The headline in my RSS feed read “Ref Accepts Beatings To Serve Community”, and my first reaction was, “why is the Guardian’s Paul Doyle interested in Tim Donaghy? Alas, he’s actually writing about the obstacles faced by Ugandan soccer official Aziz Okware.
Ask Aziz Okware what it takes to make it as an referee in Uganda and his answer is instantaneous. “Above all you have to accept being beaten up,” he replies. “I have been beaten several times in matches. It starts when a player protests against a decision “ he will usually only shout at you but some of the fans will get violent. High school games are the worst because if they think you’ve got something wrong they can throw stones at you.”
Why, then, does this 26-year-old officiate? “For three reasons,” he says. “Firstly because I love football. Secondly because I want to serve my community. And also because if I make it to the Super League I might be able to earn a career.” Aziz says he has all the qualifications to officiate in the top flight but is not considered for selection by the national federation because he cannot afford to pay the UGX87,000 (just over £24) registration fee. Every week he thus misses out on a potential UGX30,000 (£8.34p) match fee, instead having to make do with “little pieces” from local games and the UGX15,000 (£4.17p) per day he and the other officials are being paid at the Katine tournament.