PSL referees in the spotlight more than ever
A coach complaining about referees is as old as time, but this season there appears to be more anguish than ever in South Africa's Premier Soccer League over the standard of the officiating.
A number of match officials have already been sanctioned this season by the South African Football Association (SAFA), who are responsible for the training and the administration of the men in the middle and on the sidelines.
But it has been a huge talking point that threatens the integrity of the league, and just this past weekend led to Cape Town City coach Benni McCarthy raging in an expletive-filled rant after his side's 2-2 draw at Golden Arrows.
"Do you guys want my honest opinion about why there have been a lot of draws [this season]? It has been because of bad refereeing. That's what is causing us to draw," McCarthy told reporters.
"The referee is telling my players to f*** off, and we must say the referees are good? That's what is causing the problem because if we had good officials, we will have matches that are fair. Teams will run away with games.
"Most referees keep teams in the game. We don't have officials who are taking care of the game because they are worried about their own egos, and as coaches and players it is frustrating standing on the side. We see it happening week-in and week-out.
"Every game it is the same thing, and we as coaches must bite our tongue and keep quiet because if you don't, you get fined or suspended. That's what is causing the league to draw so many games.
"We don't have the best officials. Our referees need to be f***ing better man."
While other coaches have perhaps been more toned down in their criticism, it has largely been a universal narrative through the league this campaign.
There have been a number of new appointees to the top-flight this season who do not have the experience of more seasoned match officials, but Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane says even those who have been in the game long are also at an unacceptable standard.
"All these things, they create problems‚"Mosimane said in October after a 2-1 loss to AmaZulu. "When a younger referee makes a mistake, everybody goes to him because he is a soft target and they take him out.
"I told you last time against Kaizer Chiefs that no-one touches the big boys and it is sad. We lose jobs‚ people get angry‚ our supporters get agitated, but what can you do? We just have to keep playing because we don't have another alternative.
"You write a letter and then what‚ do you think a person will raise his hand to apologise and say I have made a mistake? Never. Do you think I will sleep at night after something like this‚ but the officials will sleep with a smile on their face because nothing is going to happen.
Polokwane City coach Bernard Molekwa gave an emotional post-match interview after a loss to Cape Town City after a particularly shambolic display from rookie referee Cedrick Muvhali, who has since been dropped from the top-flight panel.
"They [referees] are not aware that these kinds of decisions cost the coach his job," Molekwa said. "He [Muvhali] will be going home smiling. He will be feeding his kids or his family and I will be losing my job.
"It's not good. If I lose fairly and lose my job I would go to the mirror and say 'It's fine, I failed.' But if someone decides it for you that is not good at all."
Kaizer Chiefs coach Steve Komphela went so far as to say last year that SAFA should look to bring in referees from neighbouring countries to improve the standard in the middle.
"If all stakeholders, all of us, understand the importance of football and all of us are footballing people, we would always strive to elevate the game and never try to relegate the game," he said.
"None of us are likely to be above the game. I am saying this that maybe it's time, at a stage where maybe we would need to go across borders and get people who would help us with [officiating] matches. The day we do that we would elevate the game in South Africa.
"We don't want anything special, just do what's required. If we have to go to Botswana, Swaziland, Uganda or Gabon - my Lord we would appreciate that."
SAFA CEO Dennis Mumble has cautioned coaches that they should not make a "circus" of the situation though, and says the organisation will deal with under-performing match officials.
"I must caution that there's only so far we can go with coaches publicly castigating referees. I'm not going to allow that to continue," Mumble told Daily Sun. "Of course, if there are clear disciplinary violations, clearly there will be sanctions. But we must not make a circus out of it.
"Everything that goes wrong in the match, we complain about the referees. We have to protect our referees and their dignity on the field of play. This is such an emotive environment. It can't just constantly be a referee's fault.
"But having said that, we are making sure our referees perform at the highest level, both from the review and referees' technical stand-points."
Mumble adds that a review committee sits every week to discuss referee issues.
"If they need to say something, they must say it directly to us. It's not like we don't act on referees if they make mistakes," Mumble added.
"If they do make mistakes there are review sittings every week. Provided videos are received on time from the league, they review those matches.
"On the other hand the referee technical committee must also intervene to make sure officials get back on board with some intervention on the technical side."
The South African referees on the FIFA panel were announced this week and includes Daniel Bennett, Victor Gomes, Chris Harrison, Victor Hlungwani, and Thando Ndzandzeka, though Kulasande Qongqo was removed for poor performance and administration.
Two assistant referees, Peter Chauke and Stevens Khumalo, have also dropped off the panel as they face an investigation over match manipulation in the South African third-tier play-offs at the end of last season.