Janny Sikazwe heads to the 2022 FIFA World Cup as one of Six African Referees selected for the global showpiece. The Zambian official was ridiculed online after twice blowing the final whistle early during the group stage match between Tunisia and Mali back in January.
After first blowing his whistle five minutes early, the match was restarted before Sikazwe again ended the match, this time seconds before the 90 minute mark.
The experienced Referee made a positive return when he took charge of the CAF Confederation Cup Final between South Africa’s Orlando Pirates and RS Berkane at the Godswill Akpabio International stadium Uyo.
Janny Sikazwe was Spot on with his decisions needing VAR review for only one big moment throughout the 120 minute long final match which ended In a penalty shootout victory for Morrocan side RS Berkane.
A walk through the web shows the name Janny Sikazwe dominated by negative headlines from the AFCON 2021 error . A feature common with Refereeing in Africa where the officials get heavy knocks for errors and near zero plaudits for good games. Nigeria leads the way .
The worlds most populous black nation is yet to produce a Referee to a FIFA World Cup tournament . Many reasons exist for this but this article will focus on the how the Nigerian Press, Fans and Football authorities has contributed to this with specific reference to the Janny Sikazwe example.
Janny Sikazwe is blessed to hail from Zambia . Put a Nigerian Referee in the controversy that rocked the 2021 AFCON and he will never recover to his old self talk more of heading to a world cup in the same year.
The Nigerian Press will lead the criticism with blanket captions like
” Janny Sikazwe proves there is no good Referee in Nigeria with AFCON error ”
” Shame on Nigerian Referees as Janny Sikazwe embarrasses the country at the AFCON “.
This same of Referees excel during international engagements like the CAF club competitions, World Cup/AFCON Qualifiers leaving FIFA/CAF Officials confused in Choice with the constant negative headlines in Nigeria.
Week in week out , we see some sentimental reportage of the Nigerian Professional football league games where some journalists will heap blames on Referees for their teams loss while the few who stand to be fair are either seen as enemies by fans and administrators in their hometown or beaten up by fans like the Adepoju Tobi incident on Wednesday 1st June 2022 in Ibadan.
The Experienced Journalist was publicly harassed by fans in his hometown Ibadan for not toying the fans line of blaming the match officials for 3SC’s 1-1 draw vs Remo Stars in Ibadan.
The Referees offence was awarding a clear penalty to the away team early on in the game and waving away dubious penalty calls by the home team as they pushed for a win .
While the rest of the country called for the arrest and prosecution of those fans involved in the Adepoju Tobi harassment, social media was awash with comments by fans and members of the public sympathetic to the 3SC claiming the Referee robbed them in their house . Video highlights however showed a fair and firm officiating which resisted every attempt to bend the rules for the Home team.
Such is the complex system Nigerian Referees are expected to emerge from to International recognition. A system where majority of the fans will applaud everything In Favour of their team and hit out on same when adjudged in favour of the opposition. It has been Nigeria defeating Nigerian Referees .
THE FOOTBALL FEDERATION
Accepted, the Referees are not saints and on some occasions give room for the public outcry but like Janny Sikazwe who enjoyed considerable amount of cover from the Zambian Football Federation after his AFCON Gaffe , the Nigerian football authorities must intentionally be committed to the information management of its International Officials.
For example , less than 24 hours after the Tunisia vs Mali game, a report surfaced giving reasons for Janny Sikazwe’s error. He was said to be ill and had to undergo medical care immediately after the match. The Zambian football Federation led from the front in defence of their man.
Throwback to the build up to the 2014 World Cup In Brazil , Nigeria’s Peter Edibe was close to breaking the record. The arbiter painfully missed out due to some administrative bottlenecks within the Confederation of African Football . Chance missed.
To achieve relevance at that stage, Nigeria must pick a man , project same , manage reportage and progress until the CAF Elite A cadre a pool where selection for the FIFA World Cup is based on.
Here are some of the steps that can help put Nigerian Referees in good stead for International recognition.
TRAIN THE REFEREES, TRAIN THE PRESS TO SENSITIZE THE FANS ON THE RULES
The Nigerian football federation must endeavor to get the press men and women at par with the Referees as per knowledge and interpretation of the laws of the game.
The press will in turn serve as agents of change by Sensitizing the fans on various changes to the laws of the game plus helping them in their analysis of games . This will help rid of some sentiment based reportage that paints the Nigerian Referees in bad light.
AVAILABILITY OF TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS
Years after the introduction of Goalline technology it is yet to debut in the Nigerian football scene. Communication gadgets to help with communication amongst the match officials will certainly decrease the errors.
The Video assistant Referees to cover for the human errors which come with taking decisions within a split second.
IMPROVED REFEREES WELFARE
Ensuring the Indemnities of match officials are promptly paid across all the leagues (NPFL , NNL NLO, NWFL ) will do its own magic of helping the officials to be more independent in thought and psychologically ready to defend the laws of the game.
PUT THE LEAGUE ON TELEVISION
Having the NPFL on Television will benefit the growth of Nigerian Referees greatly. There will be an opportunity to get watched by millions of fans across the world .
This will help for a more balanced judgement after games. Unlike this days when for example everyone banks on an Enugu based Journalist for analysis of what transpired in Enugu Rangers 0-1 loss to Enyimba International Fc. Save for few , expect a reportage that will link the Referee to their misfortune.
With the game on Television , this scenario will be erased and everyone including the neutrals will judge the performance of the Referees for a balanced reportage which is constantly reviewed before selection of Officials for major tournaments.
Finally, I must say there has been a considerable amount of improvement in officiating in Nigeria over the last few seasons. A result of the efforts from the NFF Referees committee in regular mentorship programs for Referees.
The wait for the day Nigerian fans , players and administrators will no longer say ” Na Why Nigerian Referee never go World Cup ” continues with the Super Eagles and Nigerian Referees ruled out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.