JOHANNESBURG – It’s time Africa embraces technology.
Cheating is now disguised as human error, and South Africans know all too well the ripple effect given that Bafana Bafana now have to replay Senegal in a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier they won nearly a year ago.
There was another spate of diabolical decisions from referees at the weekend during a whole host of matches, as several African countries contested for a place at next year’s global soccer showpiece scheduled to take place in Russia.
Perhaps two of the most talked about incidents were ones that, unfortunately, involved South Africa yet again.
In the game between Uganda and Ghana at the Mandela National Stadium in Kampala, Daniel Bennett, one of the PSL’s top referees, almost didn’t make it out of the venue, having denied the Black Stars a win by disallowing a goal in either half on Saturday.
Ghana would have still fallen short of keeping their hopes of reaching the World Cup alive after Egypt beat Congo a day later to become the second African team to book their ticket to Russia.
But the Ghana FA felt that they were robbed and have boldly asked Fifa for a replay.
Bennett had relied on his assistants Eldrick Adelaide and Steve Marie to help him make the right calls, especially when players are adjudged to be offside.
They failed him – incorrectly flagging for one in the first half and again in stoppage time.
These blunders have highlighted the need for the continent’s football governing body Caf to consider technology, like the newly-developed video assistant referee (VAR) system, which was first tested on the global stage during the Under-20 World Cup in South Korea as well as at the Fifa Confederations Cup in Russia earlier this year.
It was criticised and applauded at the same time because those who were annoyed by it probably didn’t understand and felt it took something away from the game.
Those in favour understood that this was one way to improve the beautiful game.
Recently, goal-line technology has also been introduced and its impact has been fairly visible – sometimes this being at the centre of deciding whether a team wins or loses.
A day before Ghana officials bayed for Bennett’s blood in Kampala, Bongani Zungu was sent off during Bafana’s game against Burkina Faso at FNB Stadium after a brawl broke out around the hour mark.
While the decision to give the midfielder his marching orders by referee Sidi Alioum from Cameroon was spot on, there should have been at least two more players who suffered the same fate and gone for an early shower.
The use of the VAR system would have aided Alioum to punish the other culprits, not just Zungu, who now faces the possibility of missing both of Bafana’s qualifiers against Senegal next month due to “violent conduct”.
This new technology has been set up to review some of the following: goals and whether there was a violation during the build-up, penalty decisions, red-card decisions and mistaken identity when issuing these cards.
There’s no mention of the Joseph Lamptey (the match official who has been banned for life by Fifa for allegedly manipulating the Bafana versus Senegal game) case in this column simply because nearly a year later, there have been countless similar controversial decisions during the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on the continent.
It’s now no longer human error, but blatant cheating in some of these matches, and Caf needs to avoid regressing back into the dark ages by embracing technology.