Blantyre – Forty-year-old Malawian referee Bernadettar Kwimbira is among the 50 FIFA assistant referees selected to officiate at the soccer tournament at this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games. She is only one of four Southern African match officials with the honour. The Southern Times Sport had a chat with her about this breakthrough, her roots and her career.
Q: Who is Bernadetta Kwimbira?
A: Bernadettar Kwimbira is a Malawian lady, a wife, a mother, a football referee, and a well-trained army officer who is currently working as a civil servant.
Q: Obviously she had a life before the world knew her as a soccer official …
A: I was born on September 11, 1981 in Blantyre and I am third in a family of four. I lost my father in April 1989 when I was seven-years-old and I was raised by my mother, who was working for the government as a secretary. Life was tough but she made sure we attained an education. If you ask me, she is my hero! I love you Mama Angella Kwimbira!
I trained at the Malawi Armed Forces College as one of the first female soldiers in Malawi. I hold an Advanced Diploma in Administration and currently work as an administrator with the University of Malawi.
Q: How did you develop the passion for football?
A: When I was in secondary school, I was a sprinter competing in 100m and 200m races. I was spotted by Sobo Athletics Club and represented Malawi at several athletics meets in Southern Africa. I was also playing in the school’s netball team.
When I joined the Malawi Defence Forces I continued with athletics and I also had a passion for football. I would always go to watch football matches when I was off-duty on weekends. In 2002 I approached Youngson Chilinda who was then a FIFA referee and expressed my ambition to become a referee. The same year, the Football Association of Malawi organised a basic referees’ course. I passed and I was awarded a Grade 3 Certificate. That is how it all started.
I then rose through the ranks to become a FIFA assistant in 2008. 2021 is my 13th year as an international referee.
Q: Which are some of the high-profile tournaments and matches have you officiated in?
A: I have officiated several CAF tournaments including the Women African Cup of Nations – all those played since 2010. I have also presided over Champions of African Nations matches in January 2021. I was one of the only four ladies that were appointed for the tournament and made history by officiating an all-ladies match at CAF’s second biggest tournament.
I have also taken part in several FIFA tournaments including the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada 2015 and in France 2019, I was also in charge of some games for the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup played in France in 2018. I have been to the Olympics in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and I am happy that I have also been appointed for Tokyo 2020. I also took part in the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing.
In November 2019 I was one of the first eight ladies to be appointed for the Men’s AFCON qualifying matches.
Q: Which games do you rate as your best?
A: The FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada in 2015, a third place match play-off between Germany and England, was unforgettable. I also hold special the FIFA U20 Women’s World Cup 2018 third place match (France vs England), the Men’s AFCON qualifiers between Libya and Tanzania, as well as a CHAN tie between Guinea and Namibia.
Q: What’s your advice to women in Southern Africa who want to emulate you?
A: Never look down on yourselves. Being a lady isn’t a crime. Don’t give room to “I can’t” in your lives. Always believe in yourselves, that you have everything to fulfil what you set your mind to. Don’t associate with negative people who will be telling you that you can’t. I dropped people that used to be my friends who were always discouraging me, saying refereeing was impossible for a woman. Always remember that it’s just an apostrophe that makes a difference between “impossible” and “I’m possible”. Hard work, discipline, dedication and humility are what it takes – and God does the rest
Olympic call excites Kwimbira
Harare – Malawian Elite A soccer assistant referee Bernadette Kwimbira can’t wait for the Tokyo Olympic Games to spring to life.
“The chance for a return to one of the biggest world football stages were so minimal (because of the COVID-19 pandemic). I am so excited and thankful to God that His grace and favour have fallen on me again five years after the Rio 2016 Olympics,” she told CAFOnline.com this past week.
Kwimbira joins Southern Africa male match officials Souru Phats’oane (Lesotho), Arsenio Marengula (Mozambique) and Victor Gomes (South Africa) at the rescheduled Games.
The Olympics were supposed to be held in 2020 but were moved to mid this year because of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Kwimbira is looking forward to the challenge.
“This is where you meet top teams from around the globe. As a match official, you really need to be on top of your game, and FIFA does not accept anything below average,” she said.
Kwimbira revealed that she was happy to follow in the footsteps of her mentor, Bester Kalombo, the first Malawian referee to appear in Olympic and AFCON finals.
“He was one of the first people I called when I received an email of my appointment for the Tokyo Olympics. He was so happy with the news and so proud of his contribution to this success,” said Kwimbira.
The appointment of match officials from the Southern Africa region has been welcomed by Felix Tangawarima, the COSAFA referees manager, who is also a member of the CAF Referees Committee and a FIFA Technical Instructor.
“It is a great achievement for us as a zone and, it is very pleasing to be reaping the benefits of the development programme, and the appointments confirm the development work we are doing with our referees in the region,” said Tangawarima.