Five-year ban for offside goal, was Fufa too harsh on referees?

FOOTBALL | Five years for offside goal? What is Fufa smoking? That is too harsh! We have seen worse decisions that just awarding offside goal in football…

And so much more as many who follow local football weighed in on Fufa’s decision to hand down bans ranging between six months and five years to three match officials who took charge of the controversial 1-1 draw between Express FC and Vipers SC at Wankulukuku Stadium on Wednesday.

Fufa’s decision, 24 hours after after the match whose outcome everyone is convinced was decided by the men in black, sees second assistant referee Samuel Kakembo banned from performing refereeing services of all Fufa-organised and sanctioned competitions for five years, while centre referee Ronald Kirangwa will serve three years, and first assistant referee Lydia Wanyama handed a two-month ban.

Sendo Cleaners

It was in Kakembo’s half of the pitch with the clock running its course that Vipers were gifted an offside goal with the linesman in a good field of view of the incident but maintaining his flag by his side.

Fufa’s reaction has come rather swiftly in what a source at Mengo says was based on more than just the advice from advice of the Referees Disciplinary Panel and the FUFA Referees Standing Committee.

“The reputation of Uganda Premier League as at risk of being brought into disrepute by poor decisions and match fixing on the part of the officials,” said a source who preferred anonymity in order to speak freely.

“We are at a time when there is betting on our league matches, at time players and officials are being suspected of influencing outcomes of games in favour of betting companies, and of course there are other issues.”

The official wondered why some fans are calling the decision harsh when they have always bemoaned the quality of refereeing in the league.

Ironically, too, when Fufa handed Robert Donney a three-month suspension in 2015, many felt the punishment was too lenient considering the controversies he was involved in.

At the time, Donney was punished for dubious decisions in at least three games and although Kirangwa and Kakembo have not been on the spot for repeated controversial decisions, there is a near consensus that the fixture having involved Vipers SC called for a decision.

The punishment handed down to Kirangwa and Kakembo does not even compare to what Fifa handed Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey.

In a World Cup qualifier in November 2016, Lamptey saw a handball that no one else saw. He awarded South Africa a penalty and the Bafana Bafana went on to beat Senegal 2-1.

This was a decision not as atrocious as that of Kakembo considering how what happened at Wankulukuku was. A Senegalese defender had blocked a shot and the ball bounced from the ground and his his thigh with Lamptey adjudging it had hit his hand.

But Caf handed Lamptey a three-month ban after finding him guilty of “poor performance” in the match and “awarded a wrong penalty for handball despite the fact that the ball never touched the hand of the player.”

Months later, Fifa ordered a replay of the same match and banned Lamptey for life. Those who have watched both the Express-Vipers game and the South Africa-Senegal will tell you Lamptey’s decision was understandable.

Perhaps for his repeated offence, having earlier been banned for six months after awarding a non-existent goal in a Caf club match…

Cleaning up UPL

For almost two years, local soccer fans have decried what they saw as biased decisions mainly in favour of Vipers and sometimes against title contenders of the Kitende-based team.

Vipers won the league last season but not without several high profile incidents. Their match against KCCA that was their strongest challenger for the title was marred by controversy.

To make matters worse, KCCA fans accused referees of bias in matches involving other teams, saying the results they were denied favoured Vipers.

Not that Vipers are the only beneficiaries of dubious decisions but, ultimately, Fufa appears to have finally lost patience given that the reputation of the league is at stake.

Sponsors StarTimes, who signed a Shs27 billion ten-year agreement for title and broadcast rights, equally consider the reputation of the league an invaluable part of the game.

With live coverage such as was at Wankulukuku on Wednesday, StarTimes finds itself broadcasting controversies to millions of viewers and would be interested in finding if the mistakes are deliberate as allegations claim.

In May, Fufa moved to investigate match officials by instituting a commission of inquiry into match fixing. The commission was supposed to be done with its work by August but its report is yet to be released.

Two years ago, coach Sam Ssimbwa was banned for eight months after a tape in which he was confessing to paying off referees for match fixing was leaked. Ssimbwa was KCCA FC coach at the time but is now at URA.

But these are malaise that are not just coming up. These are cancers that have been with the league for as long as many can remember.

One would think the matter should have been decisively handled in 2003 when ‘Arrow Referees’ fed their families through blowing the whistle from their bank accounts.

Back then, a Villa-Express rivalry had seen the Jogoos pump 22 goals past Akol FC to ensure that they overturned the Red Eagles’ superior goal difference to win the league.

At the other end, Express FC, needing about five goals at Top TV, scored three in half time but an official from a rival club would then allegedly visit Top TV dressing room during the recess. The Born-Again side never returned for second half, meaning Express could not get the goals they wanted.

Of course, situations such as Kakembos and Kirangwas were manifesting at the time and authorities kept ignoring them. Fans would grumble but go on wishing the decisions went their way too.

Until Akol and Villa happened, and then the national league was left in a quandary.

Is Fufa too harsh or sending the right message to referees that the era of Akol and Top TV is long behind Uganda Premier League?

Should Fufa wait until its Fifa-badge holder is booted out of a South African hotel in the act of receiving a bribe to fix a match like it happened with a celebrated referee years ago?

There was a time a Ugandan referee was on the Fifa list for France98 World Cup finals, only to be disqualified five months to the tournament. Five months to that tournament, Africa Cup of Nations took place in Burkina Faso and South Africa’s dubious road to the final proved to be the bed of thorns for the Ugandan official who had helped them see off DR Congo in the semi-final.

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