Johannesburg - Ari Soldatos, the chair of referee appointments at the SA Football Association (Safa), is not a happy man.
His unhappiness stems from the failure of 10 assistant referees – five from the Free State – to pass fitness tests last weekend.
As a result, Soldatos has to juggle his appointments at this crucial stage of the Premier Soccer League season.
“I’m disappointed,” said Soldatos. “This makes my job difficult because, at this stage of the season, you need all experienced officials to be available.”
He said this was the most challenging time of the season, with the battle for promotion play-off spots in the National First Division and a relegation dogfight in the Absa Premiership. However, he said the situation could still be managed.
“Fortunately, over the past year or so, some young lads have been coming through and seem to be doing fairly well. This is an opportunity for them to make a mark for themselves. They have to take the chance from other people’s misfortunes.”
His biggest disappointment was that some of the failed officials were habitual failures.
“If I had my way, I’d recommend that habitual failures must be temporarily suspended from further consideration for a season.”
Soldatos said Safa could not always monitor, consistently scrutinise and keep up with officials’ fitness requirements.
Safa wants to fast-track the development of young officials.
The head of the referees’ department at Safa, Tenda Masikhwa, said the department would hold a youth development programme to address the situation.
“Our aim is to have the best performers from this programme assessed to see if they can be absorbed into the national panel. We could then start them off as fourth officials to relieve some of the load on officials who are overworked. Enough is enough, and this must come to a stop. Our approach is this much and no more,” said Masikhwa.
Meanwhile, Soldatos congratulated assistant referee Zakhele Siwela on his appointment as one of the officials for the World Cup in Russia in June.
Siwela will be the only South African representative at the World Cup.
On Thursday, the Alexandra-born linesman was named by Fifa as one of the 36 referees and 63 assistant referees who would officiate at the tournament.
“He is one of the most consistent and hardworking assistants, and he deserves it. The fact that the Confederation of African Football and Fifa rate him so highly is proof that he is one of the best. He is composed and focused, and I am really pleased for him,” said Soldatos, who ran the line at the 1998 World Cup in France.