Last week’s decision by ZIFA President Phillip Chiyangwa to appoint himself as chairman of the referees’ selection committee has generated a lot of controversy. This decision was taken as a way of stamping corruption out of match officiating after a series of controversial refereeing decisions some of which ignited ugly scenes of violence at soccer matches.
Referees often have critical input in the affairs of the games in some instances making the differences on who wins or loses a competition. Their decisions ignite violence and can also affect the credibility of the game. In Zimbabwe the issue has gone beyond just incompetent officiating as allegations of receiving bribes to influence matches have been mentioned on numerous occasions.
Following these developments, Chiyangwa appointed himself chairman of the referees’ select committee and he is deputised by Gladmore Muzambi an experienced former referee whose credentials seem impeccable.
The intention to stamp out corruption is noble and commendable but the manner it is being done may present other problems in future. Chiyangwa himself is human and fallible and can also be bribed like the people he has removed in the committee. A better route is to have strong , independent institutions that handle affairs of referres.
Other countries have strong institutions that handle match officials which are independent but are over seen by other bodies in order to enhance accountability and transparency. This ensures that the activities of match officials are always under the radar and regulated.
In the English Premier league the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) takes care of many aspects of match officiating. The body was formed in 2001 to improve refereeing standards. It is funded by the English premier league, English Football League and the Football Association. It is responsible for the training of referees and deployment of the referees for football matches. They have their own problems but issues of bribery have never been raised.
Referees are closely monitored and sometimes issues such as where the referee stay can influence whether they officiate in a match or not. For example a referee who lives in the Merseyside area in Liverpool would be unable to officiate in a match between Manchester United and Liverpool.
Where referees make genuine mistakes the relevant associations review the performance of the referees and issue an apology where necessary. Questions of bribery or match fixing hardly arise in the international game.
Instead of thrusting himself in the chairmanship of the selection committee Chiyangwa must be working on strengthening institutions that deal with referees affairs. Chiyangwa has already revealed that the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) will fund the referees’ security section. This is a step in the right direction.
Very little will improve if the remuneration and conditions of service for referees does not improve. Most of the referees live in poverty with some of them even relying on well wishers for transport to attend matches. These basic issues affect whether the decisions of referees are influenced or if the referees can be easily bribed.
Chiyangwa’s public stance against corruption is a welcome development but more needs to be done. The country’s football stakeholders must come together to establish stronger and accountable institutions to handle the affairs of match officiating.