Chelsea's allegations of racism against referee Mark Clattenburg could hinder efforts to combat discrimination in British football, according to the head of referees' union Prospect.
Clattenburg was this week cleared of racially abusing Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel in
their 3-2 Premier League defeat by Manchester United in October.
Chelsea complained after Brazilian midfielder Ramires claimed he had heard Clattenburg use a racist slur towards Mikel.
The European champions have faced criticism for making their complaint public, and Prospect national secretary Alan Leighton believes the case could deter players from reporting abuse in the future.
"We think this is the wrong way to go about combating racism, and in fact, what Chelsea have done could put people off making legitimate claims when they have been subjected to racial abuse," he told BBC radio.
Clattenburg has not officiated since the incident but he was due to return to action later on Sunday as the fourth official in the match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United.
He will then take charge of the game involving Southampton and Norwich City on Wednesday.
"It's been terrible for him, he's been through a living hell. He's had the press camped on his lawn," said Leighton.
"He's had to live with walking down the street and people either pointing at him or him thinking people are thinking, 'Oh, that's the racist referee.'
"Everybody always remembers an allegation, but not everybody always remembers the outcome."
Chelsea have not apologised to Clattenburg and noted in a statement released after he was cleared that the Football Association believed their complaint had been made in good faith.
Leighton says he does not think Clattenburg would want to take legal action against his accusers.
"If Chelsea want to make an apology, pay compensation and get Mark to sign an agreement saying he won't take legal action, I'm sure we can do that," he said.