Johannesburg - Some years ago, I saw an old geezer drive an ancient skorokoro bearing an interesting sticker that read: “All parts in a car are important, but the most important one is the nut holding the steering wheel.”
I felt like shouting at the top of my voice: “You go, old man!”
But on thinking about it further, I felt that it might just turn out to be one of those aphorisms that fly way over the heads of many people.
What brings back this chucklesome encounter, you may ask?
Well, it is the small matter of referees in South African football.
These are the men in black about whom journalist par excellence Casey “Kid” Motsisi once wrote in a tongue-in-cheek piece. He wrote that he couldn’t fathom how 22 adult men could chase around a pigskin and derive pleasure out of such an outrageous act. He went further and said that the craziest of them all was the man wearing the black uniform – the one who tried to find order in the chaos.
Referees are but a small part of football, but they can have a huge effect.
A referee’s decision can mean the difference between a club winning the league or being relegated; it can be the difference between a club becoming megarich or going bust.
If in doubt, ask Bayern Munich supporters and neutral football fans, who feel that the German side was unfairly treated by Hungarian whistleman Viktor Kassai in their Uefa Champions League quarterfinal clash against Real Madrid a few days ago.
Those in this camp will tell you that Kassai made, at the very least, two wrong calls by sending off Bayern’s Arturo Vidal and allowing one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals to stand. Others even argue that two of the Madrid talisman’s three strikes were scored from an offside position.
Top club official
The SA Football Association (Safa) should take note of all this and really up the ante when it comes to cleaning its house and dealing with corrupt match officials.
There have been some noises coming out of Safa House on how it was about to clamp down on rotten potatoes within its refereeing structure.
However, since 2004, when the much hailed Operation Dribble fell flat on its face with a sprinkling of small fry facing the music, many people take any word about dealing with bad refereeing in this country with a pinch of salt, if not a spoonful.
The 2004 saga ended up being like a second-hand car – promising a lot, but delivering little.
No big-name referees were flushed out, while not a single top club official was found guilty and reprimanded during the campaign.
The job of dealing with corrupt match officials and club owners needs to be done thoroughly, so that anyone nursing ambitions (if one can call it that) of dabbling in the diablerie of match-fixing would think twice and end up steering well clear of it.
It is such a serious matter that, just as football authorities did in 2004, once the culprits have been outed, the matter should be handed over to the police and justice authorities so that whoever is found guilty will face the full might of the law. It is high time people be sent into the cooler for such diabolical acts.
Enjoy the game
Safa must also be aware that it does its brand an injustice to be associated with such acts.
Referees and other match officials fall under the jurisdiction of Safa, so the country’s football governing body must send a strong message that it will simply not tolerate having its good name dragged through the mud by a few corrupt individuals.
I say “a few” because, actually, the country does have some good and honest match officials who take pride in what they do.
South Africa has also engendered some straight-up football administrators, so it would not be fair to have the whole lot painted with the black brush of debauchery.
The message is loud and clear: clean out the match-fixing mess and leave the masses to enjoy the game, knowing that it is free and fair with level playing fields.
Just like the nut holding a steering wheel, one miscreant referee could turn the beautiful game into something a lot uglier.
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