NOT a week goes by anymore without referees hogging the limelight for all the wrong reasons during Castle Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches.
BY DANIEL NHAKANISO
Some of the judgements from officials in recent matches have been blatantly bad and an embarrassment to Zimbabwean football.
These wretched calls become much worse to digest when they affect the outcome of a game.
Just last week, one of the country’s supposedly top referees, Ruzive Ruzive gifted Yadah FC the equaliser in their 2-2 draw against Hwange when he chose to ignore his far side assistant’s flag when Tafadzwa Dude handled the ball outside his goal area.
To make matters worse for poor Hwange, the hosts went on to equalise from the resultant passage of play, effectively robbing them of what would have been only their third win of the season.
Whatever the reason was for Ruzive turning a blind eye on that incident, it can only be found in the match commissioner’s report and it’s highly unlikely it will be made public as the Zifa Referees Committee has always protected their officials, no matter how inept they may be.
Sadly, bad decisions like the one Ruzive made at the National Sports Stadium last Saturday are nothing new in the domestic premiership.
But what really is the root cause of this continued decline in the standards of officiating in Zimbabwean football?
Investigations by Sports World suggest that the continued decay in the standard of football officiating in Zimbabwe is as a result of a combination of factors, chief among them being the composition of the referees committee appointed by Zifa and inadequate training.
In addition to Zifa’s failure to host a Fifa course for referees since 2015, the composition of the referees’ committee, where some members have been previously implicated in match-fixing scandals, has further dented the credibility of local referees who have come under heavy criticism lately.
One of the members of the referees committee, Thabani Mkanjo was banned by the previous Zifa administration over allegations of match-fixing after being fingered in a shadowy deal in which they directly received invitations to officiate in a pre-season tournament in Indonesia.
A practising local referee Happy Mabhena was also implicated in the much-publicised central gate match-fixing scandal which rocked local football in 2011, but surprisingly bounced back on the referees’ panel last year.
Mabhena torched a storm last week when Triangle coach Taurai Mangwiro accused him of denying his team a clear penalty after Highlanders player King Nadolo handled the ball inside the penalty box.
The appointment of former referees Masimba Chihowa and Kenny Marange, who is also a former Zifa vice-chairman, as match commissioners in the domestic topflight has more than raised a few eyebrows.
The duo was part of a group of match officials who were fingered in the Asiagate match-fixing scandal after being accused of travelling to Asia to officiate at matches without following proper procedures.
Surprisingly, Chihowa was last year also incorporated into the Zifa High Performance Committee.
Questions have also been raised on the Referees Committee’s decision to appoint Zifa assembly members, Brighton Malandule, Chihowa and Tshuma as match commissioners in the top-flight league.
In one of the bizarre incidents FC Platinum chief executive Joseph Mususa was appointed the match commissioner of a PSL match pitting Shabanie Mine against Tsholotsho at Maglas.
Former top referee, Muzambi, who is now the chairman of the Zifa Referees Committee, however, defended the standard of officiating in the top-flight league based on the decline in the number of official complaints by aggrieved teams.
“I wouldn’t say the refereeing standards in local football have gone down,” he said.
“If one person makes a mistake, it doesn’t mean the whole system is bad.
“If anything, going by the number of complaints we receive from clubs, the standards have actually improved.
“It’s like coaching, where there’s no coach who will train his player to miss penalty kicks.
“We can only do so much and I believe we have played our part. At the end of this month we will have yet another refresher course, all in an effort to up the standards of refereeing.
“We act on the reports from match commissioners or aggrieved clubs.
“It is only after going through these reports that we take action on the referee who has been reported for a poor perfomance.
“We have taken action against some referees, from suspensions to warnings, depending on the gravity of the situation.
“It’s only that we don’t publicise the action we would have taken.”
Controversial refereeing decisions have led to two high-profile matches involving Highlanders/Dynamos and Highlanders/Platinum FC ending prematurely.
The two matches were also marred by violence after Highlanders fans were incensed by questionable calls against their team.