The setting is Civo Stadium in Lilongwe and a TNM Super League match is in progress. The home team, Epac FC is trailing 0-1 to visitors Max Bullets of Blantyre through an Abraham Kamwendo goal.
The home team is panicking and needs an equaliser at all cost. They launch an attack through Ranken Mwale and as he bears down on goal, he is fouled.
Fifa referee Patrick Ngoleka blows for a foul, but before the free-kick is taken, Epac player Chiletso Zoya kicks the ball into the net.
In most inexplicable circumstances, Ngoleka awards Epac the goal although laws of the game do not allow advantage from a dead ball situation—clearly exposing the referee’s bias towards the home team.
National Football Referees Association (NRFA) faults Ngoleka, but surprisingly, does not punish him thus forcing Football Association of Malawi (FAM) to intervene.
FAM cracked the whip on the highly-rated Ngoleka alongside Azizi Nyirenda, Arnold Maseko, Jones Chimeza and Andy Kuseli for decisions that exposed the referees’ bias towards home teams.
Now Super League clubs want Super League of Malawi (Sulom) to start swapping referees so that they do not officiate games involving teams from their regions.
Just last week, Karonga United bemoaned their 4-3 loss to Nyasa Big Bullets at Kamuzu Stadium, arguing that the referee orchestrated the defeat by awarding Bullets a dubious penalty and a goal from a clear off-side position.
Ironically, Bullets also complained of the same when, in the first round, they came back from the Northern Region with two points from their matches against Moyale Barracks and Mzuzu University (Mzuni) FC.
Yet Mzuni coach Alex Ngwira, whose team also claimed they were victims of the malpractice when playing away, also had similar sentiments after his side were frustrated in Lilongwe when playing against Civo United and Epac FC.
Max Bullets owner Max Kapanga, whose side walked out of the field of play after Ngoleka’s decision to award Epac the dubious equaliser, said they could not take it anymore and pulling out of the Super League as the only solution.
While acknowledging that swapping referees could be the solution, Sulom general secretary Williams Banda says they would have to dig deeper into their coffers to ferry referees from one region to another.
He said they already spend a whopping K17 million on referees’ allowances.
“I think our league has not yet reached that stage where we can ferry a referee from Southern Region to officiate in the Northern Region or Central Region. Already, we spend over K17 million on referees allowances each season. If we are to implement this proposal we will need more funds for referees,” he said.
But with cases of visiting teams’ complaints on biasness towards home teams on the rise, Sulom is between a rock and hard place.
FAM, who already started swapping referees in cup matches, says standards should not be compromised due to lack of funds.
“Yes, it is expensive. We spend K280 000 to ferry a set of four referees from one region to another, but football is not cheap,” said FAM competitions manager Gomezgani Zakazaka. n