How COSAFA will bring through the next generation of match offcials

It will be another busy year for match officials from the COSAFA region, not just because of the competitions taking place in the region, but also the likes of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where Southern Africa will be well-represented.

COSAFA Referee’s Manager Felix Tangawarima highlights what is ahead and how they will use the various tournaments to develop the next generation of top referees in the region, starting with the Hollywoodbets COSAFA Cup that will be staged in Durban from July 5-17.

COSAFA: What have you been up to in the last few months in terms of providing training to match officials?
Felix Tangawarima: Development of referees, without the development of the people who develop the referees, will not help you at all.

Every year we have FIFA courses, but there is a limit to the number who can attend these, and we found that we had a number of instructors in our region who would be missing out.

So what we did as COSAFA was to request from FIFA an additional course where we selected two instructors from every one of our member associations – except the French-speaking Comoros and Madagascar – and had a five-day high-level course for instructors.

Development is a process and we wanted to bring some newly retired referees into the system to help others. We had 28 instructors and it was very successful. We are not able to be in every national association every day, but if we develop these instructors they can be there on a daily basis and it will help us all achieve our goals.

It seems COSAFA continually churns out top match officials …
We have been ranked number one in Africa as a zone in terms of the development of referees.

You can see on the ground that, for example, the [2021] Afcon final was taken by COSAFA referees, as was the finals of the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup this season.

All of these were officiated by COSAFA referees. This is the first time it has happened, so we can see the results of our development plan that has been laid down for some years now.

COSAFA is the only zone in Africa that is taking two ‘trios’ of match officials to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Out of the 16 match officials that are going to the World Cup from the continent, COSAFA is providing six. That is an amazing compliment to us.

But I guess you also have to build for the next generation …
Absolutely. We need to look at the ages of our current officials. At the end of the year I will lose up to five of my top referees, some through age. Joshua Bondo is going to retire, as well as Bernard Camille. I think Janny Sikazwe will possibly retire.

I am not sure of Victor Gomes if he goes to the World Cup, he may retire, but we will still be able to use him in other areas. If all of these referees go, I will be left with a vacuum and I will have to close the gap.

What are the plans for this year’s Hollywoodbets COSAFA Cup?
For this year’s COSAFA Cup we have brough in new referees, and by that I mean referees that we have been using in our junior tournaments.

All of the referees will be at this level for the first time because we need to bring them through quickly and give them this experience. We need to bring the new blood into the system.

We believe in them, we train them well, I believe we can push them into the junior tournaments of CAF after this COSAFA Cup and when we do that, I think it is going to be a great thing for their development.

What about female referees?
We also have two very important competitions for our women. With our COSAFA Women’s Championship we will have a number of our top female referees who are preparing for the FIFA Women’s World Cup [in 2023].

So we are using this tournament to prepare our best referees. We are also developing some referees who previously officiated at Under-17 level and we are going to use them for the COSAFA Women’s Champions League tournament.

It must be gratifying to see the hard work that is put into developing match officials in the COSAFA region is bearing fruit?
All the COSAFA referees who have done so well for Africa in the last few years are products of our Under-17 competition, that is where they started. That is the tournament where we use referees that are not yet on FIFA.

The referees in our zone listen to instructions. The first day they come I tell them in no uncertain terms, ‘if you are here for money, unfortunately this is not the platform for you. We need people we can develop’. They embrace that concept of development.