By Russell Stoddart
Kick It Out ambassador Earl Barrett has urged the Spanish official in charge of Liverpool’s Europa League match at Zenit on Thursday to be a "trailblazer" and take the players off the pitch if they are subjected to racial abuse.
Barrett, who combines his role at the anti-discrimination body with coaching Stoke’s youth players, believes this is a golden opportunity for Uefa to show they are tough on racism.
The former Aston Villa, Everton and England defender is also calling on the governing body to give referee Carlos Velasco Carballo their full backing and encourage him to take such action if abuse persists.
|RECENT RACISM PUNISHMENTS
|February 2013: Inter fined £12,900 over racist chants about Mario Balotelli during a Serie A clash with Chievo.|
|December 2012: Serbian FA fined £65,000 for ugly scenes that marred an Under-21 clash with England.
|October 2012: Lazio fined £32,500 after racist chanting during Europa League tie with Spurs.|
|June 2012: Russia fined £24,203 and Spain £16,137 after fans racially abused players at Euro 2012.|
|April 2012: Porto fined £16,700 after monkey chants were aimed at then Manchester City star Balotelli during a Europa League tie.|
|September 2011: Bulgarian FA fined £34,230 after monkey chants were heard during a Euro 2012 qualifying tie against England.|
|June 2008: Croatian FA fined £10,000 for racist behaviour by fans during a Euro 2008 quarter-final with Turkey.|
"I don’t think players should just walk off the pitch without consulting with the referee, but if the referee refuses to do anything about the abuse then players have a right to take matters into their own hands and walk off.
"When we discuss racism in football, the referee is often overlooked, but he has a crucial role to play.
"Referees have to take a lead with health and safety issues, such as a pitch invasion, but they also need to be taking a lead in other things that affects the players’ well-being, including abuse from the stands.
"We need to see a strong referee in St Petersburg who is prepared to take the players off the pitch if racial abuse persists.
"Unfortunately, referees tend to be reluctant to do so, but this one needs to be a trailblazer who has the courage to do what is right and know he has the backing of Uefa and his fellow referees."
Liverpool travel to St Petersburg knowing that Zenit’s fans have a reputation for being among the most racist in Europe.
A section of the support sent Zenit a "fans charter" last summer demanding that the club do not sign any black or homosexual players, while visiting black players have been subjected to monkey chants and having bananas thrown at them.
While the club itself has condemned racism, such incidents prompted Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre to send the club a letter seeking assurances that Liverpool’s black players Glen Johnson, Raheem Sterling and Andre Wisdom will not be targeted.
And Barrett believes the fixture will help the football authorities gauge if any progress is being made to rid racists from the football grounds of a country that will host the World Cup in 2018.
"Football has done a great job in tackling racism and equalities in general, but we need to be vigilant and some countries have had more success than others," he added.
| EUROPA LEAGUE LATEST
|8/1||Liverpool are 8/1 to beat Zenit 1-0 with William Hill
"Russia has been awarded the 2018 World Cup, so the country’s football federation must have satisfied the world governing body Fifa that it can deliver on all the relevant resources.
"However, hosting a World Cup is more than just having the proper infrastructure, resources also includes the capability to embrace different cultures and creeds.
"It seems to me that Fifa believes that racism is not a big issue in Russia or they have time to get their anti-discrimination education programmes in place.
"This match gives an opportunity to gauge where we are, but it concerns me that we might be once again talking about racism and not football after it’s finished."