The world football governing body Fifa has stripped Malawi’s top centre referees Dennis Nguluwe, Patrick Ngoleka and Mercy Mziya and assistant referees Hendrix Maseko and Feston Kusekuse of their badges.
They have since been replaced by Gift Chiko, Godfrey Nkhakananga and Rose Zimba while Gabriel Mafuleka and Joseph Nyauti have taken the slots of the chopped assistant referees.
Football Association of Malawi (FAM) general secretary (GS) Alfred Gunda yesterday confirmed the development, saying the reshuffle followed the referees’ sub-committee assessment exercise last year which noted some lapses in performance as regards behaviour, competence in officiation of games and fitness levels.
Ironically, the news comes about two years after FAM gave both Ngulube and Ngoleka a five-month ban for serious technical errors.
Then, Ngulube was punished for feigning illness during the Carlsberg Cup final between Be Forward Wanderers and Silver Strikers while Ngoleka was penalised after a controversial goal he awarded the now-defunct Epac FC against MTV Max Bullets in the TNM Super League led to the abandonment of the match.
The dropped referees have received the latest news with mixed reactions.
While accepting the demotion, after eight years of being a Fifa referee, Ngulube argued the action could affect Malawi’s chances of producing quality referees for the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals and the World Cup.
“I do not have problems with the stripping of my badge and wish those that have been picked all the best,” he said.
“I will go back to Grade One and I will continue working hard. I know there’s politics involved in the selection and recommendation process but it will take time for the recruits to gain the required confidence of CAF and Fifa.”
But Ngoleka congratulated the recruits, saying they deserve it.
Assistant referee Kusekuse, who officiated at Africa Sports Council Regional Five football third-place-offs in Botswana last month, said he has accepted the decision.
“I can’t say much since FAM sub-committee renews Fifa referees’ mandate every year, that’s what I can expect. I will continue working hard in local games,” he said.
The newly appointed women’s centre referee Zimba says she is happy with the development.
“I didn’t expect that I will be appointed Fifa referee since I started in 2015.
“I hope to officiate Cosafa, women’s Afcon and even World Cup just as our role model Bernadettar Kwimbira-Mzika.”
However, Gunda ruled out foul-play on the reshuffle, saying the association’s referees committee carried out an assessment on the referees’ performance on and off the pitch.
“The referees committee is a standing committee of FAM responsible for the overall performance and conduct of referees on and off the pitch. With these terms of reference [ToRs] the committee assesses the performance of referees throughout the year and recommends referees for Fifa listing.
“Worth noting is that every match is assessed and it’s against such assessment as well as reports from commissioners that the committee scrutinises and presents recommendations to Fifa,” he said.
The FAM GS said it is a Fifa obligation to have referees assessed every year before being appointed to enhance quality.
“Just like every career, quality of performance as well as competition from fellow members cannot be undermined and it’s against that background that the list as per regulation is revisited annually to ensure that those that have performed well are retained and new ones come in to replace others where assessment has recommended the same.
“With this it should be noted that there is no politics in the recommendations. As a progressive career, we must also appreciate that there will be up-and-coming referees who will be pushing their way into the list from time to time.”
One of the yardsticks used to assess referees is the physical fitness test which was last done in November last year and all the affected local referees passed.