As professional football clubs are gearing up to resume the 2019/20 PSL season, one of the final boxes that needs to be ticked before the campaign can restart relates to match officials.
Given the anticipation that the remainder of the PSL season will be organised in a tournament format, the Safa referees department has declared its readiness to meet the demands that may be placed on match officials in the coming weeks.
According to Safa head of referees Tenda Masikhwa, the health and safety of match officials is an integral part of the PSL’s plans to restart the season.
“The departments of health and sport have set strict criteria before they can sanction any sporting event. The checks and balances need to be in place to safeguard everyone, and this includes the match officials.
“The [Safa and PSL] task team has been working hard to ensure that the protocols for match officials – referees, assistant referees and match commissioners – are in place.
“Specific protocols speak to specific functions to make the event a success, so it is certainly not a case of one size fits all. Referees have different roles to play and, therefore, the protocols need to be different too,” said Masikhwa.
He maintained that his department had the capacity to handle all the matches in a short space of time.
The Absa Premiership is left with 54 fixtures, while the NFD’s GladAfrica Championship has 48 games left to conclude its programme.
Also outstanding are three Nedbank Cup games, as well as six promotional play-off matches.
“Given that the rounding up of the 2019/20 season may be in tournament format, we are more than ready to meet the demands that may be placed on match officials.
“The match officials and match commissioners have been working hard – in confinement – during the months since the national state of disaster was declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa [in March].”
Masikhwa explained that match officials would return to competition “with little fuss and bother” when football was eventually granted permission to resume.
“Our fitness coaches, led by [Safa referees fitness instructor] Derek Hanson, has given the match officials training programmes to follow since lockdown level 5.
“Each match official has had to upload their training data and training logbook to a central database. The data were analysed and the fitness coaches then gave each match official assigned to them specific feedback to improve their level of fitness. We are therefore confident that match officials are close to competition readiness.
“The national referees’ committee ensured that match officials stayed focused and could return to competition with very little fuss and bother. To this end, the Safa referees’ department and the Safa referees technical committee have been working tirelessly to meet this expectation.
“Technical coaches have used various social and conference media platforms such as WhatsApp and Zoom to discuss various match incidents and topics such as offside, handball and tactical fouls, while the fitness coaches have used electronic tracking systems such as Polar and GPS to monitor referee fitness programmes during this time. We have to commend everyone who rose to the challenge.”
With regard to the mandatory fitness tests that match officials must undergo to be considered for assignments, Masikhwa said: “Fifa is clear that there needs to be extreme caution exercised as to how match officials should work towards returning to competition from confinement.
“The Fifa fitness team in Africa, led by Mademba Mbacke, has given guidelines for our fitness coaches and, indeed, all leagues returning to competition, to follow to ensure that match officials are competition-ready and pose no risk of injuries or even worse, death.
“The health and general wellbeing of our match officials is paramount and cannot be compromised. We are therefore looking at alternate fitness checks – as prescribed by Fifa – to ensure competition readiness. Every match official who may be selected to officiate will need to meet the minimum requirements of these checks.
“We also know that a match official does not only need to be fitness-ready, but also match-ready. We are therefore looking at how we can meet this target, just like players need actual game time and friendlies to sharpen their skills,” added Masikhwa.
Prior to the Covid-19-enforced break, local match officials were subjected to heavy criticism as far back as the start of the season. And with matches being played behind closed doors under lockdown regulations, many believe referees will be exposed to less verbal abuse from the fans.
A new rule in the Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), Serie A (Italy) and the Bundesliga (Germany) prohibits players from surrounding match officials to vent their frustration about a contested call.
Offenders get a yellow card for “not socially distancing from the referee” at a distance of two metres and less.