April 14, 2021

An unsung African hero; the man with the whistle

Referees are major stakeholders in the game of football. With the whistle as their main weapon, they control affairs during games.

Referees are no less than gods on the pitch yet they are often the forgotten heroes; they live in darkness, in their own space battling all through the minutes of crucial split-second decisions and exploits.

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With the rules of the game at the back of their heads, referees must possess excellent football understanding and need to evolve with the game to stay relevant. 

The rules governing refereeing reinforces the protection of these core values that is; firstly, protecting the safety of players and secondly consistent application of the laws of the game in a football game.

Referees don’t dwell in the limelight much often, especially in Africa; they are heavily criticized and are at the center of gross hooliganism and disrespect.

Refereeing in Africa – the ethics and dignity byline

I was frustrated out of refereeing in Nigeria because I could not cope with the dirt surrounding the profession. As a university lecturer, I enjoyed refereeing as a hobby until the suspension that eventually led to my quitting because I was not ready to compromise and favor the home team.” – Abubakr Lukman

Lukman views himself as a very honest referee although he was shoved out of the profession because of his refusal in conforming to corrupt practices.

His ethics and dignity did not agree with the somewhat unethical nature of African refereeing. He believes hope is not lost and there a few others who can be honest and still do what’s right.

The Anas Number 12 exposé seemingly tore African officiating in tatters. Ghana, a great footballing nation was rocked when Ghanaian investigative journalist and leader of Tiger Eye Investigation team released a documentary on the hideous modus operandi of some referees in Africa.

The documentary which Aired on BBC and other broadcast media platforms rocked the footballing fraternity in Africa to its core when Kwesi Nyantakyi [Then president of Ghana Football Association] was seen making hefty promises and receiving bribes which did not concur with the ethical values of the Ghana FA, CAF or FIFA.

The aftermath? CAF suspended 11 referees, banned 11 others who were filmed in the act. The referee whistled beyond the byline breaking the trust between whistle and the fan. 

How can African refereeing be improved?

“The first step should be professionalizing referees, even at the national scale for the richer nations so they can only focus on football.” – African Journalist, Lotfi Wada. 

Are referees underappreciated in Africa?

Equipment are a very important part of the footballing game especially for referees. Africa’s footballing culture and terrain hardly dedicate enough money into investing in refereeing equipment’s and gadgets.

“Referees are not always given the correct tools, and are not as protected as they are in the European or South American competitions. They attempt to do well, but very few can assert themselves in the same vein as Gassama. African Insider revealed

Equipment and technology play an important role in refereeing. The spotlight turns to two key partners, Hawk-Eye, Macron and VAR who have delivered equipment and clothing to help the officials concentrate on the task at hand.

When nobody speaks about the referee, it means that the referee has done a very good job but referees need tools to be able to perform their duties right.

Referees need to be protected more by the media so they can be more impartial in their decisions, rather than by a mob mentality. Many sensationalist journalists are very biased when it comes to refereeing; Tanzania, Gambia and Madagascar all have very high standards of refereeing.” African Insider elaborated. 

Referees are underappreciated, but who can blame the fan that has lost trust in them because of the perceived African ‘ways and means’ winning culture?

The VAR talk

The Ghana Football Association (GFA) announced months ago [Before the commencement of the 2020/2021 Ghana Premier League Season ] that it has begun the process of implementing the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), technology in domestic competitions.

 “Imagine if what happened between Manchester United and Brighton in Game week 3 of the English Premier League happened here in our country? Ghanaian football fans don’t care about footages, they are always convinced by what they see hence making it very difficult for referees .It’s more of a mindset, we need to take away violence and anti-trust in our football and that is something we don’t have, this has been fueled by actions that have happened previously by referees from the number 12 expose” – Data Journalist at Joy F. M, Ghana, Owuraku Ampofo.

Ghana football is certainly not ready for the introduction of VAR, at least for now. If the results were clear for everyone…of course, with a bit controversial situations — but no vital mistakes. And in the end, no one really talks about the referee; it is a good day to be a referee then after, especially in Africa, where the fans are hugely in doubt whenever a controversial decision is taken.  

Indeed more education needs to be done to the football populace for them to understand pertinent issues in football and how it can be dealt with.

But has African Refereeing improved in the Last Decade?

African arbitration has not improved so far. The problem is in the referee itself and in those who manage the referees committee in CAF; they were facing financial difficulties that affect their work. FIFA intervened to save what could be saved, but there are still referees who have whims and their decisions are unfair and there are still people in the referees committee who do not have confidence.  Officials in the continent, and I have an example, I would like to mention why Victor Gomez is the best referee in Africa far from big events, why the Gambian Bakary Gasama and the Ethiopian with properties are present with all power despite their mistakes and suspicious decisions, and why did Jani Sikazwi return to the African arena despite his problems … FIFA has now intervened and forced everyone to  Building a list of African rulers as professionals, but unfortunately there are still rulers who are not fit and they are more than distinguished rulers – Head of the Sports Section of Al-Midan Newspaper, Mohammed Saied [Egypt].

Just as an electoral commissioner presides over a general election in a country, the man with the whistle plays an instrumental part in our favorite game – football. Despite so many controversies about the error-prone nature of their work, the blessing and curse about being a man is in our inability to be perfect. Regardless of how much anyone tries, man cannot just be perfect. 

Referees deserve respect and have done their best to keep our beloved football going; they haven’t given up on the game; hence our trust for them must not wither. Referees are judges on the pitch. OH, yes they are the Law! And perhaps should be hailed as such.

Source: Ghana News

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