The 2019 COSAFA Cup will provide a platform for not just players and coaches to shine, but also the match officials who participate in the competition to be staged in Durban from May 25-June 8.
The value of the experience gained by match officials can be seen in recent appointments for COSAFA referees, who are excelling on the continental and global stage.
Three of the four referees that will blow this season’s CAF Champions League semi-finals are from Southern Africa and all have a rich history with the COSAFA Cup, having cut their teeth in the competition.
Joshua Bondo (Botswana) will be in the middle when Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca host Mamelodi Sundowns from South Africa on Saturday, while Hélder Martins de Carvalho (Angola) will take charge of the return fixture on May 4.
Victor Gomes (South Africa) will be in the middle for what is likely to be a highly-charged second leg between TP Mazembe from DR Congo and holders Esperance of Tunisia in Lubumbashi, also on May 4. Janny Sikazwe (Zambia) was also in charge of the quarter-final second leg in Lubumbashi in the last round.
Martins is the perfect example of a referee who has been groomed through COSAFA tournaments and is now at the top of his craft.
“I was given the 2009 COSAFA Cup final, which was quite a surprise as I was a young referee, but it was a great experience for me,” Martins said.
“No-one knew me, I was very young at that time. I think people were a little bit scared about how I would perform. Me also, I was very, very scared, it was a big challenge. But it went well – and it remains probably my best memory as a referee.
“The following year there was the African Under-17 Championships and I did the final of that as well. After that I was promoted for the Under-17 World Cup in Mexico, two matches. I have moved up from there.”
Martins says he has no doubt that some of Africa’s leading match officials – male and female – are coming out of the COSAFA region. “COSAFA is doing a great job developing new referees. Every year we see new talents in the Under-17 and Under-20 tournaments, and also, we have three or four new referees in the seniors,” he said.
“I believe COSAFA is producing the best referees on the continent. We know the other referees from other regions as we see them at major tournaments. But in terms of quality and quantity of referees, COSAFA is doing a great job and better than other regions.”
Martins, Gomes, Bondo, Sikazwe, Jackson Pavaza (Namibia) and Bernard Camille (Seychelles) are referees who have been chosen by the Confederation of African Football to attend a preparatory course ahead of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, while a further six assistant referees from the region will also attend.
It is a healthy selection from the region and another sign of the value placed on COSAFA match officials.
But it is not just in the male game where COSAFA match officials are prized. Gladys Lengwe (Zambia) will officiate at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France in June-July, while Bernadettar Kwimbira (Malawi), Lidwine Rakotozafinoro (Madagascar) and Queency Victoire (Mauritius) will act as assistant referees.
Three of the four African picks to run the lines were from the COSAFA region. Added to that, Jerome Damon, the hugely-respected former South African referee, has recently been appointed as FIFA’s Referee Development Officer for Africa.
Damon has already emerged as the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) training guru for Africa and headed several seminars on the new technology for referees from around the continent.
Much of this has been possible under the watchful and expert eye of COSAFA Referees’ Manager, Felix Tangawarima, who is also a member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Referees Committee and a FIFA technical instructor.
“One of COSAFA’s strong objectives is development. As a region, we are very proud that the long-term referee development programme has been yielding very positive results year in (and) year out,” Tangawarima said.