South African Football has a history of match officials making dreadful decisions, going back to as early as the 1980s, howlers that would make one wonder if it was really ‘human error’ or it was just clear bias.

Refereeing in the Premier Soccer League (PSL), in general, is an issue that needs to be addressed. In the last 20 years or so, the standards of officiating in South Africa have been rather poor. From referees getting intimidated by club bosses, suspended, taking bribes to match officials getting banned from the beautiful game.

The lively game between Highlands Park and Orlando Pirates at Makhulong Stadium could have been remembered for many things like Linda Mntambo’s impressive display which saw the central midfield walk away with the man of the match award or Pirates ending their three-match winless run against an inform Lions of the North side.
Yet the game shall be remembered for the controversial goal scored by Tshegofatso Mabasa who was clearly offside when he received a pass from Mntambo before getting the ball past Highlands Park’s shot-stopper Thela Ngobeni on Tuesday night.

It was such a horrific decision that Owen Ga Gama even suggested that the assistant referee Buyisile Ngqambiyana should be jailed for it. This incident is among one of many recent appalling decisions made by match officials in the 2019/20 season.
From assistant referee Mervyn van Wyk getting suspended after denying Amazulu two legitimate goal in Amazulu’s 2-0 loss to Kaizer Chiefs, Mpho Makola man-handling the reigning PSL Referee of The Season, Abongile Tom and getting away with it to Mabasa’s career-ending two-footed tackle on Lindokuhle Mbatha. South African Football has a referee crisis.

The shocking mistakes made by match officials are dismissed to human error but when they start to occur every season and decide crucial or any game for that matter, then there is a serious problem. If we believe that it wasn’t down to human error then it is because we are convinced there is bias in the decisions of referees such as said Owen Da Gama, Benni McCarthy, and Pitso Mosimane recently.

Referee Jelly Chevani and his assistants stole the limelight with a number of funny decisions in the recently drama-filled Soweto Derby between Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. Chiefs striker Samir Nurkovic though he had opened the scoring only to be incorrectly flagged off-side by the best assistant referee in the country in Zakhele Siwela. Referee Chevani had a good reason to send Thembinkosi Lorch for an early shower after a deliberate stamp on Khama Billiat but instead decided to hand the Pirates player a yellow card. The spotlight was once again on the officials as Chiefs was left off the hook when it appears that Daniel Akpeyi brought down Tshegofatso Masbasa inside the box on the stroke of half-time

Referee Committee Surprised by the Howlers

Referee Committee chairperson, Anastacia Tshiclas said she was surprised by the howlers made by the match officials. “What is puzzling is that we have just had our fruitful pre-season course in July, where match officials were taken through rigorous training on the off-side rule. We had two of our top instructors on the continent, Lim Kee Chong and Felix Tangawarima conducting the course.”
“These mistakes are unacceptable and can’t be tolerated. But our job is to assist them during this suspension period and help them get back on track again. “We are confident that they will come back stronger and do a good job, “concluded Tshiclas.

Being a Part-Time Match Official is Tough
The South African Football Association (SAFA) has been suspending underperforming referees but the standard of refereeing in South African football, in particular, the PSL is getting worse. Match officials in the PSL work on a part-time basis as some of the officials are policemen, teachers and so on meaning they probably don’t earn enough as referees and you can argue that being a match official is their second priority.
There is a general perception that referees are underpaid which to a certain extent contributes to their lack of consistency and poor performances. According to the Premier Soccer League (PSL), a referee earns R6100 per match; assistant referees get R4700 and a monthly stipend of R4900 with the PSL covering their travel costs as well as accommodation.

Back in 2018, there were reports stating that match officials didn’t receive their monthly stipend for three months, as a result, they were unhappy which affected their performance. Tenda Masikhwa, SAFA head of referees confirmed that the reports were true.
David Thidiela, Black Leopards owner directed a rant at a match official, Victor Hlungwani in 2018 that included treats and tribal references. “I’m the boss here Hlungwane. I am giving you the last warning, you come here (Thohoyandou Stadium) for the last time, you are coming here at your own risk, “said an agitated Thidiela after his side 1-0 to Bloemfontein Celtic.

History of Match Officials Making funny decisions and taking bribes
There have been many incidents of corruption and match officials being offered bribes to throw away games. Almost two decades ago, SAFA found five South African officials guilty of bribery and handed them lengthy bans. This affirmative action by SAFA came after referee Soko admitted that he and his two linesman (Amos Malambo and Given Maluleke ) took a bribe to hand a win to Classic FC to gain promotion to the PSL back in 1999 in a clash against Real Rovers.

Joseph Matiela, a former referee was found guilty of conspiring with match officials to influence the results of matches’ involving Classic while Sinky Mnisi, former Classic public relations officer was found guilty of bribery and collusion in the appointment of match officials (BBC Sport). At the SAFA’s disciplinary committee hearings, it was said that Mnisi had paid more than R3250 to many referees including SAFA officials.

PSL Coaches have their Say
The PSL doesn’t take kindly to criticism of match officials. Once coaches raise their disappointment at the match officials’ poor decisions they usually get in trouble with the league. Pitso Mosimane is the latest.
“Benni was crying, I am crying and Amazulu were complaining, Steve Komphela was complaining and even Owen da Gama was complaining. Who doesn’t complain? It’s a joy ride. We will pray for the officials not to make mistakes that they have been making, “said Mosimane.

At times coaches tend to get emotional and frustrated by their team’s poor display, fear of losing their jobs, failing to meet their set mandates and the referees are the ones who usually get to feel the coaches wrath regardless of whether they handled the game in a good manner or not. Coaches tune abruptly changes when they benefit from the howlers made by the match officials.

“That linesman on the far side, guys, I think he should go to jail. You can’t do that at this level of the game. People’s lives are at stake here. The players are working for their families. They work hard all week for somebody to do something like that? These are the words of an angry da Gama after the assistant referee missed a clear offside call which resulted in Pirates scoring a goal and winning the game against his side, Highlands.
McCarthy who admitted that he fears losing his jobs says certain big teams are afforded special treatment. “You’re there and the minute you ask, you’re told, ‘hush it or I send you off’. They want to have that kind of power and coaches must just not say anything. In Cape Town City’s recent game against Kaizer Chiefs, McCarthy described the referees as ‘useless’. “He might as well have put on a Kaizer Chiefs shirt.”

Two coaches who benefited from match officials’ mistakes as Mosimane would say, Ernst Middendorp and Rulani Mokwena are part of the referee defence force. “The referees are administrators and teachers…these guys do their best”. While Mokwena said match officials make mistakes and everybody makes mistakes but he thinks what is happening is a clear signal for assistance. “They (referees) are crying out for help but I don’t know what type of help. It could be technological or it could be to add more resources, I don’t know but what is happening is a cry for help,” said Pirates interim mentor.

Do you think SAFA needs to implement the heavily criticised video assistant referee (VAR)?

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