Hanging judge: Zero local refs chosen to officiate during Russia World Cup

Errol Sweeney. (Supplied)
Errol Sweeney. (Supplied)

Johannesburg - The referees for next year’s World Cup in Russia have been announced and, to my dismay – or perhaps not – there isn’t a South African among them.

However, assistant referee Zakhele Siwela is likely to run the line as he is in Janny Sikazwe’s team.

The Zambian referee is one of 36 officials who have been listed to officiate in Russia.

The last time South Africa had two men in black was in 2010, when Jerome Damon (referee) and Enoch Molefe (assistant referee) represented their country with distinction. The pair were also at the 2006 tournament in Germany and were complimented on their dedication, commitment and performance. I’m proud to say that I was their coach and mentor from 1992 up to their retirement.

In 2014, Daniel Bennett had to cut his stay in Brazil short after being ruled out by a late injury.

Prove themselves

For a country the size of South Africa to have only one official is really unforgivable. I know politics can play a big part in the selection process, but there should be sufficient lobbying to ensure our guys are there.

We have produced good officials in the past and we have proven to be top class in decision-making. Our ability to be and be seen to be above reproach and impartial is clear for all to see.

So why are we not being nominated?

Bear in mind that their performance on the field in international games (and there are many) counts and the guys get the opportunity to prove themselves during those matches.

There are also fitness tests that have to be passed.

Recently, the criteria for this became that “all pass or no one passes”. In other words, the referee and two assistants are put in a team and if one fails, the team fails.

Many see this as unfair, me included. Fifa’s way of looking at it is that they are a team and should work together to ensure that they help each other along. There is merit in this idea, but I’m not convinced it’s the correct way.

I worry sometimes that the method of selecting referees for the various leagues is not what it should be as there should be certain “ground rules” when referees and their assistants are selected for certain leagues.

Physically abused

I’m not convinced that the current system is the right one and there needs to be a complete root-and-branch overhaul so the best people are selected to do what is an important and sometimes thankless job.

Not everyone is cut out to be a referee or assistant referee – it takes guts and determination; it requires nerves of steel and the patience of a cat.

I hope individuals embarking on a career as a match official have the guts, decency and honesty to be able to make tough calls without fear or favour for any team or club.

You have to be neutral. You have to be impartial. You have to be determined in the face of downright vitriol and venom from players, managers and spectators when making decisions – and you must have the ability to stick to your decision, no matter what the consequences could be.

There will be threats and name calling. Your parentage will be called into question. You may even be verbally and sometimes physically abused or even attacked. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted. It’s not for the weak or feeble. It’s not for someone who is easily offended.

If you have all of the above qualities, you’re the kind of person we are looking for. Don’t come into this job because of the money or perks because the abuse you get will far outweigh the perceived rewards.

I want this to be the last World Cup at which we are not fully represented. I want to see a team of South African officials – referee and two assistant referees – at each and every major tournament.

I believe we have the people, we have the quality and we have the experience. We need someone to take charge and get this job done.

The past is the past. Let’s move on and set our sights on the 2022 World Cup. We need to aim for the sky and make sure we get there. No excuses accepted.

Happy whistling!

Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol

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