The new year has started on the wrong foot for Safa.
The association has been accused of favouritism, preferential treatment and unfair play after snubbing active match officials for inclusion in the Fifa international panel.
The new panel, which has been revealed by Fifa, has raised eyebrows. It does not include referees Victor Hlungwani and Thando Ndzandzeka, nor assistant referee Johannes Moshidi. Ndzandzeka served on the panel for only two years. Others who have missed out are Mervyn van Wyk and Thembisile Windvoël.
What seems to have irked some officials in the refereeing fraternity is the retention of Daniel Bennett and Christopher Harrison, who were not active on the continent last year.
Bennett last participated in an international game in 2017, when he officiated in the World Cup qualifier between Ghana and Uganda, which ended in controversy after the Black Stars’ two goals were disallowed. Harrison was injured for the better part of last year.
Referee Christopher Harrison. Picture: Gallo Images
An official who did not want to be identified for fear of intimidation said: “What were the criteria used to include these two and take out Ndzandzeka and Hlungwani? How could they include referees who were not there last year at the expense of those who have been active locally and internationally? This smacks of racism and we thought we had moved away from this a long time ago.”
To make matters even worse, members of the technical committee allege that they were not consulted.
One of them told City Press that they were astonished when they found out who had made the list.
Four newcomers – Athuxolo Madela, Kgara Mokoena, Khamusi Razwimisani and Elphas Sitole – will be making their international debuts as assistant referees. Another newcomer is referee Nkosinathi Mdluli.
The late Eketsang Setloboko, who passed away tragically in a car accident last month, was initially on the list.
“We are shocked by the list because we didn’t sanction it,” said a technical committee member who did not want to be named.
“This is sending the wrong message. Is this how we reward our officials who have been doing well for the country outside our borders? You can’t have four newcomers on the list. As much as we want to promote youngsters, you can’t just throw all of them in at once.”
Referee Victor Hlungwani. Picture: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
But Safa’s head of referees, Tenda Masikhwa, denied the accusations, saying they were looking at the bigger picture. He said both Hlungwani and Moshidi were taken out because of their age, and Ndzandzeka was removed because of performance. Ironically, Bennett is the same age as Hlungwani.
Masikhwa said it was unfortunate that people brought colour into the equation.
“It is a point for concern for us. Maybe we should have navigated through that better by explaining our stance from the beginning, as well as talking about where we want to be in the next five or so years,” he said.
He admitted that Bennett and Harrison were not active, but said he was confident they would be back.
“In the case of Chris, he ran the fitness test while injured and has not been retested since. We are monitoring his situation and he is likely to get tested before the end of the month. We are in constant contact with CAF regarding his situation in case he can’t make it.”
He said Fifa had a provision that allowed an official who had not been tested to be included on the list.
Assistant referee Johannes Moshidi and Itumeleng Khune. Picture: Lefty
On the issue of Bennett, Masikhwa said they did not want him to bow out with a cloud hanging over his head.
“It is true that he has not been featured. I wrote a letter to CAF in March trying to get to the bottom of his situation. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any feedback, but I am still pursuing it. No one wants to retire with a question mark behind their name. Therefore, he is included on the list.”
The country would have only three referees if Fifa did not accept Setloboko’s replacement and if Harrison did not pass the test.