RUSAPE-BORN and bred football match official, Grace Gimo, became the first female referee in history to handle the fiery Battle of Zimbabwe pitting old nemesis, Dynamos and Highlanders in last Sunday’s Uhuru Cup at the National Sports Stadium.
Not until Sunday had a female referee handled the highly rated and biggest domestic football clash.
It only took one of the only three female match officials on the top Zifa panel — Gimo — to break that record and possibly inspire many more female match officials to go that far and beyond.
Gimo’s stock is continuously rising after another impressive show in the Under-18 Cosafa Cup in South Africa last year in November where she was praised for her flawless performance.
The former Vengere Primary and Vengere High School student is determined to achieve more.
“When I was notified of the assignment, I was nervous at first. Eventually when the day came, I had gathered all my confidence and adequately prepared for the assignment.
“I am happy with how I managed to overcome the pressure associated with such big games. I really learnt a lot. One of the biggest lessons I got was that one needs to be confident. One must not get confidence from someone else because when the source of that confidence is not around everything falls apart. It has to be from within. This must also be accompanied by determination, hard work and the appetite to achieve more,” said Gimo in a post match interview.
Gimo’s exploits earned admiration, not only from gender activists, but responsible authorities in the football refereeing fraternity who are proud to have made the progressive decision to give the uprising Rusape female referee a chance to prove a point.
Zifa Referees Committee chairperson, Brighton Malandule, said: “I am also very excited that Grace managed to handle that game besides some negative comments that I have seen on the social media. The long and short of it all is that all match officials are equal.
“As a committee, we are striving to bring gender equality. We do not appoint our match officials on the basis of gender, but on the basis of ability.
“Grace is one of the most promising and upcoming referees. You will remember that she was at the Cosafa Cup in South Africa where we got reports that she did extremely well despite her not being on the panel. That speaks volumes of her ability.
“We have a fitness test for match officials who officiate at the top level in Zimbabwe and Grace is one of the three ladies who are able to run and pass that test. This test is often failed by some male officials.
“She is one of the fittest officials that we have around. From the games that we assigned her in 2019, she did extremely well and the reports that we got from the match commissioners and assessors who assessed her were impressive. When the committee suggested her name to be the centre referee during the Uhuru Cup, I did not hesitate to okay the appointment because I had no doubt of her capabilities,” said Malandule.
The Zimbabwe Referee’s Committee boss acquitted Gimo of any game changing mistake in last Sunday’s Uhuru Cup.
“Yes, there is always some butterflies and nerves accompanied with handling matches of that magnitude. We are all human beings and we can make one or two mistakes.
“She could have made one or two mistakes, but what I want to highlight is that according to the match commissioner who updated me, she did not make any game changing mistakes. So if our top officials make mistakes as well, we must accept that they make decisions in a fraction of a second. To err is human,” he said.
Malandule bemoaned the patriarchal approach to matters in football.
“It is unfortunate that there is that gender bias among some of our fans, some of our players and technical officials that when a woman is officiating they tend to look down upon the official, something that we need to fight as a society.
“As a committee, we will promote gender equality and this will start in earnest when we do our recruitment for our beginners’ courses. A lot of emphasis will be put in recruiting female officials. I have been in touch with representatives of NASH, tertiary sports associations and provinces to encourage the girl child to come forward and participate in these courses.
“Unfortunately, in terms of promotion into officiating in the Premier Soccer League, we will still use the same benchmarks that entail fitness tests which males also undertake.
“As long as they will pass the fitness test they will be given a chance to prove themselves,” he said.