The Rational Ref
PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 October, 2012, 3:33am

Racism is just one form of vile abuse

Supporters' chants that use personal information against match officials are just as bad and also need to be stamped out


William Lai is a qualified soccer referee, instructor and assessor, and has also officiated in England and Australia. As an educator, scientist and social scientist, he is also interested in human behaviour which is why his column offers an alternative and rational commentary of what happens on and off the pitch.

What is the worst kind of verbal abuse a person can throw at someone? Clue, it's not racial abuse.

This is not to diminish the seriousness of racial abuse, which continues to be a blight on the beautiful game, with the latest powderkeg at the Under 21 European Championships qualifying round between Serbia against England.

In last weekend's Sunderland-Newcastle derby, police were highly sensitive to racial abuse. This was due to the fallout with Serbia coinciding with the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign receiving blanket coverage.

A Northumbria police spokesman said: "There was one report of racist language having been used by a supporter in one area of the stadium. Inquiries are ongoing."

But a host of Sunderland fans sang how they wished Newcastle United's Steven Taylor was dead. Why should one individual racist chant be taken more seriously than the shared action of a chorus of abusive supporters screaming someone should die? Both are shameful.

As abhorrent as racial abuse is, it is no worse than other kinds of abuse such as those based on sex, physical appearance, social standing or any number of superficial discriminating features.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes in educating players and the public. "Against stupidity, the best way is information, knowledge of things and examples of behaviour. That is much more efficient than punishment, but you have to do both because some behaviours cannot be tolerated," he said.

Wenger stressed that all kinds of bad behaviour should be eliminated. "It is not only racism, black and white, it is against all kinds of insults we still have in the stadiums. We must fight more against it. You look at some faces when you walk around the pitch and what they shout at you is scary. That is, for me, racism, a kind of discrimination. You are insulted because you are not in their clan." Wenger continued: "I feel [black players] are the main targets. They have faced the most abuse."

Here, we disagree - it is match officials who have always faced the most abuse. Wenger's words ring louder and truer for match officials: "What they shout at you is scary." EPL referee Howard Webb has been pilloried with numerous offensive names.

Soccer is called the beautiful game but many people's attitudes regarding it become unattractive when they lose the plot. This is simply because they are partisan and lack education. Just how many are truly aware of their bias and blinkered view? Like Wenger, we agree that education is a good solution to tackle discrimination and abuse.

Finally, the worst kind of abuse is that which uses personal information to spite. EPL referee Mark Halsey was recently subjected to this. Halsey, 51, successfully beat throat cancer in 2009 and returned as one of the premiership's most popular and likeable referees. Also, his wife has leukaemia. When Liverpool lost to Manchester United last month, a Liverpool supporter tweeted, "I hope Mark Halsey gets cancer again and dies", and, "Mark Halsey should've died of cancer". This kind of abuse is cruel, malicious and beneath contempt.

Those who do not condemn this, and may instead regard it as amusing because it is directed at a match official, are uneducated and weak-minded.

No one, not even referees, should have to put up with abuse and especially not the worst kind of abuse. The next time you want to shout abuse at someone at a soccer match … think again. It is ugly and it stinks.


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