The whistle man

Growing up as a football player for third division side, Hartlepool FC in Selebi-Phikwe, Joshua Bondo never imagined that some day he will be a referee.

But it wasn’t until 2001 when he was annoyed by bad refereeing in one of his team’s league games that he decided to quit football and become a referee.

Today he is the best Botswana international referee and he was recently selected to officiate at the 2017 Gabon Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).

He has been voted Botswana’s best referee countless times and last year he got late call to officiate at the African Nations Championships (CHAN) in Rwanda.

Before CHAN Bondo was assigned by CAF in many category ‘A’ games. The games included world cup qualifiers of the likes of Nigeria, DRC, Mali and Ivory Coast.

The 39-year-old Senete-born star had a chat with The Voice Reporter Portia Ngwako Mlilo about his career, experience and achievements.

Q. You decided to become a referee after being annoyed by a referee when playing football. What difference did you want to bring in the field of play?

It was just 10 minutes into the game and two goals were scored from offside position.

I decided to take the whistle from the unregistered referee.

I asked the match commissioner to register me as a referee and the rest is history.

I want fair play and I believed I could be a good referee.

That is why I decided to quit playing football and become a top notch referee.

Q. When was your break through?

I became a referee in the lower leagues the same year and made a remarkable rise.

I was selected in a panel of referees for the then St Louis Premier League for the 2004/05 season.

In 2007 I was awarded the best referee of the U17 tournament in Namibia.

Q. Was being selected for AFCON a dream come true?

Yes it was a dream come true. In fact it was my target as far as my career was concerned.

My aim now is to be selected for big tournaments like Olympics and the World Cup.

I know it is going to be difficult but I will fight hard to make it happen.

This year AFCON gave me an exposure and experience so I stand a good chance to officiate in other major games.

Q. How did you feel when you were first told you have been selected?

This is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I was very excited to be among other best 44 African referees.

I could not believe my eyes when I received an invitation letter via email from Referees Manager in Cairo Egypt.

It shows I am doing something right because they monitor us by watching the local games we officiate as well as big tournament qualifiers.

Q. Did you have any pressure in the games you were officiating?

I had no pressure at all because I believe in myself and I was very comfortable.

I also officiated during AFCON qualifiers so I was not intimidated by the standard of the game.

We are also encouraged to review, study and adapt to modern football so that we do not make unnecessary mistakes.

Q. What have you learnt from 2017 Gabon AFCON?

The set up is more advanced than our league games so there is a lot I have learnt.

There are many things that are done during training and we attended classes learning football.

My intention is to share my experience with other local referees.

Q. Do you ever feel intimidated by fans when officiating especially the so called big games?

You will never satisfy a person and everyone is entitled to have an opinion.

They all want their teams to always win, so I am never intimidated when they shout or boo me because I understand it is pressure.

It is difficult to deal with a loss but they have to be prepared for a draw, win or loss when their teams are playing.

Q. Fans often insult referees when they are not happy with their decisions. How do you take that?

As referees we have learnt to be strong. You just have to stay focused and do your best.

Just pretend you do not hear what they are saying otherwise your decisions will be influenced by them.

You need to be strong, mentally fit to absorb the pressure from supporters.

Some of them call us the 12th player but that should not bother you because we are trained and qualified referees.

Q. Referees are volunteers; though you are given a certain fee do you think it’s high time referees get regular wages?

That is a good question. We need to be paid so that we can perform even better.

There should be a motivation and professional referees need to have salaries just like players.

Q. Sometimes referees are accused of match fixing. Is it real?

No, those are allegations and rumours we often hear in corridors.

Today football has changed and the governing body advices referees to report if a team offer you a bribe.

We do not condone such behaviour because it kills football development.

Q. Any highlight of your career that you can share with our readers?

I enjoyed officiating a lot of games locally and regionally but the Cote D’ivoire versus Mali World Cup qualifier last year stands out.

It was a high profile game and I think it was my ticket to this year’s AFCON. This is the most challenging career.

I remember flying the whole night to Algeria to officiate at the Champions’ league.

I did not even have time to rest; I took a quick shower and got into the field.

Q. Who is your inspiration?

The late Kuedza Nchengwa; may his soul rest in peace. He made me who I am, he had a lot of influence and I have learnt a lot from him.

There are other local referees who also played part in my career the likes of Edwin Senai, Jelas Masole and Harris Lebotse. I really thank them.

Q. Have you ever been summoned by the referees committee for bad performance?

Yes it happened 10 years ago but I do not want to go into details. (He laughed)

Our football is not fully professional and it is something that I think the association is working on for referees to be summoned and outcomes be shared publicly looking at the gravity of the matter.

That helps because it makes us correct our mistakes and up the game.

Q. There was a time when you opened an assault case against Pontsho Moloi and Tshepo Motlhabankwe. Have you ever thought of quitting after such experience?

I wanted to quit on three occasions because I felt my life was at risk.

Some people advised me not to and I decided to continue with my career because I am very passionate about my profession.

I do not even want to think about it because it was bad but I thank God for protecting me.

Q. What has been the most embarrassing moment in your career?

In 2004 my watch lost time during a match in a St Louis Premier League match and I did not realise 90 minute was over only to be rescued by other officials.

There was also a time when I went to the game wearing one sock, I couldn’t find another. It was so embarrassing.

Q. You are 39 years old now yet you still have the energy. How do you keep fit?

On the 25th of this month I will be turning 39. I do not cheat, I train hard every day to keep fit.

I also avoid eating junk food and drinking alcohol.

Q. What advice do you have for upcoming referees?

They need to work hard and become ambassadors of this country.

We need to see more referees officiating in high profile games and tournaments.

They need to believe in themselves and the sky is the limit.

Q. What legacy do you want to leave for Botswana Football?

I will not only focus on being a referee.

When my legs are failing me I want to be an instructor so that I can train and develop best referees this country has ever had.

Q. Thank God it’s Friday. Any plans for the weekend?

I am going to Zimbabwe to officiate in the Champions League.

I will be a forth official for the games.

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