Match officiating in South Africa needs to be professionalised without any further delay. Officials need to become full-time employees and be given some dignity. Not only can they contribute to the coffers of the South African Revenue Service in a more meaningful way, but they can also become the beneficiaries of basic employment benefits.
Match officials have a critical role in football. They are the ones tasked in maintaining the integrity of the sport on the field of play. The decisions they make in the 90 minutes they are allocated, is often the difference between the success and failure of many clubs, their coaches and players. The industry is worth billions of rand to the stakeholders yet this part of professional football still remains at amateur level.
One cannot expect officials to be on a match to match “pay as you play” basis without a fixed monthly income that they can count on month after month. The current status is an ideal breeding ground for unscrupulous behavior and low quality officiating. It could be that accepting all sorts of favors is the only way for some to feed their families and stay afloat. It could also be that the officials need better training so as to make a career out of football and beyond.
We understand that they need to gain experience and therefore have to officiate “real matches” however the professional leagues cannot be the “training ground” for this to be achieved. The administrators need to find a better way of training them so they can be match ready. Human error cannot fully be eliminated but at least we would be more comfortable knowing that these are genuine mistakes and are not instances of foul play. Also knowing that they have the possibility of losing their full time employment due to bad performances would make officials more accountable as failure to do so would result in them being unemployed. At the moment they have little to lose.
There is no benefit for the club if an official is suspended after the fact. Unfortunately this is the current modus operandi used by the referee administrators, who too are limited in the way they can deal with the issue of poor officiating. However, in all honesty, this has not worked as little has changed over the years and the poor officiating continues.
The points for the clubs are lost forever. Suspensions don’t help clubs in any way. It’s a lose-lose for them because no matter the result, their obligations to meet their financial commitments for players and staff cannot be suspended due to bad results. Clubs can no longer be expected to purely dismiss bad decisions week in and week out as these “mistakes” end up costing them millions of Rand every season.
Surely the minister of Sport needs to look into this matter and help SAFA and the PSL to find a solution to professionalise this part of football and to put officials on the payroll as all other players and administrators are. None of us working in football would be comfortable earning an “unknown“ or “unstable“ income.
We are pleading with the Sports Minister to take note of the situation. Officiating is a job creator that football provides to the SA economy. Please see it as that and step in to help us find a solution. Our football will not and cannot survive the current state of officiating. It will damage the reputation of the sport for all of us who are involved in it; club owners, players, administrators, sponsors and all other stakeholders associated.