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No black refs in top four divisions of football

WITH THE new football season upon us, excitement is building for another year of ‘what ifs?’.

However, one thing that is for certain is that this year, for the 12th season in a row there is not a single black referee in the top four divisions of the football pyramid.

The Voice would like to ask: Why?

It may not be surprising, given the total number of black referees to have ever graced the Premier League is just one.

Uriah Rennie retired from officiating at the end of the 2007-2008 season, the first and only black referee to have reached that level.

Reuben Simon, an ex-senior FA referee and previous BAME ambassador at Ref Support UK, spoke about the matter and why there is a lack of representation in the upper reaches of refereeing.

He said: “There is a myth that there are no black referees. I can tell you there certainly are many, and very good ones, but there is clearly a reason that they are not progressing up the pyramid, and I think it could stem from an unconscious bias.”

Simon is currently in discussions with colleagues to help start an independent organisation to help black referees. He wants to see a change in the way that the assessment of referees is completed.

“I think to judge a referee’s performance is tricky and everything is subjective. When it’s a player, if you’re good you’re good, there are stats to prove it,” he said.


“Refereeing is more difficult as it is normally someone’s opinion and the margins are so fine, you need to be getting near-perfect scores to progress into the top ranks, which can be challenging. I want to set up a support network for BAME referees, to help support them in their careers.”

Under the current system, observers from the FA are sent out to watch and evaluate referees’ performances, and the score is based entirely on their thoughts and opinions.

Simon thinks that the introduction of a ‘ghost’ observer could be a start in changing the system. “Say if there is a certain observer who consistently gives black refs low marks, that data is all recorded so it would be possible to see.

“All it would take would be to send someone else to the game, without the observer’s knowledge, to give a second score on the performance, and if there is a discrepancy between the scores, do it again, and again just to be sure, and if there are consistent differences, there is clearly a problem.”

Simon claims that when Rennie was around he knew that there wouldn’t be another black referee for some time.
“I could see what was going on, I knew after Rennie we wouldn’t see another BAME referee for many years,” he said. “And here we are, despite the FA’s commitment there is a clear ceiling for black refs and it is non-league football.”

The Football Association says more than 2,000 of its 28,000 referees – from the grassroots to elite level – come from a black or minority ethnic background, however, only one has reached the National League – Sam Allison.

With the introduction of VAR this season in the Premier League, the spotlight will be on the game’s refs once again. But that still doesn’t answer the question: Where all the black refs?

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