From classroom to the soccer field and back

Jerome Damon and his team at the Under-20 World Cup
Jerome Damon and his team at the Under-20 World Cup

Jerome Damon exchanged the desk for the pitch and now he’s upskilling other referees.

Former international referee Jerome Damon loves what he does, and he does what he loves.

Three months ago, the 47-year-old quit teaching after 17 years to take over the role of development officer at Fifa.

Damon said he was feeling at home in his new post because he was of the view that teaching and football went hand-in-hand.

He is on a mission to develop the standard of officiating on the continent and believes African match officials have what it takes to be the best in the world.

“It has always been my dream to work for Fifa full time. I love teaching and have made many friends there, but, like my wife said, this opportunity may not come around again and if I didn’t accept it, someone else would have,” Damon told City Press from Poland, where he is one of the match officials at the Under-20 World Cup.

He vowed that he was on a mission to reposition African referees as the leading brand, and his main aim was to see an African referee officiating in the latter stages of the World Cup.

REVIEWING THE GAME Damon advises the video assistant referee team during a match

“I want to see African referees being successful and officiating big matches towards the end of the World Cup tournament, and I think that, through this Fifa-forward programme, we are on the right track.”

“I want us to establish ourselves as the leading propriety; producing officials with ability to do the World Cup. I always tell referees that we can give them all the tools and experience, but it depends on how hard they want to work.

“Those who work harder will become the best, depending on how willing and determined they are to learn from their mistakes. But there are those who are hard-headed and think they are better than they really are and will not go anywhere,” added the no-nonsense ref renowned for his wry smile on the football field.

Damon described his position at Fifa as a dual role.

“I don’t only do development, but also competitions as an instructor and I evaluate match officials.”

He pointed out that there were different stages of refereeing and he saw his role as natural progression to another stage.

“I stopped on the international panel in 2010 after I got injured. Then, in 2013, I stopped completely as there was no joy for me because I had not recovered well. But I have always been involved in refereeing, given my experience in CAF. So, basically, I never left refereeing, although I operated at a different level as a match assessor for CAF.”

TEAM SPIRIT Jerome Damon and his team of officials are the unseen forces behind fair play in soccer

The Cape Town-born official defined his role as pivotal and unique.

“My experience is being used sufficiently and to the maximum as I’m being consulted on issues as part of the technical committee.”

He believes match officials are not appreciated for their work because their every decision is scrutinised and linked to some sinister forces.

“There are honest referees out there and, yes, there are those who are questionable and dishonest, but there are far more honest ones than dishonest ones. They work hard to understand and interpret the laws of the game better and how they should be applied. But there is the problem of social media with so many commentators who think they know the rules and think they are correct.”

Damon believes that South Africa has what it takes to make it on the continent.

“We have an exciting band of referees coming through, but they have to work hard. Football is changing, and if they are prepared to learn and work hard, they will succeed.”

While he admits that he misses being in a classroom and the adrenalin that comes with it, he says he wouldn’t substitute his current job for anything.

“Remember, I was a teacher for almost 20 years and it was not an easy decision to just pack my bags and leave. When the opportunity came, at first I was a little bit hesitant, but I couldn’t turn it down. I consulted extensively before making my decision.

“This is a great opportunity for me, but once my stint is over, I can always go back to my first love of teaching. I don’t know how long I will be here, but I must make the most of it. I know I will go back to teaching. I’m not lost to teaching as I still hang around the school when I’m not on official assignments,” he said.


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