It's totally senseless to ban a referee for 16 weeks

Nkareng Matshe Sports editor
Jelly Chavani during the Nedbank Cup, quarter final match between Real Kings and Bidvest Wits at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium on March 13, 2020 in Durban, South Africa.
Jelly Chavani during the Nedbank Cup, quarter final match between Real Kings and Bidvest Wits at Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium on March 13, 2020 in Durban, South Africa.
Image: Anesh Debiky/Gallo Images

After months of ignorance, the SA Football Association’s referees review committee emerged from oblivion and swung into action last week, announcing lengthy bans for match officials who made glaring errors in recent weeks.

Those who had called for this usually obscure review committee “to do something” about the deteriorating state of officiating in domestic matches cheered, seeing that refs had finally been punished after getting away with sheer incompetence for some time.

But I’m still not convinced that Safa’s decision to sanction match officials like Jelly Chavani – who was slapped with a four-week suspension after failing to award Orlando Pirates a penalty in their match against Golden Arrows – has anything to do with the association seeking to better officiating.

It seems like a cheap publicity stunt meant to show the forever complaining football public that something is being done, while in reality cracks are merely being papered over.

If Safa were serious, they would long have looked into incidents that date back to last year’s PSL bio-bubble where, for instance, the goal which secured Swallows promotion in the final NFD programme was shockingly offside. Safa could also have made it a standard to issue weekly reports of their reviews on the officials.

Last week’s detailed report which looked into 10 DStv Premiership fixtures was a welcome departure from the normal silence with which obvious errors are met. Naturally, last week’s report seemed to have an immediate consequence on the performance of match officials, particularly this previous weekend.

In the match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Chippa United, an assistant referee missed a clearly offside goal, only for middleman Victor Hlungwani to overrule him after consultation. It was bold, decisive action by Hlungwani, who must be commended. But what could have been the reason for the assistant not to flag?

Perhaps that’s where Safa’s review committee comes in. Their latest decision to sanction officials, while welcome, may have had undesired consequences of sowing panic and indecision among referees. Instead of focusing on the job at hand, they might also be thinking of colleagues like Andile Mncwango, who was slapped with a 16-week ban for wrongly flagging a Bloemfontein Celtic player offside in their match against Sundowns.

Safa’s review committee should realise that refs are not infallible and will make mistakes almost every weekend, hence other leagues in the world negate this through VAR. The poor state of officiating will not suddenly improve because you suspend two or three refs for several weeks. If Safa goes on with this approach of suspending per incident, our football would be in danger of not having match officials at all.

That’s why the decision to ban Mncwango for 16 weeks has to be reconsidered. It is senselessly draconian. Chavani too could have been demoted to the lower divisions instead of being completely banished for four weeks. Errant match officials should be rehabilitated, instead of being condemned.

But Safa being Safa, such action is only taken to appease the long-suffering footballing public, to fool us into thinking something is being done about a complex issue that requires adequate support, training and empowerment, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

Now we expect Safa "to do something" about Luxolo Badi, who failed to award Pirates a penalty in the Soweto Derby on Saturday. On Sunday, another ref, Xola Sitela, failed to send off a Baroka player for a career-threatening tackle in their match against Cape Town City. Will they each get 16-week bans?

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.