Hule iwe, mwana wa hule! (whore, daughter of a whore!)” are some of the derogatory insults that female football referees such as Bernadette Kwimbira and Mercy Mziya often times go through when they are in the line of duty.
Despite going through such a harsh envioroment, the female referees have soldiered on.
“It is something that has now become part of our lives. It is demoraling, but we have learnt to cope over time. In the early years, I nearly quit but with time I got used and I just pretend as if everything is normal as long as I apply the rules of the game,” said Kwimbira of her experience in the game.
She said despite including such experiences in several match reports, nothing has been done to address the humiliation she endures.
“Like I said, now I am just used and I brace up for such unfortunate situations. I first had to undergo humiliation in 2005 when I officiated a game involving Chanco and another team, it was terrible.
“From then on, it has worsened but there is nothing more I can do. The abuse is mostly from fans of a losing team and when the decision goes against them they pour their frustration on you. I just had to get used,” said Kwimbira.
Another prominent female referee, Mziya, has a similar story.
“I have been called all sorts of derogatory names but with advice from colleagues and because of passion, I am still in the system. Despite reporting this in match reports, I am yet to get help. It pains a lot, but then if authorities cannot act, what else can we do?” wondered Mziya.
However, Super League of Malawi (Sulom) says abuse of officiating personnel carries heavy punishment.
“In our regulations, and those of Fifa, such acts carry heavy penalties like banning the fans found guilty of such offence. We don’t tolerate that.
“But I have to say it here that as Sulom we have never received such complaints,” said Sulom general secretary Williams Banda in an interview.
However, male referee Duncan Lengani, who on several occasions has been match commissioner of games involving female referees, confirmed that the abuse has been reported in match reports.
“It is something that is of great concern because it deters potential female referees from joining the field. It causes trauma on the part of female referees. We have been reporting this trend but nothing has happened,” he said opposing the Sulom stand.
National Football Referees Association (NFRA) general secretary Chris Kalichelo said his body is aware of such abuse, “but in a match that is watched by thousands, it is difficult to trace the culprits.
“It is a universal problem. It is not only female referees that are targeted even their male colleagues have been victims. Only that with the female referees, it is worse because the fans take advantage of their gender to abuse them.”
He said it all boils down to ignorance on the rules of the game.
“As one way of mitigating the problems, we are planning to call for a symposium which will involve representatives of clubs’ supporters committees,” said Kalichelo. n