It is that stage of the season where the match officials will be under tremendous spotlight, as we near the business end of the campaign.
The second round is always the toughest because everyone is desperate for points, for various reasons, with so much at stake. There’s literally no room for error from everyone involved in the game. It is the pressure-round of the campaign and it will therefore see coaches lose jobs, teams missing their targets, players not having their contracts renewed and all that, thanks to poor results.
If we’re to be honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that this has been one of the worst – if not the worst – seasons for the match officials! There’s hardly ever been any round of fixtures where controversy didn’t form part of the match reports. Why has that been the case, especially this season? Looking from outside in, while the Absa Premiership continues to grow, with club owners investing more in their teams, the referees’ department – under the tutelage of South African Football Association – has been going the opposite direction. If you check this season, how many unfamiliar faces have we seen officiating in our games? So many young and inexperienced match officials have been handling a number of crucial and pressure-filled games, making a number of schoolboy errors in the process. This is all because of the Association’s Vision 2022 as they look to develop match officials. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with developing match officials, lest we run out of stock. However, there are ways to do it and I believe that’s where SAFA is getting it wrong!
There’s a reason we have the MultiChoice Diski Challenge as well as the ABC Motsepe League, for example, where match officials can and should be developed, not at Absa Premiership level. We have done away with a number of experienced match officials because of Vision 2022 and are therefore pushing inexperienced officials, still wet behind their ears, into one of the biggest leagues in the continent and expecting them to swim with the sharks! Aren’t we killing them before they even grow? How can we expect them to walk before they could even crawl? History tells us of a number of people who suffered more than they benefitted from their fast-tracked development. What I also find strange is the fact that some of these new faces haven’t even experienced GladAfrica Championship enough to make a name for themselves and prove their worth and fight for a place in the Premiership. This is the referees’ microwave development at its best! That’s why both the GladAfrica Championship and the Absa Premiership have been inundated with complaints from a number of clubs.
How can we have so many new faces in a season? What happened to introducing, at least, three match officials per season so that they add to the experience that is already there instead of pushing development at the expense of experience? Where is the continuity? Any match officials promoted the right way will have earned their place and be pushed to live up to expectations as they will be judged and measured against experienced campaigners, instead of the blind leading the blind, so to speak. We have really dropped the ball, literally, this season and the standard of refereeing has been compromised at the expense of clubs, coaches, players and supporters who lose a lot because of the silly mistakes that are, at the end of the day, not really the fault of the match officials who have been thrown into the deep end for the sake of Vision 2022. We’ve always had a bunch of experienced match officials and developing and promoting young blood was never a problem. Those experienced campaigners played a major role in guiding the young ones and that created an even wider pool to select from. The young ones went on to improve because they were learning from the best there was around. Some of the experienced campaigners had been in the system for more than 20 years and their introduction to the Premiership was so gradual that they’d get a number of seasons in the now-GladAfrica Championship, sometimes more than three years, before they could get their breakthrough to the Premiership. Some of them were only on television years after getting into the system and that’s proper referees’ development and not the microwave system we’ve been exposed to this season.
Victor Gomes and Zakhele Siwela are two of the most experienced and recognised match officials around and they were never introduced with 10 others. They were never rushed into the system but introduced gradually. That system has always worked, but why have we changed it? Once again, there’s nothing wrong with development, but there’s everything wrong with the system used. You just can’t buy experience and we can’t run away from that. The more experience, the less mistakes, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any mistakes. We have experienced match officials that have been forced into retirement when their expertise should still be used for the benefit of the game. The sooner this gets sorted out, the better. We have to have ABC Motsepe League, MultiChoice Diski Challenge, GladAfrica Championship and Absa Premiership match officials’ panels so that the gradual promotion of these officials can be measured and done properly. At the moment, it looks like whoever appoints the match officials just puts the names in a hat and whoever comes out will officiate a match, regardless of the level of competition. You can’t have people officiating everywhere. We need to take refereeing seriously because this is one of the most important layers of the Beautiful Game. As things stand, South African refereeing is in ICU.
Teams will get relegated, miss out on a Top Eight finish and even lose the League honours because of poor refereeing and life will carry on for those in charge. Surely we can’t operate like that and this Vision 2022 has to be done correctly, without affecting the standard and good reputation of the League.