By Patrick Omorodion
For most sports men, the fear of referees is the beginning of wisdom. They are like judges in court who have power to save or jail an offender. They can make or mar a match depending on how they handle a particular game. However, like every human, they are bound to make mistakes but when the mistakes keep recurring, many a football fan are bound to suspect or query the professionalism of such a referee.
Like everything African which gives people cause to worry, officiating in Africa has been plagued with situations where matches are believed to be won, not by the dexterity of teams, national teams of clubs on the pitches but by the greed of referees who have either been compromised or are venting their anger on teams whose officials refuse to ‘play’ ball.
Starting with Nigeria, referees are believed to always position themselves to be compromised by desperate club officials who need to win at all cost to justify the huge sums appropriated by state governments who own over 90 percent of clubs in the country.
This is because, the governors of these states don’t see football as a money spinning venture but as image laundering or propaganda machines to get to the heart of the masses who rely on sports to calm their nerves from the effects of the harsh economy.
The irony of the situation is that almost everybody involved in football management in Nigeria and Africa know that referees receive gratifications to change the course of football matches but no one is bold enough to admit it. First, it is difficult to prove because, like they say, there is no receipt for bribe money. Second reason is that anyone who tries to own up and expose a guilty referee will be jeopardising his or her club as the referees may gang up against such a club.
Like they say, it takes two to tango. If there is no willing giver, there will be no receiver. This is where Club officials are guilty as most often than not, they are the ones who make the first move to compromise the referees.
Take it a bit further into Africa. The Super Eagles have always been at the mercy of African referees. Most of the Africa Nations Cup final matches the Eagles have lost were as a result of controversial officiating by referees. Two of such were the 1988 Nations Cup in Morocco and the 2000 Nations Cup which Nigeria co-hosted with Ghana.
In 1988, Henry Nwosu scored a very good goal against Cameroon but Gabonese referee, Jean-Fidele Diramba who was like a tin god back in the day disallowed it and the Eagles lost that game. Again Victor Ikepba’s penalty goal at the 2000 Nations Cup final at the National Stadium in Lagos which hit the bar and landed behind the goal line was overruled BY Tunisian referee, Mourad Daami.
Just eight days ago another dubious officiating, this time from Gambian officials led by Papa Gassama at the centre robbed the Super Eagles of two clear goals when they battled the Bafana Bafana at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg in a Nations Cup qualifier. Again, if the Eagles needed a win in that game to qualify, Gassama would have denied them that.
CAF and other football bodies give referees too much powers, ostensibly to control the game but they misuse the powers as it were. In some glaring cases, the referees are sanctioned, but in so many others, like the Gassama case, nothing happens to them even after confessing or apologising for their wrong decisions.