There is no gain in saying that African football has come a long way, and the improvement in the quality of football displayed by African teams in global competitions, both male and female, is a testament to this fact.
The performance of the African teams on the pitch is fairly highlighted by the media and sports pundits, but what is often left out completely by the media is the absence of African officials such as VARs (Video Assistant Referees), and commentators at these tournaments.
This is absurd because, in recent times, there has been a push for inclusivity on the gender front, but this has not trickled down to diversity and inclusion of other continents as it currently looks like an all-European and South American affair.
FIFA is a global body, and this is important to state because the global nature of the body requires that all members must have a sense of representation and inclusion of everyone, at least, that should be the goal.
Obvious improvements have been made as regards inclusion in the area of referees and their assistants as FIFA’s recent tournaments, in 2022 and 2023 have seen an increased level of representation in this area.
But a lot of work still remains to be done, for instance the last edition of the FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar in 2022 had only two video assistant referees (VAR) from Africa, and they were both from Morocco, which was the least represented in the list, while Europe could boast of 11 VARs, even North America had more representation.
Similarly, the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, had only one VAR from Africa on the list.
FIFA executives were quizzed about this recently and the response was along the lines of “We select the best officials for our tournaments”.
While I am not against this, I must state that this is a very disappointing response. Let’s be clear, in search for inclusivity, we must not throw away quality, experience, and technical know-how. For instance, if one is looking for the best 10 engineers in a country like Nigeria and in most countries to be honest, the proportion of male-to-female engineers will make it highly unlikely for a female to make the list.
However, FIFA as a global body must take steps to improve the quality of VARs in areas with lower quality by organizing training and retraining rather than resting on their loreals and making cheap statements like “we select based on quality”.
In all of this, (the governing body for African football) must not be left out as they are accountable directly for the quality of African officials as well as leagues and facilities. The Confederation of African Football must live up to its responsibility and come up with initiatives that will turn the tides in favour of African football.