POSITION: Female footbal Referee
The worst part about being strong is that no one ever asks if you are okay.
Such is the life story of 25 year old football female referee Elizabeth Kamati.
Kamati is one of the few females if not only active female referee in Namibia.
She has been either on the centre of the park or as a lines-lady for the past eight years and for football fans and authorities in the Kavango Region; she remains a sign of defiance and strength.
“I only officiate second division football ever since I dropped off school and started playing football. I have tried to ask if people in Windhoek can acknowledge me by giving me tougher assignments or better challenges in the game but no one cares,” she said on the sidelines of the Kavango Regional Under 20 soccer tournament.
Sixteen matches were played over the weekend at Rundu Sports Stadium as the region sought to select the best players for this year’s Newspaper Cup competition.
Of those games, she officiated in 13 of them in three consecutive days, beginning Saturday.
She has a unique gift, spotting close calls of the often confused off-trap, controls the game with such authority and rarely do fans dispute her calls.
Watching her in action, darting along the touch-line in the energy sapping heat of Rundu where temperatures soared to 32 degrees on Saturday by 11am, leaves more questions than answers.
“Yes I have kids - two of them. Why should I be with them at home? You are here. You left your kids at home also because you are working. This is my job. I have been doing this since I was 15,” she says.
But the difference between myself and Kamati is that she does not get paid for her job, and even by Sunday morning, she had no clue whether she would get ‘something’ or not from the tournament.
“If it comes, we will share with the other colleagues. If it does not, I will go home with my pride,” she tells me.
Kamati played football back in the days of the now defunct Sunshine Women’s Football Club in Rundu.
She is the only one remaining in football while the rest have either married, swallowed by the night life of the city or passed on, giving in to lack of recognition of female football in the regions.
During her hey days, she was a defender, feared and combative. They still call her Gerros, after former Brave Warriors defensive hardman, Gerros Uri-khob and it is from that strength that she finds hope for the game she loves, but also the same strength that she suffers because no one asks if she is OK or not.
“I was told that if I have to compete and officiate in the top flight leagues, I must pass the Cooper Test. But I struggle with the Cooper Test because they set the same targets and standards that male referees must reach.
“I am a woman but I must pass with the same marks as men. It’s not even like that in tennis or athletics. Men have their own targets and women have their own targets even to qualify for the Olympics,” she said.
The ability to withstand being booed, called names or mocked when she made mistakes over the years by male supporters and footballers alike, has made her even stronger and bullish, but still those marks of femininity are visible in her forced smiles.
The last she attended a referees’ training course was in 2009 and she feels she no longer needs to do so because no one in Windhoek recognises her efforts.
“Only the people here know what I am doing and what I am capable of doing. The NFA (Namibia Football Association (Women’s Desk) once assigned me to handle the match between the Namibia women’s national team and Botswana’s women’s team. That was the last. That time I had not even attended many courses and they were impressed by what I can do. Give me any cup final or league today, I will show you without fear or favour that this is an in-born thing. I know I cannot run the Cooper Test because it is set in favour of men, but I can tell you that I can run 13 rounds in 30 minutes,” says Gerros.
The Fifa Cooper Test is a tough physical endurance exercise which has grounded many referees in the world, both upcoming and established.
Referees should do an individual 40m run six times in the first round after which they qualify for the 300m run and the 100m walk 12 times. Two Nigerian referees died recently during a Cooper Test.
According to Fifa, female referees are supposed to complete the 2400m run in 12 minutes without walking, do a 50m sprint in nine seconds, then another 200m sprint in 40seconds, followed by a 50m sprint in nine seconds again and repeat the 200m sprint in 40seconds.
‘Gerros’ says she has never been tested on any of these but has to contend with men always.
“I know two female footballers from Unam who have completed the refereeing course with me but I don’t think they concentrated on the officiating since they are still active footballers in the Khomas Women’s league,” she says.
For someone who was hesitant to reveal her real name before the interview, as we part, ‘Gerros’ extends her hand and holds mine firmly, “Please go and tell the Absolom, Shaya and Bennet that I want some action. They are part of the referees’ committee. I cannot rot in second division. If they don’t listen, ask those people of the Newspaper Cup.”