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Local refs owed more respect

As the South African season reaches its climax, I believe it’s only natural for match officials to come under increased scrutiny. Modern-day football is big business and much of the league’s credibility rests with the referees.

Big refereeing decisions at the business end of the season can decide which side wins the title and which is condemned to relegation. With the vast amount of money now invested in our league, match officials have a greater responsibility than ever before.

While coaches like Roger de Sa and Zeca Marques may not agree – I’m of the opinion that the standard of refereeing in South Africa is ever-improving. Yes, there will always be decisions that players and coaches will disagree with over a season but I believe that our current match officials are far more accountable.

For me, the level of officiating has grown tremendously in the last decade. The key to this development is owing to improved processes put in place to monitor and evaluate referees throughout a season. Former referee Ian McLeod has proved influential in this regard.

The referee that has most impressed me this season is Lwandile Mfiki. He was the official struck by a vuvuzela-wielding supporter during the Chiefs/Arrows clash. That game highlighted his ability to remain cool, calm and collected under pressure. He demonstrated the ability to make unpopular yet correct decisions in front of a partisan home crowd.

To me it seems that refereeing standards are getting better but crowd behaviour is getting worse. I believe it’s time we show our local referees more respect.

When it comes to respecting match officials, I believe strongly that our coaches in the PSL and the lower leagues have a responsibility to set the right example for players and fans to follow.

Constructive debate during and post-match is always healthy but when it becomes personal and vindictive then a line is crossed.

From personal experience, while it’s worthwhile for referees to brief coaches and players on the laws, I believe that it’s the duty of TV bosses to create a forum where former referees can debate and explain key decisions live on air.

Fans are the lifeblood of football and so they are the key stakeholder that must never be neglected. They deserve to be presented with all the facts and educated on the laws of the game so that they can then share informed viewpoints.

While the beautiful game would never function without match officials, it’s critical that the players remain the lead protagonists. I agree with the sentiment that the world’s best referees are those who go unnoticed throughout a game.

Moreover, referees earn the respect of the players when they show an understanding and enjoyment for the game. The most accomplished referees don’t operate like robots or feel the need to stamp their authority unnecessarily.

While a referee like Victor Gomes has shown promise, he has also demonstrated his inexperience this season. Gomes is a good young referee but must move away from the mentality of “I’m the boss”.

I don’t think it’s down to ego – I believe it’s more a case of a vast majority of referees coming from school teaching backgrounds.

As they are rather regimented in the way they believe the laws should be blown, my advice to them would be to use their own discretion more often, which would in turn allow the game to flow more freely.

For the standard of local refereeing to reach the next level, I believe that top-performing match officials should be better rewarded financially. I feel that a portion of the funds set aside from TV rights should go towards match officials’ salaries.

I know critics will turn around and say that the referees are Safa’s responsibility but I think that this needs to change.

In my view, the PSL is among the top ten leagues in world football and therefore officials need to be better rewarded by corporates for good displays, just like the players are.

I believe it’s time match commissioners and referees are paid and treated in a more professional manner.

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