FOR the umpteenth time, domestic football referees find themselves under the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons, after a yet another difficult week for the fraternity. Last weekend a number of Premiership matches were dogged by some questionable performances by the referees, sparking a flood of questions if all this was either purely a result of incompetence or just plain bias.
Triangle left Zvishavane seething with anger after they lost 1-2 to rivals FC Platinum in a match in which the visitors complained bitterly about the way the referees appeared to be fighting in the hosts’ corner.
Then, Herentals also cried foul after conceding a late goal in Kariba to lose a match whose outcome the Harare side claimed was largely influenced by the match officials.
But, the big one came at Barbourfields, in a game broadcast live on national television, when CAPS United’s valid last-gasp goal against Highlanders was somehow disallowed by the match officials.
As witnessed by millions of viewers, defender Godwin Goliath was clearly on side when Joel Ngodzo powered his effort towards goal which was fumbled back into play by goalkeeper Ariel Sibanda.
Goliath reacted quickest to drill the rebound home from close range only for his celebrations to be cut short by the match officials.
We have seen all this before and we concede that referees are human and do make mistakes and high-profile matches such as the battle between CAPS and Bosso, including at the World Cup, have been spoiled by such refereeing blunders.
What we can’t understand, and accept, is the very decision to entrust referee Thabani Bamala to handle this game given the baggage of negativity which the match official carried when it comes to CAPS United matches in Bulawayo.
Only a few years ago, Bamala was the subject of a protest by Makepekepe to ZIFA and the PSL after it emerged that their three straight matches in the City of Kings, including one against Bosso, had been handled by the same referee.
There is something terribly wrong with a system that ensures only one referee takes charge of matches involving one team in one city three consecutive times.
Referees are rotated now and again because the idea is to ensure the match officials are not seen to be married to certain teams and they exercise their duties as fairly as possible.
Now, when we have a scenario where one referee is assigned to one team for three straight games, and that team keeps crying foul about his conduct, it raises eyebrows.
Bamala should not have been in charge on Sunday but we can’t blame him because he doesn’t appoint himself. Someone does that job, and it’s that person who has to be asked some tough questions in the wake of what happened at Barbourfields on Sunday.
Then, as we reported yesterday, some referees decided to be brave and compiled an explosive dossier which highlights some questionable dealings that are happening in this key area of our national game.
The dossier claims a lot of purging is going on within our refereeing fraternity with the new leadership either targeting or frustrating those they believe were aligned to the old leadership under Gladmore Muzambi.
It’s a vicious circle we have seen now and again in our football but what is even more alarming is that there are reports some referees have been fast-tracked into the elite panel because of their close links with the new leadership.
Refereeing is very key in football because the authority of the match official defines the matches and if he or she is incompetent, having risen through the ranks because of links to certain influential people, there is a likelihood that person will fail.
And that comes with serious consequences because it also affects not only the results of matches but the very integrity of the game and the integrity of the championship race itself.
When matches are seen to be decided by referees, it devalues the whole championship race, fans lose interest in the league and sponsors pull out.
Ultimately, it’s the game that loses because of the selfish interests of a few individuals, and that should not be allowed to happen under our watch.
Which is why we challenge ZIFA boss Felton Kamambo and his board to take a serious view of what is happening in our refereeing fraternity and ensure the bad apples are rooted out of the system.
This is a serious matter because every weekend we can’t be reading about negative headlines, generated by incompetent match officials, instead of the exploits of our football stars.
Many have been wondering why local referees are no longer invited to handle matches at international tournaments like the AFCON finals.
In the final years of the ‘90s and at the turn of the millennium, we had a number of referees who were handling high-profile matches, including the World Cup and the Olympic Games.
But, all that has changed now, and part of the reason is that we now have a system that does not support the best referees but appears to dance to the tune of those who are close to the top brass in the referees’ committee, irrespective of their glaring shortcomings.