Bernadetta Kwimbira-Mzika becomes the second Malawian to be appointed for Olympic Tournament after Bester Kalombo who officiated at Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.
For her, this is something special, especially because it is coming back to back with her World Cup appearance.
“It’s a once in a life time opportunity. I thank God for making it happen. I did not expect it; we are so many in Fifa (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Elite from Confederation of African Football (CAF) and it’s not easy to be picked for such a tournament,” says Kwimbila-Mzika.
Much as she always dreamed of getting far with football officiation, she says there was never a time when she imagined herself officiating at Fifa World Cup or Olympics.
Last year in June, Kwimbira-Mzika was in Canada for the Fifa Women’s World Cup, becoming the first and only Malawian to officiate at a Fifa World Cup.
However, nothing comes easy as they say and success is not about luck, but hard work, commitment, humility and self-control.
“I always make sure that I have current knowledge of the laws of the game, interpret and apply them accordingly on the field of play. To maintain my fitness and be able to pass Fifa fitness test, I make sure to train three or four times a week.
“I also feel that one needs to have interests outside of the game, where you have the chance to relax and to mentally switch off. So, at times I take a break for a week or two to refresh,” she says.
This year marks 14 years of Kwimbira-Mzika as a football referee and her ninth as an international referee.
Her inaugural international match was in 2008 between South Africa and Cameroon at Calidonia Stadium in Pretoria.
The referee has achieved a lot internationally. She has officiated at African Women Cup of Nations three times in a row; 2010, 2012 and in 2014.
In 2013 she emerged as best referee at CAF Elite A course in Egypt; and was one of the only three African match officials for the Youth Olympic Games in China in 2014 and made history in both CAF and Fifa books as the first trio from Africa to officiate a final match at a Fifa tournament.
Back home, she has more than 50 matches in Super League, including seven Blantyre Derbies. She has also officiated a lot of cup matches, including a semi-final match of 2014 Presidential Cup and 2015 Carlsberg Cup Final.
Kwimbira-Mzika was born on September 11, 1981 in Blantyre; the third born in a family of four children. She comes from Fundi Village, Traditional Authority Kilupula in Karonga. Her father passed away when she was seven and has grown up with a single parent.
The youthful woman referee holds an advanced diploma in secretarial and administration from Staff Development Institute.
In 2013, she enrolled for a Bachelor in Business Administration with University of South Africa (Unisa), but later withdrew.
“In my second year of study, I had a lot of engagements with Fifa due to my 2015 Canada Fifa Women’s World Cup appointment. I absolutely had no time for my books and assignments.
“When I weighed the two, I sacrificed my school for the World Cup,” says the referee who is married to Derick Mzika since 2005.
While in secondary school at Chichiri, the mother of two boys joined Sobo Athletics Club and was competing in 100 and 200 meter races. She also played in the school’s netball team.
In 2000 she joined the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) becoming one of the very first female soldiers. She continued with Athletics while in the army and also had a passion for football.
If she was not at Civo Stadium during weekends, then she was either at Silver or Nankhaka Stadium to watch a football match.
“In 2002, I approached Youngson Chilinda who was then a Fifa referee and expressed my ambitions. The same year, the Football Association of Malawi (FAM) organised a basic referee’s course in Kasungu. I passed and was awarded a grade three certificate,” says Kwimbira-Mzika.
Football refereeing is a male dominated field and not easy for a woman, but she says the negative comments she gets every time she steps on the field of play are among the things that keep her going.
“Aaah iwe osakaimbira netball bwanji!” (Why don’t you referee netball!),” is one of the common insults she gets.
“They say that not because they have seen me mess up a match, but simply because I am woman. Remember, gone are the days where no one wants to watch women in football or boxing. ‘You belong in the kitchen,’ so, they say, but to me these are words of inspiration. They remind me to always be strong, smart, wise and genuine.
“The more supporters insult me, the more the team’s technical areas talk, the more I work hard and continue making a grade,” she says while lauding all women in male dominated fields.
She notes that no one officiates for life. The enthusiasts calls aspiring women referees to work hard, saying: “soon I will hang my boots and join the Referees’ Assessors wagon. What a man can do, a woman can do better. I have set the pace, you can do it. Read your laws of the game regularly, interpret and apply them accordingly on the field of play, and always keep fit”.
She adds: “Look at male referees as colleagues in arms and concentrate on what you are in refereeing for. Only hard work, dedication, humility and discipline can take you to the top. And always remember to put God first in everything. I will be the happiest person to see another Malawian women referee in Fifa Elite A.” says Kwimbira-Mzika.
Asked what could be done different to change the landscape of football in the country, she had this to say: “We need to have strategies; we need to start from the grass roots. Malawi can have strong men and women football teams in 10 years’ time if we can invest in under 15 today”. n