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Top Gambian FIFA referee Bakary Papa Gassama has officiated at his second – yes, I said second – African Champions League final. What’s more extraordinary is that it was two in a row for the highly rated ref. He took charge of last year’s decider between eventual winners Al Ahly from Egypt and Orlando Pirates from South Africa.
The final this year was contested by Entente Setif from Algeria and Vita Club of DR Congo with the first leg in the DR Congo. The second leg was played at the Stade Mustapha Tchaker in El Bouleida, Blida with the Algerian side coming out best over the two legs. It is always considered that the second leg is the most difficult and therefore the more experienced officials are engaged for this.
Gassama has a huge amount of experience as a referee in his home country and on the international stage. He refereed in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup earlier this month and also made history when he officiated two games in the Qatari domestic football league last month and became the first non-Asian referee to do so.
All of this came about following a Memorandum of Understanding with the Qatari Football Federation and FIFA in terms of refereeing assistance.
This Memorandum of Understanding allows for continental Africa to assign its top referees and assistants to officiate some of the toughest and fiercely contested games in the Qatari Super League.
As part of the implementation stage of the agreement, Gassama, who was voted as one of the seven best referees by FIFA Referees’ Committee at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, became the first African to be appointed for the assignment.
Papa Gassama is no stranger to tough encounters between the African continent’s top teams. Just recently (10 September) he had the unenviable task of taking charge of two of the top national teams in Africa. He was appointed to referee an African Cup of Nations qualifier in which Tunisia defeated Egypt 1 – 0 in Cairo.
He also officiated at last year’s Club World Cup in Morocco. With European Champions Real Madrid and the top clubs from all the football confederations about to descend on the North African country in December, the 35-year-old is expected to be one of the five referees to take part in the competition.
“Only one referee is appointed from each continent depending on their performances and other factors,” Gassama said. “I was the African referee selected for one year but at this moment I wouldn’t know whether I will be retained because it is normally a month before the competition that they appoint referees. The tournament will be in November.”
We are keeping our fingers crossed. This is wonderful news for African refereeing and we wish him well as the countdown begins.
So who is Bakary Papa Gassama?
He became a FIFA referee in 2007 and three years later officiated at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in Angola. He also officiated at the 2012 Olympics in London, in which he was the fourth official for the final (gold medal) match between Mexico and Brazil.
Gassama was also appointed as a referee at the 2012 and 2013 African Cup of Nations tournaments as well as the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. He was named by the World Football governing body FIFA as the official in charge of Nigeria’s deciding World Cup qualifier against Ethiopia in Calabar last November (2013) and many more high profile qualifying matches.
He was one of the few African referees who officiated at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil and although he only got one game, he was voted by the Massimo Busacca-led team (FIFA Referees Committee) as one of the seven best performers at the tournament.
He is surely an inspiration to all up-and-coming African referees that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication.