, to be as proactive as the English FA and the PGMOL. ‘Paltry’ fines no longer work. 

He said: “We called for a two metre exclusion zone, to give the refs a bit of space, a while back. That wasn’t listened to and weeks later we have Klopp and Paul Tierney coming together. And then we have this (Taylor being abused by Roma fans). 

“FIFA and IFAB just don’t seem to comment on this. One of the things I’d like to emphasise is how proactive the PGMOL have been with incidents like this since Howard Webb came on board. 

“The FA are allowing a body-cam pilot, for which we lobbied for a long time. They’re now bringing in points deductions, which everyone laughed at me over when I suggested it. That’s now being introduced at Step 7. But why is it stopped at Step 7? Let’s introduce it all the way through the game. Those tools are about but they just seem to just stay at grassroots level and not get world exposure.

“When managers are getting poultry fines that are a day’s wages to them, and none of it goes into the development of referees, it disappears into the PO box of 1966… there’s nothing there. [They say] ‘Keep fining them, keep fining, but by the way, we’re cutting the budget for referee training’. Something doesn’t add up. 

“The whole image of making money out of abuse towards match officials is not a good look. The FA need a pat on the back, it’s a great start [to introduce points deductions], but we need those steps to be bigger now to start going into the professional game.”

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