Last week local referees through their mother body, the Zimbabwe Soccer Referees’ Association, threatened to boycott handling Castle Lager Premier Soccer League (PSL) matches after the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) hired foreign referees.
The men-in-black were to rescind their threats after receiving counter threats from Zifa president Cuthbert Dube who said Zifa were going to de-register the officials from their books if they had gone ahead with their proposed action.
We believe the premature outbursts by the referees were unwarranted because the hiring of foreign officials is not a new phenomenon as it has been practiced elsewhere before.
There is nothing uncommon in engaging foreign referees in highly-charged matches like derbies or title deciders.
Al Ahly and Zamalek of Egypt are a case in point
The rivalry is so fierce that foreign referees are always brought in for the games. It is assumed an Egyptian referee would always support one of the sides.
Scotland’s Kenny Clark — a veteran of four Old Firm games — was chosen for a clash in 2001, following the refusal of six European federations to make a referee available.
The action in this derby gets so serious sometimes that it has had to be abandoned four times, most recently in 1999.
French referee Mark Batta showed a red card to Zamalek player Ayman Abdel Aziz after just two minutes of play for a tackle from behind.
The Zamalek players responded by walking off the pitch in protest and refused to continue.
As a result of the increasing number of disturbances, the games are no longer played at the club’s home grounds, but at the neutral Cairo Stadium.
And if one of the players is considering switching clubs, then they better hear about Hossam Hassan.
One of the world’s most capped players had played for Al Ahly for 16 years and then moved clubs across the city in 2001.
When the teams met again, Hassan had bottles thrown at him and the match had to be delayed by three minutes. Not a transfer to be taken lightly.
In our scenario, the only unfortunate thing about local referees is that Zifa introduced the issue of foreign officials on the backdrop of a series of controversial decisions by local referees.
The perception that was created around the timing of the announcement was that local referees were corrupt and all guilty of failing to handle matches.
We do not believe that.
The fact that Zifa and the PSL chose certain games for foreign officiating showed the football authorities’ genuine intent unless they had said all the remaining matches were going to be handled by foreigners.
We encourage Zifa and the PSL to continue appointing foreign officials whenever the need compels to avoid controversy which will in turn shy away sponsors.
There is nothing sinister about hiring a South African, Zambian or a British referee to handle the derby between Dynamos and Caps United.
For as long as funds permit, that is the way to go.