The Westminster Diocesan Chaplain for Sport has urged the Football Association (FA) to investigate claims that there is a racism issue regarding referees.
Reuben Simon, an ambassador for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) officials at Ref Support UK, said black referees are being stopped from climbing the football league ladder and reaching the upper echelons of English football due to the way they are assessed. He believes this is due to overt racism or unconscious bias.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, the Westminster Diocesan Chaplain for Sport, has urged the FA to act on these allegations by first admitting any issue before making any changes to the failing process.
“The primitive tribal slogan and mindset that asserts ‘we are good, others – from other tribes and races, even genders – are enemies and thus bad’ may not be overt but, as a priest, I know it is there, covertly ingrained in many, many hearts,” Mgr Felzmann told The Catholic Universe.
“The first step towards genuine diversity and inclusion is to admit this fact,” he continued. “Then that instinctive bias can be compensated for and overcome.”
“How many Jews, how many Muslims? How many Sikhs are refereeing in the FA leagues and divisions?” Mgr Felzmann asked.
“Probably not a fair reflection of the numbers playing football.”
“Admit the problem, repent – change your thinking – and then we can – and will, move forward.”
Uriah Rennie was the last black referee to officiate in the higher reaches of the English game before retiring in 2009. There are no BAME referees currently working in the top four divisions, and only one in the National League.
“It’s a myth that there’s a lack of black referees – there are loads at grassroots level but they are not progressing up the pyramid,” Mr Simon, a former non-league referee said.
“Why? They are being blocked. There is a ceiling for black referees and it is non-league,” he continued.
“When a footballer is very good it’s obvious and it’s in the manager’s interest to pick them. So even managers with racist views have picked black footballers. But decisions about referees are more subjective.”
Mr Simon, who tweets on refereeing issues at @radical_referee, said that referees who reach the county level must be assessed by observers if they want to climb the ranks.
“These observers will almost always be white chaps of a particular age,” he said.
“Nothing wrong with that and most try to be as fair as possible. But there is also no question there is a lot of unconscious bias.”
Mr Simon said he would suggest using mystery shopper-style “ghost observers” to assess the assessors.
“They should look for assessors who, on average, give black referees worse marks than white refs.
“Let’s check them by sending out a ghost observer to the same games as those assessors who give black refs poor marks – just to make sure.”
Picture: Former top ref Uriah Rennie was the last black referee to reach the top of the football pyramid. (Peter Byrne/PA).