By Mark Baber
September 13 – The Libyan Football Federation has reportedly demanded that FIFA order and replay of their World Cup qualifier against Tunisia as the Kenyan referee who officiated the game is married to a Tunisian woman.
According to a report in the English-language Libya Observer, “The Libyan Football Federation lodged a request to the sports court of the FIFA asking for a rematch with the Tunisian team as part of the second round of the World Cup qualifiers, as the Kenyan referee was proved to be married to a Tunisian woman and is living in there.”
The refereeing of the match, held on 11 November 2016, was controversial, with an early Libyan goal being wrongly disallowed for off-side, the Libyan captain being sent off early in the second half and the Tunisians scoring the winner from the penalty spot. Libya’s coach, Jalal Damja blamed the loss on “poor officiating.”
Both the referee, Davies Omweno (who is considered the best referee in Kenya) and his assistant Berhe O’Michael from Eritrea, were handed three-month suspensions by CAF following the match. The CAF referees committee cited poor performance, wrong positioning and movement, incorrect identification of fouls and failure to administer some disciplinary sanctions as the reasons for Omweno’s suspension. O’Michael was found guilty of poor performance in identifying offside decisions including one that denied Libya a valid goal.
In the aftermath, Omweno received less than fulsome support from Kenyan referees chief GMT Ottieno who said it is always a difficult assignment for Kenyan referees in the ‘Arab world’ and that “If Omweno is guilty of the said offences, then he only has himself to blame.”
In defence of Omweno, Ottieno added, “However, it is always good to understand that officiating in the Arab world is so tempting in terms of bribes and if one fails to accept them, life will never be the same.”
Referee bias towards players of one’s own nationality has been well documented by research into UEFA Champions League football where it has been found players officiated by a referee of the same nationality receive a 10% uplift in beneficial foul calls. This percentage rises for national team players and in the later stages of a tournament. However, there has been no research done on the influence of referee’s wives. Commonsense indicates that the degree of influence would be dependent on the state of the marital relationship, and it is obviously possible to imagine circumstances in which the wife could exert a decisive influence.
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