Lesothoâ€™s top assistant referee, Souru PhatÅ¡oane, says officiating at the World Cup was easier due to the high professionalism of the players.
PhatÅ¡oane realised his childhood dream of officiating at footballâ€™s largest showpiece when he was named among 69 top assistant referees who officiated in the recent World Cup, which was held in Qatar from November 20 to December 18, 2022.
By so doing, he also became the countryâ€™s first-ever match official to officiate at a World Cup tournament.
PhatÅ¡oane officiated in a group D match between the then-defending champions France against Australia on November 22, 2022. He also took part in a group E clash between Spain against Japan on December 1, 2022.
In both matches, he partnered with the South African duo of Victor Gomes and Zakhele Siwela, with whom he also worked in officiating in the finals of both the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) and the 2022 Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) Champions League.
In an exclusive interview with Newsday Sports this week, PhatÅ¡oane said he had the best experience of officiating at the World Cup largely due to the professionalism of players and the proper organisation of the event.
He also learned a lot by rubbing shoulders with some of the worldâ€™s finest referees, with whom he was also able to share experiences.
â€œIt was a very good experience working with the worldâ€™s best referees whom we shared different views, opinions, and strategies to work on,â€ PhatÅ¡oane said.
â€œInternational players are well-disciplined and they have so much respect for the match officials which made our job a lot easier.â€
He said he was also impressed with the smooth organisation and planning of the entire tournament.
PhatÅ¡oane said they were paid six months in advance, which helped them to fully prepare themselves ahead of time. Upon completing their appearances in the world cup they were paid the remainder of their allowances.
Coming to the domestic front, he believes Lesothoâ€™s football is on the right track toward professionalism, although a lot of work lies ahead.
â€œLooking at the local game, we are slowly growing and soon we will be at an international level. I am going to ask my associates to work together to improve the standard of match officials in the country.â€
Meanwhile, in December 2022, Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) commended PhatÅ¡oane saying he had rewritten history books when he officiated in the finals of both the Total Energies Africa Cup of Nations and the CAF Champions League earlier in the year.
The Qatar World Cup was also full of first-timers; it was played in the Middle East for the first; it was also the first time it was played in November and December as opposed to the usual June/July period.
It was also the first time female referees were used in a World Cup tournament.
All in all, 36 referees, 69 assistant referees, and 24 video match officials (VMOs) were chosen in close cooperation with the confederations, based on their quality and the performances delivered at FIFA tournaments as well as at other international and domestic competitions in recent years.
PhatÅ¡oaneâ€™s appearance in Qatar was the fifth time in 2022 for a Lesotho referee to be part of match officials officiating in a final of a major regional or continental tournament.