By Andrew Bonani Kamanga
Adjudicating match officials are not a necessary inconvenience, they are part of sport as we know it. Sadly, often match officials are quickly forgotten and relegated to obscurity.
However, for sports development to be holistic, there is a dire need for national sport authorities to invest in capacity building for match officials, as they help to raise the standard of competition in any country.
It is also important that every country has match officials that are capable of officiating at world-class competitions.
Without such officials in the system, who are au fait with intricate rules and regulations governing modern-day sport competitions, it becomes arduous to learn more and advance one’s knowledge of any sport code.
Such officials need to interpret the rules and make them understandable by the average layperson.
With football being the most popular sport in the world, many people claim to be “experts”, very knowledgeable about the game of football.
However, when one asks them simple questions about the Rules of the Game, as enunciated by FIFA, they reveal the shallowness of their understanding of the game that they claim to know and love.
Match officials are, therefore, crucial in helping people, even top officials, to understand the rules of the game. In that regard, it is imperative that they get opportunities to explain the various laws through various forms of media, print, electronic or on social media.
This exposure will enable players, officials, and spectators to understand the decision-making processes and rulings made in match officiating in various sport codes.
Currently, they are very few Southern Africans who are on the judges, referees and umpires’ panels of continental and international sport federations. It means that very few Southern Africans are officiating at the highest level of sports competition.
Since there are very few high calibre match officials, issues like rule changes and related interpretation are not readily understood by athletes and their officials.
It is important that national sports federations are supported with the requisite resources to send their match officials regularly for training courses for basic accreditation as well as on-going competence and proficiency refresher training. Rules change constantly almost in all major sports.
They do not remain constant. It is, therefore, important to have world-class officials who are able to enforce and interpret the rules and regulations as they change from time to time. More importantly, match officials need respect, rewards and incentives just like any other sport person.
Some sport leaders and officials do not respect match officials and their bad examples are copied by their juniors and players.
They have been instances of referees in football being beaten up, injured or killed for their decisions at matches. This is absolutely disgraceful and barbaric.
Athletes and sports fans need to be educated to understand that those match officials are also human beings. They can make mistakes like anyone and there is a need for compassion as well as support for their engagement in facilitating sports competition.
Without rules and without match officials, sport as we know it would not exist. It is, therefore, important, through this column, that, for once, we pay tribute to these gallant men and women, who sacrifice so much to ensure that sport runs smoothly and is very much enjoyed by both the athletes and the fans.
The low prominence and respect with which they are sometimes treated make match officials vulnerable to match-fixing instigated by corrupt officials, illegal betting syndicates and organised crime.
This is hardly surprising, given the vile abuse that match officials are sometimes subjected to. It is, therefore, important that the safety and well-being of match officials is taken into consideration in order to safeguard ethics and integrity in sport.
It should not come as a surprise to sport authorities that some referees do get tempted and engage in illicit and illegal activities. This is because, in the scheme of things, match officials’ interests are not prioritised. With the increasing commercialisation and globalisation of sport, other actors on the sport scene are making ridiculous amounts of money.
It is left to the poor and forgotten match officials to uphold the sanctity of rules and regulations as well as the entire integrity of sport as we know and enjoy it. To this end, abusing and deriding match officials should be a thing of the past.
Sport only remembers the exploits of Pele, Muhammad Ali, Chad le Clos, Usain Bolt, Kirsty Coventry, Ronaldo, Messi, Floyd Mayweather Jnr, and many other great sport stars and legends. What about the match officials, who facilitated perfect stages and environments for it to all happen? They too deserve recognition and respect.
One of the role models in the modern world of football and sport is Pierluigi Collina, the retired FIFA Referee and Instructor. During his refereeing days, he was the ultimate symbol of fairness, firmness and strict application of rules.
We need more Collinas both on the field of play and in the boardrooms for real fair play, not just lip service!