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Tournaments Sep 11, 2020

Youth soccer referee accused of using racist insults toward Black coach

By Adam Schwager
SoccerWire Contributor and Certified Referee

While players, parents and coaches reveled in the return of competitive youth soccer this Labor Day following months of canceled leagues and tournaments, the weekend of freedom for some was marred by more racism and politics at a youth soccer tournament just outside of the Nation’s Capital.

In an incident that has been shared widely on social media, a white youth soccer referee is said to have hurled racist insults at a black coach following an Under-13 girls game at the Fredericksburg Labor Day Tournament.

According to a Facebook post from David Potter, a parent of a player on the FC Charles team, FC Charles’ coach Kiante Webb asked the center referee “to look out for fouls on both sides of the ball so everyone could make it home healthy and in one piece.”

The social media post, which has over 400 Shares at the time of publication, claims: “The referee responded with aggression and blatant racism … in front of the girls as well.”

The post also includes a photograph of the referee in question making an obscene gesture to the camera, which according to the post, was taken when Mr. Potter and another FC Charles parent approached the referee in the parking lot after the game to talk about what he said on the field.

According to Mr. Potter, the confrontation in the parking lot ended up with the referee “follow[ing] up with more racist remarks and threaten[ing] to call the police and weaponize [their] blackness.”

In an interview with SoccerWire, Webb said that his initial conversation with the referee was spurred from a moment when a player on the CSA team went down on the field with an injury.

“I ran out on the field because the girl was crying and in pain, and when I ran up to her the ref was over top of her yelling at her,” Webb said. “I said ‘yo, she’s hurt, stop yelling at her,’ and he turned around and took immediate offense and told me ‘get off the field, this is not your girl.’”

[+READ: Certified Referee Breaks Down the new IFAB Laws of the Game]

Webb responded: “Every girl out here is mine, if you yell at another female out here you and I are just gonna have personal issues,” and according to Webb, CSA’s coach, who Webb knows personally, “grabbed me and was like ‘okay, it’s okay man, I got it, I got it,’… and then the game proceeded.”

After the game was finished, Webb said he politely asked the referee for a word on the sideline and asked him, “What was the point of you yelling at that young lady?”

According to Webb, the referee responded, “I wasn’t yelling at her,” and when pressed about it further, Webb told SoccerWire that the referee remarked, “Well, why don’t you just go back to your ghetto.”

After this incident, the two parents approached the referee in the parking lot where the verbal attacks continued, and the photo that appeared on Facebook was taken.

The incident and ensuing post was treated with swift action from the organizers of the Fredericksburg Tournament and the Metro DC-Virginia State Referee Program (MDCVASRP). Just 18 hours after Mr. Potter’s original post, Fredericksburg Soccer Club Incorporated (FSCI) Phoenix, the club under which the tournament was organized, released their own statement on their Facebook page regarding the incident.

The statement opened with a clear rebuke of the referees actions, stating “FSCI has no toleration for racism,” and “FSCI has contacted the state referee association … about the incident.”

They closed their statement by saying “FSCI will aggressively seek discipline for any individual that explicitly makes racial statements towards youth or anyone else at our events.”

On Tuesday afternoon, all referees working under the MDCVASRP received an email which indirectly referenced the incident:

“Our responsibilities as referees are to officiate a soccer match by enforcing the Laws of the Game. That is it! There is no place for any of us to bring our individual political views and impose them on players.”

The email went on to state:

“We have all been secluded and isolated for six months. People’s nerves have been affected by this. Many people don’t think about how this has affected them. Still, as an official, you should always avoid confrontation … if players and coaches are belligerent or even threatening, before, during or after a match, follow that process by submitting a written report. As soon as you take it upon yourself to act out outside of your authority as a referee, you have lowered yourself to a standard that is indefensible and that could actually result in a misconduct claim being leveled against you. Additionally, if you make any lewd, racist, or vulgar comments as a referee, you can and will be held accountable for those unacceptable actions. Again, the process is in place and will work, but ONLY, if you act within your authority, maintain a professional composure and avoid confrontation. If you cannot adhere to these standards, then you should not accept matches.”

The FSCI post stated the following:

“It is our understanding that the referee has been suspended indefinitely pending the outcome of the ongoing investigation,” and according to an email to SoccerWire from MDCVASRP Office Administrator Carol Shaeffer “[MDCVASRP] is currently gathering information from all parties involved and is planning the next steps regarding this incident.”

The email from MDCVASRP serves as a stark reminder for referees on how to handle themselves in incidents of conflict, and the incident in question also serves as a clear example of how to not handle incidents such as these.

While it remains unclear what the referee was saying to the injured player during the initial stoppage, the referee may have felt rightly justified to tell Webb that he was not authorized to enter the field of play at the time he did, as according to the IFAB Laws of the Game, any team official requires permission from referee to do so.

However, had the referee engaged in polite discourse with the coach about his point-of-view related to his entering of the field without permission, one cannot help but wonder if the entire incident could have been avoided. Webb or the Calvert coach could have simply filed an official complaint to which the referee could more fully explain his side of what happened. However, as the MDCVASRP email notes, once the referee decides to escalate the conflict using horrendous, personal and racist verbal attacks on players, coaches or spectators, the referee puts themselves in an indefensible position and subject to discipline from their SRA.

While this is no excuse for the referee’s actions, which were clearly deplorable to all members of polite society, no referee should ever be putting themselves in a position where conflict can escalate in this manner, and no referee should ever feel the need to directly confront either a coach or, more importantly, parents in the parking lot after the match.

Once the final whistle has blown, the referee has no obligation to engage in further dialogue about controversial moments of the match, but if they choose to do so, they must to treat the situation with the highest level of respect and professionalism they can show.

Or, in the words of MDCVASRP: “If you cannot adhere to these standards, then you should not accept matches.”

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