Euro 2012: Refs can't deal with racism alone
It's sad that the run-up to the Euros has been overshadowed to an extent by coverage of the issue of racism. Sad but not necessarily wrong.
Fortunately we have advanced so far since the infamous days of horrendous verbal abuse and the humiliation of bananas being thrown onto a pitch. We live in a cosmopolitan world that embraces people globally - and certainly for the good of humankind and football.
The campaigns by the PFA, Football Association and cascading down to the County Associations has brought a realisation and responsibility from the millions who play our beautiful game. It is to be applauded - but we cannot stand on our laurels - there is still much work in progress.
So what is the answer and how do we deal with it effectively. The easier problem to deal with is undoubtedly on-field. In this environment the referee is much more aware of what is happening and can use his own powers within the framework of the law to deal strongly and effectively before the authorities take their own stance.
I was lucky as a referee, I only encountered such behaviour once in a career spanning over 30 years (22 at top level). A non-League player, awaiting a throw-in turned to a black man and delivered him such a mouthful that I immediately pulled out a red card and dismissed him. His response was astonishing: 'I wasn't talking to you ref, I was talking to him,' was his response. Thank goodness it was a one off.
To have a player or players telling the referee they cannot continue because of the effect is having on them ... is unthinkable
Off-field it is much more difficult for the referee as he is often not aware due to the cacophany of sound echoing around. You are programmed to deal with matters within field. You must remember it is hard enough to deal with 22 players; it is nigh on impossible to add 40,000+ spectators into that equation.
Often at pre-match security meetings you are instructed to 'look after the green area and we will take care of the rest'. With that in mind the match delegate can be alerted and report to the authorities. Security within the ground must be alert through their own devices, CCTV and spotters, identifying ringleaders and stemming it quickly and effectively - having protagonists removed and severely dealt with.
To have a player or players telling the referee they cannot continue because of the effect is having on them - a scenario evoked by Mario Balotelli - is unthinkable. We cannot ever allow this situation to materialise. Racism is a vile and disgusting element of football and society that needs to be eradicated, and quickly, from our game and we must ensure we use everything and everyone within our power to assist the referees and ensure we never, ever come to the stage where a player is put in the position of refusing to play.
This battle can be won if players, officials and fans work together to stamp it out.
- Dermot Gallagher refereed during Euro 96. He retired from top level in 2007