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African Refs Ready for Qatar World Cup Action

Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga
Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga

JOHANNESBURG — FIFA says it’s appointed match officials “strictly on merit,” and it’s difficult to argue with that when studying the resumes of Africa’s referees.

Zambia’s Janny Sikazwe, for example, officiated the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup final between Real Madrid and Japanese hosts, Kashima Antlers. He took charge of the 2017 African Cup of Nations, or AFCON, final between Cameroon and Egypt, before blowing his whistle at the 2018 World Cup tournament in Russia.

Then there’s Mustapha Ghorbal of Algeria, who had the unenviable task of being in the middle of the 2020 African Champions League final between Cairo’s bitter rivals, Al Ahly and Zamalek.

South African Victor Gomes is considered one of the continent’s leading referees, and was in charge of the 2021 AFCON final between Egypt and Senegal.

Gomes made international sportscasts after telling Egyptian superstar striker Mo Salah to “stop whining like a baby,” before sarcastically offering him his whistle.

Gomes says if players give him “stick,” he throws it right back.

“Players also need to take responsibility, not only the referee. We’re only reactive to what’s happening from the players.,” Gomes told VOA.

World Cup History

Rwanda’s Salima Mukansanga joins the list of African match officials in Qatar this year.

She became the first woman to referee a Cup of Nations game, and will make history alongside Stephanie Frappart of France and Yoshimi Yamashita of Japan as the first women to officiate at the men's World Cup.

Mukansanga said the female referees have been chosen not simply based on their gender but because they deserve the chance.

"We are here because we deserve to be here. Back at our confederation, or back at home it is another level, so this is the biggest level of football," Mukansanga said.

"So being here means we deserve to be here, it's not a change or because we are women."

FIFA referees chief Pierluigi Collina said the three women referees who will make history at the tournament would be treated as equals in Qatar.

"For us, they are referees, they are match officials. This is the message I gave them. 'You are here not because you are women, you are here because you are FIFA match officials,’”Collina said on Friday speaking to reporters.

Referees Bakary Gassama of Gambia and Maguette Ndiaye Senegal will also hit the pitch and officiate matches during the 2022 World Cup.

A FIFA panel will evaluate match officials after every group-stage game. Those who score highest will get to handle contests in the round of 16.

Darren Taylor contributed to this report. Some information came from Agence France-Presse and Reuters.