Ace Ncobo: Safa‚ PSL squabbling like ‘kindergarten kids’ has scuppered pro refereeing

A file photo of former Premier Soccer League referee Ace Ncobo.
A file photo of former Premier Soccer League referee Ace Ncobo.
Image: Duif du Toit / Gallo Images

Andile ‘Ace’ Ncobo says referees should be professionalised to improve standards and cut down on the glaring officiating errors seen in the Premier Soccer League (PSL)‚ but he added that South African football politics stands in the way of such a measure being taken.

The 2019-20 PSL season had plenty of flare-ups of controversies over officiating blunders before the shutdown of football due to the national lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ex-Fifa panel referee and SuperSport TV analyst Ncobo said‚ while the PSL and its clubs and players have streaked ahead financially and become full-time professional‚ a glaring deficiency is that match officials remain part-time and amateur.

“Where previously we had part-time coaches‚ part-time team managers and administrators and part-time footballers who held nine-to-five jobs and would train after hours‚ that has all changed‚” Ncobo said.

“Every single one of those is now professional. Except referees.

“So here we are having a fully professional setup‚ and the key cog in that wheel is an amateur.

“For me‚ a person who is an educator‚ and we have many on the referees’ panel‚ whose main job is waking up‚ going to teach the kids at school‚ come back‚ mark papers – refereeing becomes a side issue.

“You can never reach your optimal levels of performance on anything unless you are doing that as your primary activity.”

Ncobo said the infamous poor politics between the PSL and SA Football Association (Safa) – who oversee referees – has undercut efforts to professionalise match officials.

“The only impediment which was there was that the cut-off age for retirement of refs is 47‚ and people in government retire at 60‚” Ncobo said.

“The argument was how would you then convince somebody employed as a teacher‚ for instance‚ to accept a retirement age of 47.

“ ... These days you can work the remuneration kitty so there’s something in there for past 47. And also at age 45 you start grooming them to be match commissioners.

“And I was proved right when after we fought for the monthly stipend we had people resign from jobs that didn’t allow them to do midweek games‚ even if they weren’t being paid what top-class referees [abroad] can earn.”

Ncobo questioned the frequency of referee training as being sufficient twice yearly. He said this goes hand in hand with the professionalism issue.

“The training during the three to five day’s preseason training is quality‚ but is it enough?” he queried. “And only 20 percent of those hours are on the field‚ and the rest is inside a lecture room doing theory.

“If these guys were professional every day they would be on a field of play. If I were to run it every day I would find a club practising in the township‚ MDC [reserve league] teams‚ university or school teams‚ whoever has a practise match‚ and have refs on the field every day.”

Ncobo said a previous proposal was that professional referees would remain under the auspices of amateur ruling body Safa.

“They would still fall under Safa from a statutory point of view‚ but enjoy some autonomy in the same way the PSL does‚” he said.

“But the big fight came when they had to decide how many representatives from Safa or the PSL would sit on that board. That’s basically what threw the thing out. Petty issues like kindergarten kids.”