Nairobi News

SportsWhat's Hot

Pressure grows on referees to raise their game in 2014

Pressure grows on referees to raise their game in 2014

With just a few days left to the start of the 2014 Kenyan Premier League season, an area that will be in the spotlight is match officiating that has often been steeped in controversy.

Referees have an unenviable task of not only dealing with players – who could at times be unruly – but also overzealous fans.

Cases of referees being insulted threatened and assaulted are not new.

One of the most vicious attacks on a referee in recent times took place in September 2012 in Mombasa.

Sparki Youth assistant coach Daudi Kajembe savagely pounced on Martin Wekesa (pictured) after chaos marred their Division One clash against rivals Admiral at Tudor grounds.

“He pulled my testicles and pressed them. I was hanging on him and crying and could not free myself  from his hands,” said Wekesa.

The brutality rendered Wekesa impotent in an incident that sent shock waves in the football fraternity. Football Kenya Federation (FKF) handed Kajembe a life ban after he was found guilty of assault.

Wekesa sued FKF, seeking compensation of Sh20 million and the matter is still in court.

Last season, during a Top 8 match between Chemelil Sugar and AFC Leopards, Ingwe fans invaded the pitch and attacked match officials.

Centre referee, Peter Waweru, denied Leopards what they felt was a genuine penalty after winger Paul Were was brought down in the box. Instead, the referee gave Were a yellow card, infuriating Ingwe fans.

Chaos broke out, and rowdy supporters overpowered the few security men present who fuelled tension by lobbying teargas canisters.

The story was the same last season as referees came under criticism over calls that cost teams vital points.

Interestingly, some clubs said referees were apprehensive about ruling against giants Gor Mahia and AFC leopards.

“It seems they are hesitant to rule against these teams as they could be victimised and harassed by fans after matches,” said a coach who sought anonymity.

Sony Sugar tactician Zedekiah Zico Otieno is on record for complaining about poor officiating last season.

In one match, Zico was left dumbfounded when Fifa referee Sylvester Kirwa gave AFC Leopards a penalty with ten minutes left to the final whistle. Zico contested the penalty that gave Leopards a 1-0 advantage. Sony said the penalty was erroneous because Paul Were dived.

Davies Omweno, voted the best referee last season, said their job was not for the faint hearted – one needs to be brave and stick to their decisions.

“One is required to make quick decisions before partisan fans. Spectators often think they know the rules better than you and pass swift judgments,” said Omweno.

He, however, acknowledges referees sometimes get it wrong but  they should not be condemned.

“We are human beings and are prone to mistakes. We evaluation our job after every match and work at reducing mistakes,” he said.

Omweno has officiated a number controversial matches including the 2012 derby between K’Ogalo and Ingwe were he found himself in hot soup after red carding Gor’s Ali Abondo for a rough tackle on Amon Muchiri.

His decision drew angry protests from Gor fans and the game was stopped for nearly 30 minutes. After the final whistle, police had to escort Omweno out of the stadium.

“Though I feared for my life, I believe the decisions I made were right and I stand by them. Fans need to respect referees and the decisions they make, it is the only way to grow the game,” he added.

His colleague Nasur Doka said referees would have to be on top of their game this season as the league was becoming more competitive.

“Clubs have signed new players to make them more competitive and that will put pressure on us to be at our best,” said Doka. He urged FKF to ensure referees are given adequate security during high profile matches.

Doka was at the centre of a row during a match between Sony and Gor Mahia last season.

“When top teams such as Gor and AFC are playing, I advise my colleagues to concentrate on the 22 players on the pitch,” he said.

One of the few female referees in the league, Damaris Kimani, said her work was not easy. However, being firm and strict helped her get the respect she deserved.

Ingwe fans particularly had a bone to chew with her because they thought her decisions were biased. Kimani was booed by Leopards fans during a league match against Bandari at Mbaraki Stadium last season.

“I don’t make decisions to please the fans, I follow the rules and ensure that I make the right calls that are fair to all clubs,” said Kimani.