Puleng Mahomo made history in 2014 becoming Lesotho first referee to officiate at the Africa Cup of Nations in the Women’s edition of the tournament held in Namibia. She began a career in refereeing after retiring as a player in 2010 and has not looked back since becoming one of the most respected female referees in the country. She spoke to the LeFA media news department about how she has survived in a male dominated sport.

LeFA: First thing first, how have you been dealing with the effects of the Corona Virus pandemic?

PM: Covid-19 has messed-up everything. The future of football in our country and in the continent is uncertain. It has hindered our progress and nothing is normal. Our training and day-to-day life, Everything has changed. It has been a very difficult period. We are doing everything online, be it the courses, trainings and meetings. It has hit us hard financially as well and with the meltdown of the economy, life is becoming very expensive.

LeFA: Your message to Basotho and the football fraternity in the fight against the pandemic…

PM: Now that the cases of the virus are increasing in the country, I call on Basotho to abide by the regulations rolled out by the government in the fight against the pandemic. Let’s be safe and stay at home where it’s possible and if you go out, please wear a mask. Let’s observe all the protocols, physical distancing and regularly wash our hands. We will get through this, let’s have hope because I’m adamant that we will defeat this monster.LeFA: Please briefly tell us about Puleng Mahomo?

PM: Puleng Mahomo is a Primary School teacher, who was raised at Ha Seitlheko in Mafeteng district and is married in Mohale’s Hoek. She is an assistant referee for the Lesotho Football Association, who officiates in the local football competitions and has also been in the FIFA panel since 2014. I became a referee after I retired from playing football in 2010. Actually, I had no intentions of becoming a referee until someone saw that potential in me and advised me to go into refereeing.

LeFA: How did you become a referee?

PM: Funny one! A man named Retšelisitsoe Matsepe (DIFA Mohale’s Hoek administrator) called me into his office one day and asked me if I can try a career in refereeing…I hesitated for some minutes and he said “what I know is that you have the potential please try it”. I agreed hoba ke rata bolo (Because I loved football) and as the say, the rest is history. 

LeFA:  Interesting… How would you describe your early days in refereeing?

PM: When I started out, there were only three active women referees and I became the fourth. It was not easy at all; the fitness test was the most difficult part. I watched as my group mates quit and as though as it was, quitting was never an option for me. The truth be told, our coordinator at that time, Mr. Paul Phomane (may his soul continue to rest in peace) had an eye for potential and saw that in me. He advised me accordingly, but as a woman in a male dominated field, I went through a lot and I still go through a lot to this day, but every challenge that comes my way makes me stronger. Oh my God! it was never easy and it is still not easy working as a referee. 

LeFA: Are you aware you are the first Lesotho referee to officiate at the Africa Cup of Nations?

PM: Hmmm! I heard about it this year from my coordinator-Ntate (Mohau) Sentšo. I just couldn’t t believe it… So, now yes, I am aware and it’s an honour. 

LeFA: How was the experience officiating at a big tournament like the Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Namibia in 2014?

PM: (laughs) Biggest challenge in my refereeing career and yes, that was a big test for me and my career. Firstly, it was my first year in the FIFA panel and secondly, I was not a candidate and I came in as a replacement. When I arrived at the referees’ camp for the tournament, everyone was already settled and ready to go. It was not easy, shame! 

LeFA: Please describe your journey working as a referee in Lesotho throughout the years…

PM: Working as a referee in this country is a challenge on its own and it’s worse for female referees. I think they deserve a bit of respect from all the stakeholders because I mean, a football match cannot take place without referees and this says it all of how important they are to football. The local clubs and fans still have that mentality that a female referee cannot be as good as a male referee. I think we should let go of gender discrimination and judge females on their performance in any field or profession. 

LeFA: Would you encourage more females to pursue a career in refereeing like you?

PM: I always do. Whenever I am with women especially those that are already in football, I tell them that it’s okay to follow their passion. I encourage them to join the football family. I talk about the advantages and benefits available to those serving the sport.

LeFA: How has it been travelling the continent to officiate in different countries?

PM: It has been a good experience. I have learnt a lot about football in other countries and their cultures. The one thing I learnt while traveling and officiating in the continent that impressed me a lot, is to see female referees being respected and appreciated. Here at home we sometimes go through a lot of abuse while officiating. I would love to see that change and people appreciating us for our performance and not discriminating us just because we are females working in a male dominated sport. I would also love to see women football getting more support and it would be a dream to one day to see our women’s national team (Mehalalitoe) playing in front of a fully packed Setsoto Stadium.

LeFA: Where would you like to see yourself in the next five years as far as refereeing is concerned? 

PM: I had so many wishes for the next five-years in refereeing. but then boom! Covid-19 happened. Now everything is uncertain, but I wish to see myself as one of the candidates for the next women’s Africa Cup of Nations and the World cup. I believe that with hard work anything is possible to achieve.

LeFA: what are the plans for when you decide to retire from refereeing? 

PM: Refereeing doesn’t end. ‘They say once a referee, always a referee’. I wish to remain in the profession and become an instructor, a technical instructor. It will help me make a contribution locally and internationally.