Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Sports Reporter
DAYS after news emerged that top Zimbabwean referee, Norman Matemera, upheld his integrity when he rejected a $10 000 bribe while on continental duty, eyes will definitely be on the local match officials, especially in the blockbuster encounter between Ngezi Platinum Stars and Highlanders at Baobab Stadium on Saturday.
Matemera raised a red flag after an attempt by Equatorial Guinea outfit Desportivo Niefang to get him to influence the result of their decisive Caf Confederation Cup play-off tie against Cote d’Ivoire’s Williamsville Athletic Club last Wednesday which the hosts won 2-1, but still bowed out 3-2 on aggregate after having fallen 2-0 in the first leg in Cote d’Ivoire.
There was drama on the eve of the match, as Desportivo Niefang officials, working in cahoots with Togolose match commissioner Lawson Mahuwe as their emissary, tried to offer Matemera and his assistants Brighton Nyika, Salani Ncube and Pilan Ncube a cash bribe of $10 000 to ensure the Equatorial Guinea side won the match to advance to the group stage of the competition.
Matemera, however, resisted those attempts and instead reported the incident to Caf.
His professional conduct has put the focus on Zimbabwean referees’ integrity in the domestic game and that focus wouldn’t have come at an opportune time than when two of the country’s red hot sides come face-to-face on Saturday.
“Like the boss (Gladmore Muzambi) said that we must always uphold integrity which entails recognising, resisting and reporting any attempts of match manipulation. Big encounters such as the Saturday one are usually tainted by some of us who get overwhelmed either by being manipulated or sheer incompetence on such big occasions and in the process spoil such matches,” said a referee, who requested anonymity.
The referee said whoever is tasked to handle the Baobab encounter should know that the whole of Africa and the world at large will be following given the fact that Fifa itself takes seriously the issue of match manipulation.
He said it has been proven on the local scene that fans’ after match skirmishes are in most cases triggered by biased or poor officiating.
“If you remember sometime back, Moses Chunga’s Dynamos Kidznet came to Barbourfields and against all odds posted a positive result against a star-studded Highlanders but there was never any crowd trouble at all. The fans accepted the result because the team lost fairly. It is therefore my sincere hope and prayer that the officials will let the best team win at Baobab Stadium come Saturday,” said the referee.
The encounter is expected to witness one of the biggest crowds at Baobab Stadium since the promotion of Ngezi Platinum as a number of Highlanders’ supporters from across the country are expected to follow their ECD players who are on a winning streak.
Ngezi Platinum Stars have, however, declared their intentions to defend their unbeaten home record that has seen them going for 2 441 minutes without a loss.
Saturday: Mutare City Rovers v FC Platinum (Vengere), Black Rhinos v Bulawayo Chiefs (Rufaro), Herentals v Harare City (NSS), Nichrut v Caps United (Ascot), Chicken Inn v Yadah (Luveve), Ngezi Platinum Stars v Highlanders (Baobab), Shabanie Mine v ZPC Kariba (Maglas)
Sunday: Dynamos v Bulawayo City (Rufaro), Triangle United v Chapungu (Gibbo)