The resilience and challenges of referees officiating Masaza Cup

Masaza Cup action | Courtesy Image

FOOTBALL The resilience and challenges of referees officiating Masaza Cup

George Nkurunziza • 15:56 - 23.09.2023

The tournament once a year has laid a stage for amateur players who ply their trade at the lowest level of Uganda’s football 3rd division and lower to non-league.

Eleven years after the restoration of the realm that was abolished by then-former president Apollo Milton Obote (RIP) in the 1966 internal war, a rebirth of a football competition harbouring great talents, from players to coaches.

The Masaza Cup tournament, since its rejuvenation, has always been one of the most talked-about tournaments, even by newborns, because of the heat and steam it oozes during the middle of the year.

Look at the most critical branch of the prestigious tournament, the refereeing department, the men in black, just like a soldier who leaves for the battlefield. That relates to how a referee goes for a mere Masaza Cup match.

The journey is tempting with all the fair allowances involved, which is way better off and higher than a top-tier local match between Express vs. Vipers or between the VEK caucus.

It is a journey of ecstasy for the spectators, sponsors, players, and organisers. To the men in black, it’s like crossing Morocco to Spain using a canoe or passing through the great Amazon forest on a stormy day.

Any match in a Masaza Cup, to a referee, means you are on high alert 24/7 than the Israeli’s Iron Dome.

With this missile defence being just 90% accurate, any match in Masaza calls for 200% alertness, which only God and His son can be.

A Masaza Cup match ending in peace without a referee being accused of being partial or fans wanting to lynch a referee would be a miracle, like that of Sarah and Abraham in the Bible when they gave birth to Isaac at 90 years.

However much FUFA tries to give the Masaza Cup by giving it the very best of their arsenal, the ungrateful and ruthless fans will still want to at least either stone or bury the brave men and women who put their lives on the line to serve the beautiful game of football.

To the organisers worldwide, the adaptation of the word ‘twagala guwedde, loosely meaning ‘we want when the game has ended,’ this may sound selfish, but that is the fact.

For a referee to live the next day when the game has not ended, instead for the game to end when they are limping or stained in blood.

This may sound like a movie or comedy. Still, almost all the great men in black in this country have tasted the furnace of Helly Masaza Cup, either with a stone, tear gas, hid in a pig stall yet Muslim, or a male referee dressing like a female student in a school to survive the angry mob.

Year after year, 10 out of 25-plus tournament matches do not end or end in chaos. In the 2022/23 season, a game did not end. One in Buvuma did not end. Buddu Ssingo ended in tear gas.

A semifinal between Bulemezi and Buddu ended in the loss of property and injury, where referees were beaten badly but only compensated verbally.

One would wish that at least some of the monetary fines imposed on the teams be pushed towards referees' medical bills, but all is swept beneath the carpet.

This year, it has been the same song but in bass, and high metal coffins having names of match officials have been seen carried.

Graveyards dug beside the pitch where these matches have been played, but no official document from the organisers has ever been issued condemning such barbaric acts.

Yes, the FA, since 2016, has taken over the appointment of match officials. Still, it is more prudent for it to fully take over the organisation of this prestigious Masaza Cup competition in terms of handling unbecoming behaviours and hooliganism.

The author is a retired FUFA referee