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WOEFULLY OFF-FORM REFS CAUSE FOR CONCERN

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“The most plausible justification of violence is when it is perpetrated in return of other violence. If a person punches you in the face and seems intentions to keep doing so, it may seem justified to try and respond to the physical violence,” once wrote Andrea Borghini, Professor of Philosophy.

Ugly scenes of violence spoiled what could have been a superb derby day between sworn rivals Mbabane Highlanders and Mbabane Swallows. The 2-1 win by the former has been overshadowed the mayhem which has been headlined by the stabbing of a fan. Once again, referees had to run for cover as irate fans bayed for their blood. The bone of contention was generally viewed as dubious calls by the match officials, especially disallowing a goal by Felix Badenhorst, which appeared to have been scored from an onside position. Unedited footage from the game suggested that the call to disallow the goal was wrong.

disbelieving

Some disbelieving Swallows fans resorted to violence in protest of the match officials’ decision, with footage showing one of referees almost floored by a marshal, while racing to the tunnels. This has happened less than a month after another disaster involving Highlanders fans. At the same venue, the latter forced senior referee Mbongeni Shongwe to sprint for dear life, after he erroneously allowed a goal scored with the guidance of a hand by Manzini Sea Birds’ Sandumuzi Zwane. Fast forward to the derby this past Saturday, the Swallows fans lost it after they endured what they felt was terrible refereeing. Were they justified to take matters into their own hands? The answer is a big no. They knew their action would not change the result, but deep down they felt they needed to attack the referees to drive home a message that poor refereeing would not be tolerated anymore. Analysis of the officiating on the day and during the recent fixture between Highlanders and Sea Birds, did not paint a welcome picture for the ‘men in black’.

off-form

Some of the them, especially the assistant referees, seem to be woefully off-form. In the absence of a video assistant referee (VAR), the referees continue to get away with the wrong decisions. Press statements condemning the violence will not bring a lasting solution to this challenge. It is high time the elephant in the room is confronted. First of all, the National Referees Committee should wake up and smell the coffee. There is no denying that officiating has been disastrous of late. Their silence paints a picture of business as usual. At least through the Eswatini Football Association, they should have made a public statement to condemn the ugly scenes and assure the public of action.

What irks the fans is the general feeling that the underperforming referees are not subjected to any disciplinary action. The referees committee does not need an Oxford Dictionary to know the difference between mistake and blunder. These blunders have been going on for too long. There is no doubt that even in refereeing there is a disciplinary code. It becomes toothless if no one gets punished for going astray. We are unlucky that no life has been lost at the moment, but anything seems possible as the fans continue to overpower security.  

safety

At this rate, everyone’s safety at the stadium is compromised.  With games stretching to this festive season, some families were hoping to come with their children to watch the games, but they are now forced to review the decision. As per the norm, the club will be charged for their fans, which is on its own, a sad situation for teams that are still recovering from the distress caused by the advent of COVID-19. There are calls for a football indaba to help address the shortcomings of the match officials. The big question is, “Do we need a football indaba to teach referees how to officiate?”  The answer is a big no. A way forward at this moment is to suspend the poor-performing referees or relegate them to the regions until they find their feet again.

Premier League stadium representatives are sometimes seen capturing the violence using their smart phones. This evidence should be used to suspend the culprits (fans) who are being caught on camera committing violence. There is no guarantee that the Mavuso incident will not be repeated if referees do make introspections. There is no denying that taking high-profile games to Mavuso Sports Centre, where there are no proper barriers separating the fans from the field has always been a disaster waiting to happen.

risk

Taking the Manzini Wanderers and Mbabane Swallows game to this venue this coming Friday is now a risk, based on the recent events. Government should assist avail Somhlolo National Stadium. Less than three months ago, it was announced that the national stadium was now available for public use, only to be closed about a month later. The excuse that it has been closed for renovations is unacceptable. The timing is wrong because indications suggest it has been locked out to teams since the damage to the synthetic turf, allegedly by a Highlanders team bus. Should all teams, and by extension football suffer because of one team? The logical thing to do after the track damage was to charge  and fine the affected team, repair the damage and move on. The only excuse we will accept for the closure of Somhlolo is when the renovations make it difficult to stage games. Based on reports and inspection, the ongoing renovations are now technical and can do little to tamper with staging games. So the message is loud and clear – open.

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