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Challenging the Stereotype: Malawi’s Female Football Referee Shines on Male-dominated Field

In 2013, Kwimbiri-Mzika scooped up the best referee accolade for the Confederation of African Football Elite ‘A' Referees course for males and females, held in Egypt

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Kwimbira-Mzika says that being in a male dominated profession she endures insults from soccer fans very time she goes on field. Image Courtsey:VOA
  • Kwimbira-Mzika’s became the first Malawian female referee to officiate at the Olympics in the Rio 2016 Olympics
  • She was voted the best assistant referee for Malawi’s top-level Super League last year
  • She says in a country where soccer officiating is dominated by men, she endures insults from soccer fans every time she steps on the field

In Malawi, a female football referee has been blazing new ground by officiating at major international contests, such as the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Bernadette Kwimbira-Mzika’s passion for refereeing started when she first attended football matches after joining the Malawian Army as a soldier 16 years ago.

“At that time, the only thing I knew about football was the offside thing,” she said, “when the assistant referee raises a flag and another referee blows a whistle and puts his arm up pointing other direction of the field. I was much interested in what the referees were doing.”

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A mother of two, Kwimbira-Mzika had to attend a refereeing course for beginners, where she earned a Grade 3 refereeing certificate.Now 35 years old and a secretary at the University of Malawi, Kwimbira-Mzika has been officiating matches for 14 years and has risen to the top of her field at both the local and international levels.

This year, Kwimbiri-Mzika became the first Malawian female referee to officiate at the Olympics. Last year, she became the first Malawian to referee at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, held in Canada.

Also last year, she was voted the best assistant referee for Malawi’s top-level Super League.

In 2013, Kwimbiri-Mzika scooped up a best referee accolade for the Confederation of African Football Elite ‘A’ Referees course for males and females, held in Egypt.

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“Of course I wanted to get far with football officiation,” she said. “But to be honest with you, there was not a single day I imagined myself officiating at the world’s biggest football events like the World Cup and the Olympics.”

She owes her success to her adherence to the rules of the game.

“As a good referee, you do not have to pretend as if you have not seen something when you have clearly seen it or [you do not have to] make your own rules,” Kwimbiri-Mzika said. “Where it requires a yellow card, you have to caution that player. Where it requires a send-off, you have to show that player a red card.”

She says that, as a female football referee in a country where soccer officiating is dominated by men, she endures insults from soccer fans every time she steps on the field.”I do not give it a damn,” she says in response.

Madalitso Phiri, a sports editor at privately-owned Capital radio, says he has long followed Kwimbira-Mzika’s officiating.

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“I cannot remember any games that have ended in any kind of controversy,” he said, “so this speaks volumes that this lady knows what she does.”

Kwimbira-Mzika says it is her wish to maintain her reputation as a good referee until she retires, probably in about five years. (VOA)

Next Story

2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to be Postponed Due to Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus Forces Delay of 2020 Olympics

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A man wearing protective face mask, following the outbreak of the coronavirus, looks at his mobile phone next to The Olympic rings in front of the Japan Olympics Museum in Tokyo, Japan. VOA

The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will be postponed until next year because of the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Tuesday.

Although the International Olympic Committee had said it would spend up to a month debating the matter, the decision to postpone became inevitable after several countries said they would not send athletes if the Games were held this summer.

“The IOC president and the prime minister of Japan have concluded that the Games must be rescheduled to a date beyond 2020, but not later that summer 2021 to safeguard the health of the athletes, everybody involved in the Olympic Games, and the international community,” the IOC and the Japanese organizing committee said in a joint statement Tuesday.

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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talks to the journalists in front of the prime minister’s residence in Tokyo. VOA

Both committees say they made their decision after consulting with the World Health Organization. Abe and the IOC had said that canceling the Games had always been out of the question.

“The Olympic Games in Tokyo could stand as a beacon of hope to the world during these troubled times that the Olympic flame could become the light at the end of the tunnel in which the world finds itself at present,” the IOC said.

Abe told reporters in Tokyo that when the Games finally gets under way, it will prove that “humanity had beat the coronavirus.”

The Summer Games were to have opened July 24.

Team USA, which represents triathlon and duathlon Olympic contenders, tweeted its thanks to the Tokyo organizers for what it says is “all you have done for a great Olympic and Paralympic Games. We wish you all the best as you keep your communities safe and offer our cooperation and support as you prepare to host the world.”

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A man takes pictures of the Olympic Flame during a ceremony in Fukushima City, Japan. VOA

The Olympics have been canceled three times since the modern Games began in 1896. They were scrapped in 1916 during World War I and in 1940 and 1944 during World War II.

The Games have been boycotted, propagandized by Nazi Germany, and attacked by terrorists, but have never before been postponed.

Japanese organizers said Tuesday they are also postponing the Olympic torch relay that was supposed to start Thursday.

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The flame arrived in Japan from its traditional lighting in Greece on March 12. It was supposed to have traveled around Japan, to be used to light the flame at the opening ceremonies in Tokyo.

The torch will remain in Fukushima until the Games are firmly rescheduled. (VOA)