Dorcas Moraa

Fifa certified referee instructor Dorcas Moraa (left) and her husband Davies “Super” Omweno, a Fifa class referee, pose for a photo at the Afraha Stadium open grounds in Nakuru on May 26 last year.

| Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

True love brewed on a Kenyan football pitch

What you need to know:

  • Referee couple have attained the highly regarded Fifa badge to make their name in the officiating business and now want to impart their skills on new generation of refs
  • You may meet that special person, the so called soul mate, anywhere, be it at the bus stop, in a supermarket, at your local church gathering, in the gymnasium, online or even in the play ground as Fifa Class One referees Dorcas and Davies did, admiring each other for their skills on the football pitch, and as they say, the rest is history for the duo as they went on to excel in the sometimes unappreciated job of officiating matches

As the construction of the ultra-modern Afraha Stadium gathers pace, some 100 meters away from the site, a group of about 30 young men and women referees are training hard under the watchful eye of Fifa Fitness Instructor Dorcas Moraa.

They roll old tyres and pull snappy rubber bands tied on the goal post standing on a dusty pitch. Others skip ropes and run against the wind held back by makeshift parachutes made of nylon fabric, under a scorching sun.

Dorcas Moraa

Fifa referee instructor Dorcas Moraa (left) closely monitors young referees training at the Afraha Stadium open grounds in Nakuru on May 26, last year.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Not even the dust from the construction site and the increasing sound of the heavy-duty machines clattering with a deafening sound can distract their attention.

Moraa, hawk-eyed, monitors the training referee’s movements, including those of Davies “Super” Omweno, who is, incidentally, her husband.

Omweno is intently following  instructions from his wife who is clearly the one calling the shots here.

Omweno, 38, has officiated more than 50 international football matches and is widely regarded as Kenya’s top official.

He was voted KPL Centre Referee of the Year for 2013 and 2017 and has also won many other officiating awards.

“I’m proud of my wife’s achievement,” said Omweno. “As her husband, I thank God and pray that she will continue to climb the ladder and be a shining example to other young women aspiring to emulate her.”

He added: “When I’m training she is my boss. She is a qualified Fifa fitness instructor. I submit to her orders and instructions.”

The couple, who achieved Fifa class referee status, have been training budding match officials from Football Kenya Federation Premier League, Division One and National Super League.

The two could be Kenya's first world class refereeing couple, who have attained Fifa status and are giving back to the society after illustrious careers spanning more than a decade.

Moraa, 37, now a Fifa certified fitness instructor for referees, is at the forefront of developing the next crop of the men and women in black in the FKF Nakuru County branch.

One of the top referees in Kenya, Gilbert Cheruiyot, who officiated in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations last year, has been training under Moraa.

The referee training centre at Afraha Stadium was started in 2012 and has produced competent women whistle blowers the likes of Caroline Kiles and Kelvin Maina, who officiate in the Premier League, Beatrice Oganga, Naomi Njuguna, Virginia Waithera, Melvis Awino and Celine Nyamwira, among others.

“Basically, as a couple, we’re driven by the passion for the game and the desire we have to see these budding referees climb the ladder after we exit the stage,” said Omweno.

Moraa, who is also the FKF Nakuru County women representative, was appointed as a Fifa fitness coach in August 2019 after completing her instructors’ course in Kigali, Rwanda.

“Seeing so many young talented match officials make significant progress is my biggest joy. Football needs strong, courageous referees who will protect the players and the game,” says Moraa.

Moraa says she started officiating school football matches following an invitation from a retired Fifa class referee Ben Ouma soon after she completed Form Four at Afraha High School in Nakuru County.

“Most of the time, I acted as a standby referee and when appointed referees failed to turn up for school games, Ouma would invite me to handle the match,” says Moraa.

Moraa’s journey to Fifa status can easily be described as one of hard work, dedication and commitment.

Her star started shining in 2008 when, as a 25-year-old she become the youngest referee in Kenya’s history to become eligible to officiate international matches, including the World Cup, the most glamorous stage for any referee.

“I started refereeing as a Class Three official in 2005 and rose through the ranks to become Fifa accredited assistant,” says Moraa.

She officiated in the African Women Cup of Nations qualifiers in Ethiopia and Tanzania in 2010. Not many in football circles in Kenya know Moraa is married to Omweno.

Omweno lifted the lid on how he met his wife and explained how he used to admire her football skills at Afraha High School.

Omweno was a student at Langalanga Secondary School which is separated from Afraha High by a barbed wire fence.

“I didn’t know her until we met in a school football tournament. She was a good footballer. I admired her beauty and football skills. I started wooing her in 2005 and in 2007 I blew the final whistle and I proposed to her and she became my wife. We’re planning a big wedding ceremony in a stadium very soon."

The couple have two sons. Moraa said she fell in love with Omweno because of the way he officiated matches.

“I loved his running skills and strict handling of the matches and I knew this is the man I would love to be my husband.”

She added: “Davies is a person who never gives up and is a great fighter no matter the challenges ahead of him. He always says we train hard and work easy.”

The couple says they are indebted to two former Fifa referees from the region – Hesbon Mbogo and George Kapis Nyamwanda and a former Class One referee Ben Ouma, for encouraging them to go to class to improve their officiating skills.

“The three referees were our early role models and we would not have attained Fifa status if we had not taken their advice seriously,” says Moraa.

She also attributes her success to her late father Julius Manunguti, a former Shabana official in Nakuru City and admits that her father's immense football administration skills also played a role in shaping her future.

“My dad was a keen football follower, and since he knew I loved the game he never got tired of reminding me of what is required for one to become a good player or a good football official whenever we had a chat at home,” says Moraa.

She says it is not easy to balance motherhood and training referees.

“Time management is crucial as we train from Tuesday to Friday. You will never have time for everything,” she says.

The couple say the development of youthful referees in Kenya remains a top priority and they have invested their meagre resources to do exactly that.

“Our ultimate goal is to inspire the next generation of referees and especially girls to take up refereeing as a professional career,” says Moraa.

“We have used our little finances to buy training kits like cons, nylon fabric to make a parachute, bells, stretch bands, bibs worth more than Sh40,000,” said Omweno.

“We could  have used the money for other things but because we have the passion for refereeing and urge to nurture talent, we don’t see the money factor as a big issue.

“After all, we were also nurtured by some older generation of referees to be what we are today,” added Omweno.

Dorcas Moraa

Fifa referee Dorcas Moraa (left) and her husband Davies Omweno  (right) give young referees tips at the Afraha Stadium open grounds in Nakuru City on May 26, 2021.

Photo credit: Francis Mureithi | Nation Media Group

Moraa says many budding referees lack commitment and self-discipline, respect and hard work.

She reckons that what a referee requires to grow and rise to the top include profound knowledge of the laws of the game, fitness, authority and personality and the courage to make unpopular decisions.

During her stint as a referee, Moraa faced many challenges, including hostile fans who hurled abuses from the terraces as they did not believe a woman could officiate a men’s game, but she didn’t let that stop her from enjoying her refereeing job.

Abuses and criticism

Moraa used the abuses and criticism from players and the crowd as motivation to get even better.

“The verbal abuse and sneers referees face on the pitch are horrible enough to make one quit the job. It requires one to have heavy shock absorbers to be able to continue with the task.”

Accusations of some referees taking bribes to influence matches troubles Moraa’s conscience. She says any whistler taking such bribes is tarnishing the good name of the referees.

“Referees are like court judges and a good referee worth his or her salt should not accept such petty gifts because unlike in the court, where the judgment is not challenged immediately, in the field any slight blunder could lead to chaos and bloodshed as all the spotlight is on the centre referee and the two assistants.”

She says she was lucky as she was not caught in any violent situation.

“I thank God it never happened during the peak of my career. I count myself as one of the luckiest people,” said Moraa.

However, Omweno has not been lucky as his wife.

During the semi-final of the Kenyan knock-out Cup competition in 2013 at City Stadium between Sofapaka and AFC Leopards, chaos erupted three minutes to full time after he awarded Sofapaka a freekick that let to them scoring.

“The fans invaded the pitch and accused me of awarding Sofapaka a dubious free-kick. To me, it was a fair decision and I don’t regret it.”

However, Omweno accepts he has made mistakes in his career.  “I’m a human being. , Making a mistake is not a reflection of my refereeing ability – what is more meaningful is how I respond and learn from them.

“It’s not always your best performance that brings you fame,” says Omweno. “A single decision can remain in football fans’ minds forever.”

Omweno says technology in officiating via Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is good for football.

“Referees are accused of taking wrong decisions and sometimes we don’t see some situations. It gives the correct judgement that may have been overlooked by the referee through the error of commission or omission.”

Omweno started officiating Premier League matches at the age of 23 and received the coveted Fifa badge a year later.

“I still believe that one day I will be in the World Cup.

“My proudest moment was when I officiated the CAF Championship League final between Zamalek of Egypt and Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa,” said Omweno.

Moraa said her proudest moment as a referee was when she twice officiated the Mashemeji derby in 2013 and 2014 between bitter rivals Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards.

“In Kenya, officiating a match involving the two big guns is a big plus to your CV as a referee. It shows your level of confidence and integrity,” said Moraa.

Some of the trainees heaped praises on the couple for sharpening their refereeing skills.

“The couple are the best mentors. They tip us on the aspects to improve, with solutions and advice.

In addition, they have instilled the virtue of hard work, high level of physical fitness, learning from each game, self-analysis, and not to be afraid of making mistakes, but use them as development points,” said Awino.

“The couple inspires us to think about how we can develop as a referee – and they tell us how to improve every time,” says Fifa assistant referee Kiles.

“The couple is the best role model. They push us hard for a better tomorrow. The couple has shown us the way to climb the ladder of success as referees,” said Waithera.

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