Referee Mike Dean reports death threats to police and takes weekend off
The referee Mike Dean is to step back from officiating duties after his family was threatened on their private social media accounts, becoming the latest victims in an ongoing tide of online abuse against prominent football figures.
Dean has reported the abuse – which included death threats – to police and will take no part in the next round of Premier League fixtures, the referees’ body has confirmed. He is expected to return the following week. The incident apparently followed Dean’s decision to send off West Ham’s midfielder Tomas Soucek in the closing seconds of their draw with Fulham last weekend.
With Manchester United’s Lauren James and Axel Tuanzebe, alongside Bristol Rovers defender Mark Little, also the recipients of racist messages online in the past few days, social media companies have once again come under fire from governing bodies and government alike.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden,responding to the racist abuse of James and Tuanzebe,raised the prospect of the Online Harms Act curtailing the freedoms of platforms if they did not act. “We are going to change the law to make social media companies more accountable for what happens on their platforms, and they can start showing their duty of care to players today by weeding out racist abuse now. Players must not be abused for doing their jobs – enough is enough,” he said.
The Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters, called for “proactive intervention” following the targeting of Dean. “It is inexcusable that Mike Dean and his family have received online abuse, including death threats, as a result of doing his job officiating at a Premier League match,” Masters said. “Mike and his family have our full support in reporting this to the police. This once again highlights the need for greater proactive intervention from social media companies to stop online abuse and identify offenders.”
West Ham successfully appealed against Soucek’s red card on Monday, meaning the player will not have to serve a three-match suspension.
After Bristol Rovers contacted police over the incidents involving Little, in which he was targeted by an Instagram user who subsequently deleted their account, Avon and Somerset police said they would be looking to establish the personal details of the offender, a key demand among those who say platforms are not doing enough to stamp out abuse.
“As part of this investigation, we’ll be contacting the social media company to try and obtain the details of the account holder and the incident will be referred to the UK Football Policing Unit and Kick It Out,” Inspector Rob Millican said.
The head of referees, Mike Riley, added: “Threats and abuse of this nature are totally unacceptable and we fully support Mike’s decision to report these messages his family received to the police. Nobody should be victim of abhorrent messages like this.
“Online abuse is unacceptable in any walk of life and more needs to be done to tackle the problem.”