Saturday, July 4, 2020

Referees can whistle for COVID-19 bail out – Rakgare

As the Minister of Sports Tumiso Rakgare unpacked his ‘COVID 19 Relief Fund’ for football, one interested group was keeping a keen eye on the proceedings.

Local referees were on the edges of their seats biting their nails, each in the solitude of their own houses, but united in their common anxiety through social media networks.

When it became apparent that Minister Rakgare had omitted them from the list of beneficiaries, one asked of his fellows; “What about us referees?”  

This was a slap on the face. One referee who spoke to this publication on condition of anonymity, disclosed that  leading to the declaration of the State of Emergency, local football referees had not been paid since February.

Despite struggling to make ends meet, the middlemen and women honour their league fixtures. 

Experience had taught them that with the Botswana Football Association (BFA), any open show of discontent would lead to suspension.

Their patience seemed to pay off as just a few days leading to the Minister’s COVID 19 relief package, the BFA finally paid them their long standing monies.

Little did they know, as they would later, that this was an appeasement. But as they watched Minister Rakgare not mentioning them among relief beneficiaries, their discontent flared.

Finally the coin dropped: The BFA knew there would be discontent if they were not among the relief beneficiaries and had acted to appease them.

What the BFA had not taken into account perhaps was that during the period they were not paid, the referees had incurred debts and these late payments went towards servicing those debts.

Ironically, among this was allegedly a little ‘debt to BFA’ incurred after the association had paid them ‘more than their dues for services rendered during the FA Cup.’ 

The referees’ ire rose a notch when they then overheard the BFA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mfolo Mfolo suggesting ‘they had received some relief’ during an interview with one local radio.

“I long informed you that we do not matter in local football. We have long allowed ourselves to be used and we will continue to suffer,” one referee lamented to his peers.

“This refereeing is costly to us and we are not even acknowledged or recognised. We will now have to fend for ourselves,” another quipped.

Commenting on his peers’ reaction to being snubbed, the referee who talked to this publication said there was a a growing feeling among referees that they should not put their lives on hold for football.

“The general feeling among us is that we should now put our hustles ahead of football. We should just treat refereeing as a hobby and only do it if we do not have commitments,” said the referee.

Reached for comment, BFA CEO Mfolo said then association had tried to include the referees in the list of beneficiaries of the governement’s relief funds.

He said from the onset, the Botswana National Sports Commission (BNSC) did not include referees among the intended beneficiaries of the relief funds.

Mfolo however said despite this ommission, the BFA took a decision to include them and help them recover too in this time. 

“We decided to include referees in the final list of beneficiaries even though the relief fund was meant for players and their technical teams,” he explained.

Then BFA said as the association, they have the interests of referees at heart and they “will find ways to help them in this time of great need.”

Mfolo went on to outline that along with regions and women players, ‘the referees‘ will benefit from the FIFA relief funds.’

Meanwhile, a source close to the BFA informed this publication that referees may not have been included due to the fact that they are not considered to be working fulltime in football. 

“Referees are seen as volunteers. They are giving a voluntary service to football. The difference is that unlike other volunteers, they are paid for their services,” the source explained.

While acknowledging that some referees are indeed earning a living through sport, the source said this is yet to be determined and acknowledged.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.