Soccer Laduma readers don’t need an elephant’s memory to remember that this time last year, 29 January 2020, I penned a column titled ‘Refs’ microwave development!’ That piece was about the dire state of match officiating affairs in the then Absa Premiership.
As if we are commemorating a year’s anniversary, this year the match officiating continues to be making the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Interestingly, or rather disappointingly, there is nothing new, comparatively speaking, between then and now. The very same problems that existed last year are still prevalent to this day. The very same microwave development of match officials that I highlighted as the main problem for the disappointing and sometimes irritating wrong decisions still prevail. The sad reality is that, at the rate things are going, the worst is yet to come and we are not going to see changes anytime soon.
The DStv Premiership is not a development stage. This is the number one league in the continent and ranks among the best in the world. At the risk of sounding redundant, especially to those who still remember the column I referenced earlier, there’s a reason we have to DStv Diski Challenge and ABC Motsepe League – to develop match officials. Now, in a futile attempt to curb the incompetence, the Referees’ Review Committee is on a suspension trail, slapping every match official that makes questionable decisions with suspension. At face value, it is the right thing to do as teams and coaches lose points and jobs, respectively, but that’s creating more fear than helping the match officials. Everyone is now on tenterhooks, trying to avoid making mistakes, which, on its own, is a recipe for more mistakes and a disaster waiting to happen. Suspension of match officials is a short-term solution.
We used to see a number of our match officials proudly representing our country at FIFA and CAF level when we still had the likes of Ace Ncobo, Jerome Damon, Daniel Bennett and so many other experienced officials and that paved the way for their younger counterparts, your Zakhele Siwela and Victor Gomes, to mention just two, but that’s not happening these days. How can CAF or FIFA even look at our officials when they are almost of the same quality and continue to make questionable decisions in their domestic league?The high number of promotions taking place at the same time is one of the biggest problems that face our match officiating. You look around and te
ll me how many match officials do you know, who have been in the elite league for longer than four seasons in the current group of match officials? Experience minimizes mistakes and it can’t be bought. What we see now is ‘Microwave development of referees reloaded’! In terms of qualifications, the minimum requirements of being part of the national referees’ panel, how many of the current crop of match officials have reached Level 7, which is the main requirement? As far as my research goes, I’d be lying if I said we have more than 10% of the fully-fledged match officials and you wonder why so many glaring mistakes are committed week in and week out!Another big problem with our match officiating is that every Tom, Dick and Harry can officiate in any game at a
ny given time or level. How is that possible? How can you have a referee or assistant officiating in an MDC game this week, next week you see them in the National Women’s League and then, before you know it, they are officiating in the DStv Premiership? How can you not make mistakes when there’s no gradual development of match officials? Now we get everyone to fill whatever space is available. We are going to the second round of the season and teams are losing valuable points because of these questionable decisions.
Where are our experienced match officials? They were forced out of the system before their retirement age because of Vision 2022! At the expense of experience, we are microwave-developing the up-and-coming officials instead of developing them properly and you wonder why they are making so many glaring mistakes? If you look at the match officials, you will notice that most of them are on par when it comes to experience. How can you have the majority of our match officials with the same level of experience and expect the development to go according to plans? How can a Grade 12 student become a mentor to their classmate? You can’t blame the match officials for the dubious calls they make every game but their bosses. Those are the people who should bear the brunt because they are the ones throwing these young and energetic match officials into the deep end, knowing very well that they are not great swimmers. Match officials need guidance and mentoring on and off the field, but when there are no or fewer legends, then there’s not enough guidance at all. So why get rid of the experienced campaigners when their knowledge and experience is needed so much by these young and inexperienced match officials? Aren’t we shooting ourselves in the foot by doing so? Who are we serving by sweeping the experienced campaigners out of the game? Is there an agenda behind this? Are we now suffering from ageism?
Speaking of age, our match commissioners have, interestingly, no retirement age! You can be a match commissioner until you take your last breath if you want. Anything wrong with that? No! They don’t have to run the field or the line anymore, so fitness isn’t an issue, but their expertise and wisdom is much-needed. The downside? The experienced officials who get chucked out of the system have no further part to play when the whistle gets blown on their careers because there are so many match commissioners already. Can you see what this does to the bigger picture of the Beautiful Game? Now the experienced campaigners have no room to plough back to the game because they are deemed too old to continue officiating but too young to become match commissioners. A conundrum if you ask me! Surely these experienced campaigners must feel used by the system because once their taste is gone, they’re spat out!
South African football is sitting on the 30th floor while the referees’ department is languishing on the ground floor. They can’t keep up with the football either because the lifts aren’t working or there’s load-shedding. How long will the stairs take them to the 30th floor? That’s the sad story of our football, in a nutshell. People are investing millions into this football business while the referees’ department has been admitted in ICU and you wonder why so many mistakes! For the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with development but everything wrong with the methods used in this case!