SA refereeing has regressed – Hlungwani

Retired Fifa referee Victor Hlungwani has raised concerns about the thin representation of South African officials at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Ivory Coast, saying the deterioration of SA’s refereeing is alarming.

Apart from Bafana Bafana, referee Abongile Tom will be the only on-field match official that will be flying the South African flag in Ivory Coast.

Akhona Makalima will also be representing SA at the Afcon, but she will only officiate in the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) booth.

Hlungwani, a seasoned referee during his 20-year-long career with the whistle and now well-respected football analyst on refereeing matters, said having Tom as the only South African referee at the Afcon could be a consequence of recent poor officiating in the PSL.

Speaking to the Sunday World, Hlungwani went as far as suggesting he doubts that SA will have any representation at the upcoming 2026 Fifa World Cup.

“The fact that we have only Tom as the only on-field official at the Afcon, the biggest competition in Africa, should be a major concern for us as a country.

“It’s true that the performance of our officials in the PSL has not been good enough in recent years and the referees need to do better. So, it is imperative that Safa and the PSL move with time, not only to improve our referees, but to improve our entire football because football is constantly evolving.”

Zakhele Siwela, who is arguably the best assistant referee on the continent, was overlooked by CAF in its final list of match officials. The decision has irked Hlungwani: “Zakhele is a top CAF official who has officiated at more than three Afcons and was officiating with Victor Gomes in the final of the last Afcon.

“Maybe this is a question Victor [Gomes] must answer as he is the head of our referees and is likely to know how CAF reached their decision.”

Abdul Ebrahim, Safa head of department for referees, said: “As an association we are obviously disappointed to not have Zakhele at the Afcon, but we are not upset. What is more important for us is the appointment of Makalima as a VAR official. Having her representing us is massive.”

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