/ 15 February 2008

Molefe whistles up a storm

Bafana Bafana might have failed to make it past the first round of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament in Ghana, but Enock Molefe, the assistant referee in the Afcon final between Egypt and Cameroon last Sunday, flew the South African flag high with his unimpeachable calls to the very last minute of the match.

Molefe, who is ranked fifth among the assistant referees on the African continent, was appointed with whistle-man Jerome Damon, who is ranked fourth in Africa, to the panel of referees for the Afcon tournament. Damon blew the whistle in the third and fourth place play-off match between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, among other matches.

Molefe, a schoolteacher from Bloemfontein, says this was just the beginning of good things to come.

”When I was appointed to the panel of officials my mission was to officiate in the final of the Afcon. I cannot dominate Fifa’s tournaments and not make a mark in Africa. I worked very hard throughout the tournament and deserved to be in the final.”

He says: ”If I was not selected I would have been disappointed because it would have meant that I hadn’t done enough in previous tournaments.”

The appointment of Damon and Molefe to the tournament’s panel of referees suggests that the country’s refereeing standard might not be in as parlous a state as some suggest.

Kirsten Nematandani, the South African Football Association’s (Safa) chair of the national referees’ committee, says local referees don’t get the compliments they deserve and people always point fingers at them.

”Yes, our referees make mistakes like everyone, but we can’t always attack them because it is killing their morale. We must give credit where it is due. It was very exciting to see Molefe in the final and Damon in the losers’ final. It shows that we are getting there. It could have happened that we saw both our referees officiating in the final.”

He says: ”When a referee gets on the field of play to officiate a match he goes out there to give his best.”

Players, supporters and coaches often put referees under enormous pressure during crucial football matches. Yet players often miss good goal-scoring opportunities, which could help their teams win matches, while not much is said about them. The thing that most people remember is the blunder made by the referee.

”People are entitled to their own opinions, but we appeal to them to support our referees and raise their concerns in the right platforms,” says Nematandani.

After committing a mistake that costs a team, referees find it difficult to move among their communities because they are sometimes victimised for their mistakes.

Nematandani says: ”These referees live within our communities and if they cost a big team the game they become the talk of the town wherever they go. But we give them the support we feel they deserve at Safa; each one of them has his own mentor who guides and encourages him to move on.”

Safa acknowledges that refereeing standards are not as high as it would like, but also says it could be worse.

”We need to invest more money in workshops for the referees so that we can improve the refereeing standard. We need at least four workshops a year. Our standard is getting to where we want it to be, but this won’t be possible without the support of our local teams, supporters and coaches. We would like to produce good products for our Premier Soccer League,” says Nematandani.

Molefe urges other referees and their assistants to improve their game.

”It cannot always be just Jerome and me representing our country. Other referees must listen to advice given to them by people. We need to form a team of three. We were almost there, but we were disgraced when we [Molefe and Damon] were sent back home ahead of the Fifa Under-20 World Cup after Siphiwo Jibiliza failed a fitness test.