Joshua Bondo winds up roller coaster year

By Bakang Mhaladi

Gaborone – Two awards for outstanding performances, a debut at the Africa Cup of Nations finals and three controversial moments, sum up what has been a roller coaster year for Botswana’s top referee, Joshua Bondo. 

Bondo began the year with a trip to officiate at his first ever AFCON finals in Gabon. Despite stellar performances with the whistle in the past, it took Bondo longer than expected to earn a first call up to the biennial continental showpiece.

The referee, metaphorically, a story of ‘rags-to-riches’ after he dumped a career as tailor for the whistle, has had a mixed year.

He received plaudits for his handling of the three matches in his debut AFCON finals appearances, where he made history as the first Botswana referee to receive the appointment.

While 2017 started brightly with a flight to Gabon, he was soon in the news for the wrong reasons after he appeared to head butt an Angolan player during a friendly match against South Africa in May.

Bondo had just awarded a free kick to South Africa in the second half and Angolan player, Paulo Natael contested the decision.

After awarding the kick, Bondo appeared to attack the player, with his head and raised hand.

He however, refuted claims he had intentionally attacked the player. In June, the referee suffered the first major blow to his blossoming career when he was sent home after deemed to have poorly handled the match between Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

Zimbabwe had lodged a complaint that the 39-year-old had failed to award two blatant penalties during a COSAFA Cup tie, which had ended goalless.

Bondo caught the next flight home, well before the tournament ended, attracting sharp criticism from some quarters.

But that did not deter the appointing authorities from handing Bondo, the high profile FIFA World Cup qualifier between Zambia and Nigeria early this month.

But after Bondo disallowed a Zambian goal for offside, Botswana’s northern neighbour was left fuming, even taking up the matter with FIFA. The soccer governing body dismissed Zambia’s appeal last week.

Zambia lost the qualifier 1-0, which saw Nigeria qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

The decision to disallow the goal torched a social media war with the Zambians laying into Bondo.

Chipolopolo fans branded the Selebi-Phikwe born referee an ‘evil man’ while some went as far as calling him a ‘toilet paper’.

While Bondo was away cooking up a storm, in Nigeria, he was being honoured in his home country where he was voted the Botswana National Sport Commission (BNSC) referee of the year, the highest honour for referees/umpires.

It was a second award after he was voted the best referee in the local soccer league in June, underlying his status as one of the finest despite recent controversies.

October 2017
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