The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) has been going on for close to half a century and it is indeed the pride of Africa.
Countries want to see themselves at the tournament. Unfortunately, all of them cannot make it due to the limit set for the number of teams to participate.
For the past years, the tide of the tournament has changed a bit because some of the countries that used to be perennial qualifiers are finding it tough to do so. This is because many countries have improved and are slowly closing the gap between themselves and the once powerful ones.
Also, referees who officiate at AFCON are mostly from countries that have made it to the tournament.
However, there are always referees from other countries whose countries rarely or never even make it to the tournament.
For the record, there has never ever been any referee from Botswana at AFCON but referees from countries that Botswana is always ahead of in international competitions often make it to AFCON.
For instance at this year’s AFCON, there are referees from Seychelles, Uganda and Mauritius. There are also assistant referees from Eritrea and even Burundi.
The above mentioned countries are, in most cases, below Botswana in FIFA rankings but Botswana is not represented at AFCON.
Botswana Football Association’s Vice President for technical and himself a former referee, Dintle Mphele, told Sunday Standard that there are a lot of reasons that make it difficult for local referees to make it to AFCON.
“Currently, the main problem is that our teams rarely participate in this African competitions and that is taken into consideration. A country would not easily have referees at AFCON if local clubs are also nowhere to be seen in African Club competitions,” he said.
Mphele also added that another main problem with the local referees is their level of fitness. He emphasised that, in most cases, local referees do not meet international fitness standards.
“Recently a lot of our referees failed FIFA fitness that is a challenge also for us. But I am optimistic that in the future our referees will make it because we are working on several things to improve the standard of refereeing in Botswana. Initially, we did not have a sound development programme for referees and now we are seriously doing that and it is only a matter of time before our referees progress,” he said. Mphele added that the only local referee in Botswana who nearly made it to AFCON is Edwin Senai in 2002. The unfortunate thing for him was that he had to go to school and thus abandoned refereeing.
“Senai was a strong contender then because he was in the elite bracket of Africa’s referees. Once one is there he can go and officiate at major tournaments around the world.
Definitely, Senai could have made it but we have young and upcoming referees who are already doing well in regional tournaments like COSAFA and their time is coming,” he said.