EDITORIAL COMMENT: Deal with violence against refs decisively

THERE has been a worrying trend in the domestic Premier Soccer League over the past few weeks.

Violence and hooliganism have returned on our football pitches, especially at the National Sports Stadium, where match officials have been attacked and injured by rowdy fans.

Two incidents of violence against referees were recorded in a space of two weeks. 

In both incidents, lives were in danger and the targeted match officials count themselves lucky to have escaped with injuries.

Assistant referee Edgar Rumeki sustained a cut on his arm after he was hit by a missile from the terraces following the chaos that rocked the match between Herentals and Dynamos at the big stadium on May 13.

The Glamour Boys’ supporters were incensed by centre referee Thabani Bamala, who they accused of bias in favour of Herentals.

They rained missiles on the pitch and, unfortunately, Rumeki got wounded during the chaos and had to be attended by medics on the ground.

Then, last Sunday, centre referee Jimmy Makwanda had to run for his life with rowdy fans in hot pursuit moments after blowing to end the match between CAPS United and Simba Bhora.

Makwanda sustained a head injury in the commotion. 

There were questions whether the home team CAPS United had provided adequate security, as stated in PSL Rules and Regulations. 

The hosting team is obliged to hire enough security personnel for the safety of everyone in the ground. But how did these rowdy fans invade the pitch, in their numbers, if there was enough security?

Why let them get so close to the players and officials? 

The security of the players and officials was put at risk because of the close contacts during the post-match commotion.

Someone in the mob could have been carrying a dangerous object like an okapi or a screwdriver and, considering the boiling emotions and the seething anger among the hooligans, the referee could have been stabbed, possibly with fatal consequences.

It appeared police officers on the ground were too few in number and inadequately equipped to deal with crowd trouble when the situation came to a head.

Perhaps the hosting team had not anticipated crowd trouble in a match involving minnows Simba Bhora and had underestimated the security risk.

In an unlikely twist of events, it was the home team’s supporters, comprising the bigger part of the crowd at the National Sports Stadium, who were the culprits. 

The CAPS United marshals had to work overtime to ensure the referees were safe.

The club also has to be commended in that their head coach Lloyd Chitembwe and officials that included chief executive officer, Charlie Jones, also played a big part in cooling off the tempers on the pitch in the wake of the chaos.

But the incensed hooligans were determined to have their way as they threatened to manhandle the referee during that post-match melee.

It was also the Green Machine medics that rendered assistance to referee Makwanda after he was hit on the head by an unidentified object.

But after all is said and done, are the referees getting enough protection and security? Or do the authorities have to wait for the one tragic day when the worst happens and then measures will come in place? 

So far we, the football fraternity, are yet to hear what will happen with the hooligans, some of whom were caught on camera, and images have been doing rounds the whole week.

The hooligans are out there, walking scot-free, and probably waiting for another opportunity to pounce, while the game counts its losses. 

These people should be identified and handed deterrent punishments, in their individual capacities, to help stamp out the cancer. 

The Premier Soccer League are supposed to be dealing with these issues, through their Disciplinary Committee. 

Apart from hollow statements issued by CAPS United and the PSL during the week condemning the violent incidents, no meaningful action has been taken by the responsible domestic football leadership. 

Under the PSL Rules and Regulations, the clubs where the offending fans subscribe to, should be summoned for hearing and possibly get charged under Order, Order and Order, which makes it an offence for a club when “its supporters misbehave in any manner whatsoever, inside or outside a ground before, during or after a match, no matter on which ground the match is played.”

The Dynamos and CAPS United supporters were clearly in breach of these Orders, which define misbehaviour as, “ Invasion or attempted invasion of the field of play, save for reasons of crowd safety…

“ Throwing or attempting to throw missiles, bottled and other objects, whether potentially harmful or dangerous or not, onto the pitch, or at any person…

“ Acts of violence or attempted acts of violence against anyone at the game.”

But there is also a need for the Referees’ Committee to look into the conduct of the local match officials, which has been cited as a contributory factor.

Just like the incident involving Herentals and Dynamos, the supporters in the match between CAPS United and Simba Bhora also turned violent in protest against the match officials.

Various coaches have also complained of poor officiating this season.

The match officials need to be investigated whether it is sheer incompetency on their part or they are conniving with clubs to influence their decisions.

Players and coaches as well need to desist from inciting violence through open confrontations with the referees. Some of the confrontations are unwarranted. 

We believe there are channels to be followed when anomalies in match officiating are noted and those have to be followed before tragedy hits our football pitches one of these days.

The spectators need to be responsible and respect the rule of law even when in the football stadium. 

Violence and hooliganism scare away potential investors, sponsors and innocent supporters as well. 

Right now, our football is still trying to find ways to come out of the woods, following the Covid-19 disruptions, and the PSL needs to take a leading role in addressing this scourge before all the efforts are ruined again. 

We want violence free-stadiums where spectators, players and officials all feel safe.

In such conditions, football will thrive.

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