Johannesburg – The sanctions imposed on Steve Komphela and Clinton Larsen for their recent comments on match officials further confirm the perception that referees can, at the behest of football authorities, get away with murder.
Make no mistake, Komphela and Larsen were absolutely wrong when castigating referees Victor Gomes and Daniel Volgraaf on the opening weekend of the Absa Premiership, the two coaches uttering strong words in the wake of their teams’ defeats.
Komphela, of Free State Stars, provided the biggest vitriol, which many among us found amusing but suspected it would immediately land him in trouble. He questioned how Gomes could walk around wearing the tag of the best referee in the Premiership – an award bestowed on him in May – when he commits so many errors.
But Komphela’s claim that the same referee, in Stars’ 4-1 loss to SuperSport United in Atteridgeville, “at one stage appeared as if he wanted to take the ball and throw it into the net” was the most hilarious.
Larsen’s sin, in Bloemfontein Celtic’s defeat to Mamelodi Sundowns, was to accuse Volgraaf of falling into the trap of favouring the “big three” after the referee had questionably sent off John Aruwah in that match. The Phunya Sele Sele coach went on to tell TV interviewers: “We did well out there considering we were 10 against 12.”
The PSL’s known kangaroo court, which masquerades as a disciplinary committee, reacted by serving letters to Komphela and Larsen, presumably urging them to withdraw their comments or face action. This week, the two duly appeared before the DC, and they and their teams were slapped with fines suspended for a year.
This may seem a lenient sentence, but in effect it means Komphela and Larsen must, even in the face of poor officiating, remain silent or run the risk of parting with up to R50 000.
Most absurdly, the two coaches were also ordered to write letters of apology to the referees. I can imagine Komphela, in his letter to Gomes, stating: “I’m so sorry I questioned why you’re referee of the season. You deserve that award and you’re actually the very best I’ve seen.”
Larsen, too, could say to Volgraaf: “That was a deserved sending-off for my player Aruwah. He committed a heinous crime. You did the right thing there. I fully apologise for stating otherwise.”
The point here is that ordering the coaches to apologise to the refs without scrutinising their initial protests is unfair. Granted, it has become customary for coaches to rebuke even legitimate referees’ decisions when things go wrong.
But in finding coaches guilty for their comments, it would be sensible if the PSL DC told us what their position is on the grievances raised by the coaches. And yes, I’m aware that the referees fall under the SA Football Association’s ambit. But the fact that they officiate in PSL games, are paid by the league and that it’s the league’s DC that raised issue with their criticism should mean the PSL could also offer a voice on their competence.
Punishing Komphela and Larsen and remaining silent on the refs is akin to a school governing body sanctioning a teacher who publicly complains about a drunkard principal, and no action being taken about the said principal.
We have heard of a referees’ review committee, but it rarely pronounces on any pressing matter, be it the officials’ competence or lack thereof.
As long as this situation continues, referees will continue to get away with poor performances because there are no repercussions for their wrongs.
Meanwhile, it’s not only Larsen and Komphela who must tread carefully. Other coaches will be cowered into silence when even a blatant refereeing error has been committed. They will be fearful of a trigger-happy DC that metes out one-sided justice, eager to punish coaches whose protestations supposedly bring the league into disrepute, but then say absolutely nothing to address the source of those grievances.
How, then, will the standard of our referees improve when they are legally protected from criticism, let alone scrutiny?
*Follow Matshe on Twitter @Nkareng