Referees in the Spotlight [analysis]

The furore surrounding Orlando Pirates coach Ali Akan’s behaviour during their MTC Premiership match against Blue Waters is still raging and has once again raised the contentious issue of refereeing in Namibia and around the world.

Akan stormed onto the field with less than 10 minutes to play after the referee had turned down a penalty appeal for Pirates and had to be restrained by players and security personnel from attacking the referee.

Afterwards an unrepentant Akan said that the referee was corrupt and had been bribed to ensure that Pirates lose the match, adding that it was a common practise in Namibian football. He defended his actions by saying that ‘if a man steals my bread and butter, I will fight him till the end.”

While his conduct cannot be condoned, the incident has once again put the spotlight on referees and the standard of refereeing in Namibia.

There have been numerous contentious incidents in the Namibia Premier League this season and top coaches like Bobby Samaria, Timo Tjongarero, Woody Jacobs and Christy Guruseb have all vented their frustration at the standard of refereeing in post-match interviews.

Just last week, Tjongarero sarcastically called the same referee the ‘man of the match’ after their 1-0 defeat to Ramblers.

Even sarcasm, though, seems to have its limits in the modern game, as Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho found out when he was fined 10 000 Pounds last month for describing the referee’s performance as ‘fantastic’ after their 2-1 defeat to Sunderland, which ended a 77-match unbeaten home record at Stamford Bridge.

Akan’s utterances also highlighted the growing influence and power of money in the game and the ‘win at all cost’ mentality.

This has led to a lot of matches becoming minor battle fields, with wild lunges and dirty fouls, but also of players diving in the box and feigning injuries.

Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw between Tura Magic and Tigers for instance was a perfect example, with a lot of heavy tackles going in, but also so-called injured players trotting away happily after winning a free kick.

In the middle of all of this, referees have to make some quick decisions and they sometimes get it wrong, but in the end the standard of refereeing is just a reflection of the game in general in Namibia, and the widespread lacklustre and unprofessional approach to football in the country.

For a start, the NFA should improve the dim floodlights at night games at the Sam Nujoma Stadium which will make viewing much easier for all involved, while clubs should really do more to market their matches and promote their brands. For us reporters, for instance, it’s still a big issue to get the team line-ups before the start of matches from some of the clubs.

While the coaches have some legitimate grievances, they, as well as the players, should remember that the game is greater than them all and requires dignity and respect in victory or defeat.

In today’s game, mired in controversy and cynicism, there seems to be very little of these virtues left, but you still find some fascinating and inspiring stories, with the most recent being Atletico Madrid’s rise to the Spanish La Liga throne.

That’s an incredible achievement for a team with not even a tenth of the budget of Real Madrid or Barcelona, while their dignified manner of victory also won them many new fans.

I, for one, will be cheering them on when they take on Real Madrid in the Champions League final in Lisbon tomorrow evening.

Source : The Namibian