REFEREES are an important part of football given that their decisions have a huge bearing on the outcome of any match.
Their impartiality should never be questioned because their job is to give each team as fair a chance, to win a game, as possible.
They are the ultimate moral authority in the game, a people tasked with ensuring the beautiful sport is played in the best spirit and within the rules and regulations, which guide it.
A wrong call by the referee can give one team an advantage they don’t deserve and even a victory which they should not have got. In the worst case scenario, we have seen such calls sparking mayhem at football stadia, across the world, resulting in significant damage to property, during protests by fans.
Given the need to try and ensure that both teams are given as fair a chance as possible, to win the game, without the aid of a mistake from the referees, FIFA have introduced the Video Assistant Referee.
The whole idea is for another competent referee to analyse a contentious issue, using the benefit of video analysis, and help the referee handling a match come up with the best possible decision.
We have now even seen players, who would have escaped proper punishment, after horrific tackles, now being handed their appropriate sanctions, after a VAR review.
This has helped make football a safer sport to play given players now enter the field fully aware they will not get away with the kind of career-ending fouls, which used to be the order of the day, in the past.
The arrival of goal line technology has also meant that when the ball crosses the line, where such technology is in use, a team will not be denied its moment to celebrate.
The only regret really is that VAR and goal line technology are still not used in every football league and the majority of African countries, including Zimbabwe, are yet to embrace these changes.
Of course, there is the issue of the huge costs, which comes with embracing such technological changes, which football, in the majority of African countries, will struggle to take care of.
Against this background, FIFA have found it important that referees in those countries should continue to be empowered with education, to help them discharge their duties, in as professional a manner as possible.
The courses are also meant to help the referees understand the changes, in the rules and regulations, in the game and to keep them abreast with the evolution of the game.
Because of the importance of referees, FIFA fund all these courses, because the world football governing body know the game will not develop unless they keep empowering the match officials.
They also know that by empowering the match officials they are also helping to keep the playing field level, where every team wins a game on merit, and not by the helping hand of a referee.
This is important in ensuring that the integrity of the game remains intact because once football loses its fairness, and results become dubious, fans can withdraw their patronage. That will be the beginning of the end of the game and FIFA want to ensure that it will never get to that by protecting the integrity of the beautiful game.
It’s therefore disappointing to note that a high-level FIFA referees course, which was set to empower 30 of our best match officials, with the latest changes in the game, was shelved last week.
The reason why it had to be postponed is what has made everyone, who really cares about the future of our national sport, disappointed and angry.
For Bryton Malandule, who was the ZIFA Referees chief before the Sports Commission dissolved the local football governing body, to force the cancellation of that course, is not only unfortunate but clear sabotage. Malandule used his convenience to the FIFA officials, who we’re organising the course, to sell them a false narrative that his suspension meant that football had come to a standstill in this country.
He sold them the false gospel that his suspension meant that no one else could organise that course even when the reality was that he is not the only member of the ZIFA Referees Committee.
Brighton Mudzamiri, the only local referee to officiate at the World Cup, is also part of the leadership of that committee and had the capacity to run that course because he has the experience and knowledge to do that.
Unlike Malandule, Mudzamiri even has the experience of having taken charge of a World Cup match, during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, and in terms of experience, it doesn’t come any bigger than that.
Mudzamiri was not suspended by the SRC and that is why he managed to come up with referees for the Chibuku Super Cup semi-finals and has drawn up a list of referees for the Premiership matches this weekend.
He has also drawn up the list of referees to handle the start of the Northern Region Division One matches, which return to action this weekend, after two years of inactivity.
Now, if Mudzamiri is able to provide more than 100 match officials, who will be active this weekend, how could he be deemed to have been unable to run a course with 30 referees?
What is clear is that we have some people in our football who do not care at all about the future of our national sport and rather believe that it should be compromised just to safeguard their personal interests.
They forget that football has been running in this country, long before they became ZIFA board members, and will continue to run in this country, long after they leave their posts at the association.
The empowerment of our referees is about securing our game’s future and not about its dirty politics.