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May 7, 2013

Webb calls for tougher racism stance

English referee Howard Webb has defended officials who have come under scrutiny for not clamping down on racial abuse from fans, claiming they "are not always aware of what's happening in the stands".

Webb was present at the first meeting of FIFA's anti-racism task force on Monday and called for the use of off-field officials to ensure centre referees can identify crowd issues.

"We are very much in the front line, we are the first port of call for the players," Webb told Reuters. "If we become aware of anything from the players or officials which they deem to be racist or discriminatory, then we've got an obligation to respond and referees will do that.

"We talked about the limitations because you are not always aware of what's happening in the stands. Bear in mind that what we do as match officials is to shut the crowd out really, because we're trying to concentrate on the game itself, we are trying to focus on our job and not get distracted. Therefore, it's a fair comment to stay it's not easy to know what's happened.

"The point was made this morning and...there was a discussion about maybe someone having a specific role of just identifying those types of behaviour, (someone) who has a good understanding of what constitutes a discriminatory act within the stadium, and can therefore guide the match official.

"It could be something like a venue co-ordinator, (it) could be someone in the stand, who could take the best position to get a feel for what's going on. It could be they have to move around the stadium to get a feel for what's happened, but it would take some of the pressure off the match officials."

UEFA's three-step procedure for identifying racism, which stipulates the match should be stopped and an announcement should be made on the public address system, followed by the suspension of a match and, in the worst case scenario, abandoning it, has not yet been implemented in European competition.

Webb insists those steps would work and has encouraged players to alert referees if they are targeted by racism, as was the case when he officiated the Premier League match between Swansea and Norwich in December when Sebastien Bassong complained of taunts from a Swans fan.

"Why that [three-step] procedure has not been invoked, I don't know," Webb said. "Maybe (it's) because there's an educational requirement needed for referees to make them aware it does exist.

"We need key indications to the officials of what they can do and can't do, and what they need to do should something come to their attention.

"It worked really well on that occasion [at Swansea]. It might be that racial gestures in the crowd are brought to the attention of the referee by the players, but it's possible that we wouldn't identify it when we're concentrating on the job that we're there to do."

There were claims on Sunday that fans of Swedish club Syrianska racially abused Helsingborg's Ghanaian midfielder David Accam. It is alleged that the taunts were heard by the referee, but no action was taken.