Indeed, between 2006 and 2010, the general feeling in The Gambia had been that the chances for the participation of the Scorpions in the World Cup by 2014 had greatly improved. In the junior categories, The Gambia had not only lifted continental trophies, but had also put up brilliant performances at continental and world competitions, even beating a world-renowned footballing nation like Brazil. This apparently fed into the expectation that by 2014, those young talents would have matured into an excellent team able to compete at the highest levels of football. While the dream of the Scorpions’ appearance at the World Cup remained far away in 2014, seeing Papa, a Gambian, refereeing on the pitch could not be less fulfilling.
Therefore, Bakary Papa Gassama, who has just been awarded as the 2014 African Referee of the Year by the Confederation of African Football is indeed a man to celebrate and be proud of. The conferment, as confirmed by news reports, was held on Sunday at Caf’s Glo-Awards in Lagos, Nigeria. The Gambian’s achievement has been phenomenal. Just in the 2013 edition of the prestigious award, he finished second, behind the Algerian, Djamal Haimoudi, who he has now dethroned as the best football referee in Africa. With this award, he became the first Gambian, whether as a player or others, to win a Caf award of the year.
Indeed, Gambian referees have been shining examples in Gambian sports in particular, and by extension in Africa. Taking a trip down memory lane, we had in the 1970s Dodou Njie, Alagie Faye in the 1980s, Badou Jasseh also in the 1980s, and Modou Sowe from the late 1990s to the first decade of the 21st century. All these are well-known personalities with enviable reputation in the national, African and world football, and have had a record of accomplishment as referees during their days. In fact, the most recent among them, Modou Sowe, was quite unlucky. He could have been the first Gambian to referee at the World Cup when Fifa nominated him for the 2006 World Cup had it not been that he got injured prior to the event.
However, none of them could match Papa’s accomplishment. When he launched into the limelight of international football only in 2007 and became a Fifa referee, he has pushed those boundaries further. Papa is set to officiate in his fourth straight African Cup of Nations tournament, which kicks off this Saturday, having participated in Angola 2010, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea 2012 and South Africa 2013. Outside of the continent, Gassama officiated at the 2012 Olympic tournament in London. He also made history in 2014 when he officiated two games in the Qatari domestic football league as the first non-Asian referee to do so. This came about following a Memorandum of Understanding with the Qatari Football Federation and Fifa in terms of refereeing assistance. Having refereed in the 2014 Fifa World Cup qualifiers, he was among the 50 potential referees nominated, and eventually appointed as one of the 25 referees of the World Cup tournament and he indeed refereed the Netherlands and Chile match.
At just 37 years of age, Papa still has many more years ahead of him and we wish him all the best in his career. He is an inspiration particularly for upcoming Gambian referees and African referees in general. His accomplishment has challenged the football authorities to look beyond the footballers and support and encourage departments of the game of football so that our football will grow along with excellent football players, referees, administrators, entrepreneurs, and physiotherapists.]]>