Martha Nyekanyeka, MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first female Fifa grade referee, has withstood the trials and tribulations that come with working in a male-dominated career. Having refereed for more than a decade, the single mother with a burning passion for football believes she still has a lot more to offer and shares her story with Paida Mpaso.Ã‚Â
You are one of the few women referees in this country, how did you join such a male-dominated profession?
I joined football in 1998. Population Services International (PSI) Malawi wanted to introduce a womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s football trophy. I signed up, even though most of the girls identified were too young to play with. A while later, I was elected as general secretary for the Blantyre WomenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Football League. I attended a football administration, football refereeing and football preparatory coaching courses to acquire general knowledge on the sport. In the course of administering womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s football, I missed playing and being on the pitch. I then decided to referee, so that I could officiate games. This would still keep me in the game, in a way.
In 2000, I added onto my portfolio of football administrator by becoming a referee in the Blantyre Junior Leagues games. In 2001, my term of office expired and I concentrated on the refereeing career which I was enjoying very much.Ã‚Â In 2003, I was promoted to Fifa grade and started officiating international and Super League games.
My first assignments were South Africa vs Nigeria friendly played in South Africa. On the local scene, it was MDC United vs Bakili Bullets played at MDC Stadium. I also officiated an international friendly on 6th July 2003 at Kamuzu Stadium where Botswana played Malawi.
How did you rise through the ranks?
I started out as assistant referee (2003-2004) and rose to referee in 2005. I have been on the Fifa panel for nine years and officiated Super League games for nine seasons. I think I rose through the ranks because of the passion I have for this career. I believe people in the fraternity recognised my love of the game and rewarded me with promotions.Ã‚Â
How does one become a Fifa grade referee?
You attend a course organised by either Football Association of Malawi (FAM) Sports Council or Referees Association and sit for examinations. After passing the exams, you get a Grade 3 certificate. You officiate junior league games until you gain experience. If you perform, you are promoted to Grade 2 and start officiating super league games then Grade 1 then you are selected to run the FIFA Fitness test which is done annually worldwide. This goes together with good behaviour and dedication. It is not an easy road.
What initiated your passion for football?
I grew up with boys and preferred their company at school. Because of this, I inevitably ended up playing a lot of games that are usually associated with men, such as football. I remember that some of my friendsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ parents discouraged their daughters from associating with me because Ã¢â‚¬ËœI liked boysÃ¢â‚¬â„¢!
What do you remember most about growing up?
I remember opting to watch football with boys in my primary school days instead of sitting in the company of girls and watching netball. I also remember supporting a game until it ended without knowing which team had scored!
Did your parents approve of you being in the company of boys?
My mother would beat me up after sneaking out for a football game. She too thought I was in search of boyfriends. I wonder if she connects my current profession with my background.Ã‚Â
What do you love most about this career?
The refereeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s decision is final; I just love to be in control. I also love travelling and have been to 11 countries in Africa thus far.
What comes to you during and after a game?
When officiating, my aim is to do my job, I know I am qualified and therefore all I think about is my work.
Any proud achievements?
I have officiated 15 international games and been to four tournaments; Cosafa 2006 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Zambia, Cosafa 2008 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Angola, Zone VI Games Ã¢â‚¬â€œ South Africa 2008, Zone VI Games Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Swaziland 2010. I have also attended two CAF Anglophone Elite courses in Tanzania and Egypt.
Which referee inspires you?
Mr Bester Kalombo who is currently referees manager at CAF.Ã‚Â He inspires me.Ã‚Â I would like to walk in his footsteps and do likewise in the womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s field.
When were you born?
I was born on 28th March 1971.Ã‚Â I am the 6th born in a family of six boys and two girls.Ã‚Â My father was a Member of Parliament during the MCP era and I am from Nkolimbo village T/A Kwataine, Ntcheu. I did my primary education at Gumbu Primary School in Ntcheu, this was from 1977. From 1986 to 1990 I was at Phwezi Girls Secondary School in Rumphi pursuing my secondary education.
What qualifications do you have?
Apart from certificates in refereeing, I attended a secretarial course at the Malawi Polytechnic. From 1992 to 1995, I worked as a secretary/receptionist at Sunder Furniture Limited. I later joined Bazuka and Company as a secretary. >From 1997 to 2006, I worked for Malawi National Council of Sports as a secretary to the regional sports development officer for the South based at the Blantyre Youth Centre. I am currently running a cafÃƒÂ© at Kaliyeka Primary School ground where I offer secretarial services and internet services alongside my job as a referee.
How do you stay on your feet when tempers start rising during a match?
I depend on the knowledge of the laws of the game. I am aware that people direct their frustrations at the referee and I do not take their comments seriously.Ã‚Â Some even use abusive language but I do not bother about them because I know the implications of fighting back; it can take you out of the game.Ã‚Â I just ignore them and concentrate on the game.
Are you married?
I was married but our union did not work out. I had three children, Grace, my first born passed away after a painful battle with severe pneumonia 2006. She was 15 at the time. The second born, Innocent, is 17-years-old and is in Form 4 at Falls Baptist Private Secondary School. The last born, Brian, is 10- years- old and in Standard 4 at Kaliyeka Primary School.
What are your ambitions in as far as refereeing is concerned?
I would like to become an International Women Referee Instructor/Match Commissioner.