KPL chairman Bob Munro commended the referees in his opening statement on Friday morning to the KPL Match and Club Officials Seminar at the Stima Sports Club.
The seminar is the first in Kenyan football history to involve the top referees, team managers and coaches together and aims at raising professional standards, conduct and understanding among match and club officials.
The KPL chairman praised the referees for their "increasing professionalism, competence and fairness.”
He said: “This is not just my personal view, it is also supported by such objective facts over the last three years that there have been far fewer abandoned matches, far fewer attacks and complaints on referees and far fewer appeal cases.
“For example, we are already nearly two-thirds of the way through the 2008 season yet there has not been a single abandoned match, only one attack on a referee (which was severely penalised) and only four appeal cases in contrast with over 30 cases in the 2005/06 season. Moreover, none of the recent four cases involved a complaint against a referee."
While praising the referees and noting that it was "humanly impossible to make the right decision every time in every match", the KPL chairman also challenged the referees to improve in several key areas such as working more as a team during matches, judging offsides at the moment the ball is kicked, ensuring the ten yard rule is respected for all free kicks and penalising unsporting conduct such as time-wasting tactics.
On the recent public accusations by the Tusker coach after losing a crucial match to Mathare United that referees and KPL were favouring some other clubs, the KPL chairman noted that the Tusker coach "failed to point out that in the same match the referee had 'favoured' Mathare by red carding one of their players in the 68th minute which reduced Mathare to only ten players for the remaining 22 minutes of the match. Most clubs would prefer not to receive such favours."
The KPL chairman also noted that late in the 2007 season "KPL was repeatedly accused publicly of favouring Tusker FC by not penalising Tusker for fielding a player involved in a disputed transfer. If those points and goals had been deducted from Tusker, then Mathare United would have been the 2007 Premier League champions. However, Mathare United and other KPL clubs resisted those public pressures and upheld the rules which did not justify such a penalty and Tusker rightly became the 2007 champions with the most points earned on the field of play".
The KPL chairman emphasised that "this is only one among many examples of the commitment by KPL and the referees to ensure that the rules are applied firmly and fairly to all clubs equally. Instead of making unsubstantiated allegations of favouritism to the media, he urged coaches to act responsibly by presenting their evidence to the KPL which will then undertake a serious investigation".
He noted that the new KPL procedures on the selection and appointment of referees had largely ended any chances of favouritism. For example, "at the suggestion of FIFA the KPL match appointments are now made at a public draw in the presence of club officials. Even when a designated referee falls ill and cannot honour a match, the substitute is also assigned by a balloting system. Moreover, even if a referee was unwise and unprofessional enough to favour a particular team, then 15 clubs will ensure he is removed from the list of eligible referees."
As in other top professional leagues, all KPL clubs now submit their own detailed assessment of the referees within five working days after every match. Along with the assessment report of the Match Commissioners, these assessment reports by clubs are also used by KPL in periodically reviewing and grading the performance of all referees.
The KPL chairman also praised the greater discipline and fairplay among the KPL clubs and players. For example, "although the league is nearly entering the final third of the season, only seven players had to be red carded this year. That is only one red card in every 20 matches. On average, each club has also received only one yellow card per match. That is a huge improvement on earlier years when referees' arms were nearly as tired as their legs from having to flash so many cards in every match. More importantly, that greater fairplay has also reduced the number of injuries to players."
He then challenged the referees "to rise to the occasion in what is likely one of the most competitive Premier Leagues in Africa. Here we are", he noted, "already two-thirds of the way through the season yet only eight points separate the top five clubs … and the other eleven clubs are separated by only eight points as well. There is not a single KPL coach who can predict with confidence the outcome of any of their remaining 12-13 matches. Every match in the final third of this season will be hotly contested and will require you, the referees, to officiate at a high level as well".
In concluding he noted that the KPL clubs and players had helped lift Kenya from 137th in the FIFA World Rankings last year to the 91st position this year, a stunning jump of 46 places. After years in the doldrums, Tusker also demonstrated the renewed ascendancy and competitiveness of our clubs in the region by winning the recent CECAFA Clubs Championship. "Our clubs and players are now far more prominent internationally and we want you, the referees, to now join us at more African competitions next year and hopefully at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as well."