Referee defeats Football League in race bias case

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The Independent Online

A football referee who claimed that he was overlooked for promotion because he was Asian has won an employment tribunal against the Football League.

Gurnam Singh, 46, an accountant from Wolverhampton, told the tribunal that he had been unable to officiate at top games because some football administrators took exception to his racial background, and were "determined to get rid of him".

The Football League, the National Review Board – which oversees promotion and demotion of referees – and two officials were found to have racially discriminated against Mr Singh.

The tribunal panel was told that Mr Singh found himself out of favour and was not given games in the Premiership to referee.

Alan Seville, a former regional referees co-ordinator who was responsible for assessing officials, said that it became apparent at an early stage that Mr Singh had been unfairly treated by those who determined promotion. He regularly performed well on the pitch and – during the 1994-95 season – was first in a merit order of 49 referees.

Mr Seville recalled a meeting in which Ken Ridden, the FA's director of refereeing, is alleged to have said: "We don't want people like him in the Premier League."

Mr Singh eventually received a letter in May 1999 saying that he had been removed from the national register.

Mr Singh had said: "It was inevitable I would get discrimination from the terraces. I did not think it would come from the football authorities."

Serinther Atkar, a spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality, which backs Mr Singh's claim, said that compensation will be decided separately at a fresh hearing within the next three months.

David Burns, the Football League's chief executive, who was not in charge at the time, acknowledged the judgment of the tribunal, and said that the league will set up an internal investigation.

"I acknowledge this ruling and accept that there was a lack of objectivity by the Football League in appointing referees in the mid-1990s.

"I trust that this matter can now be settled between the relevant parties without further court hearings.

"Any form of discrimination within football cannot be tolerated and it is up to us at the League to take a lead in this matter.

"On behalf of the League, I would like to express our sincere regret and apologies to Gurnam Singh that it was necessary for him to bring this case to a tribunal to get the redress that he had sought through the official channels."

Mr Atkar said he hoped that Mr Burns's comments were not "mere words" and that the League would act to stamp out racial discrimination.

"I really feel that they need to act upon the findings – it's no good to just pay lip service to all of this," Mr Atkar added.

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