Top referee Janny Sikazwe has thanked Zambians for the support during the 2018 FIFA World Cup where he was one of the match officials.
And FAZ General Secretary Adrian Kashala said Sikazwe had made the country proud with his level of distinction in the game.
Meanwhile Referees Manager Welly Chikuka said Sikazwe top level experience would be put to good use in the game.
Sikazwe got a rousing reception on his return from the FIFA World Cup where he participated up to the quarterfinals.
He became the first Zambian to officiate at the FIFA World Cup having been involved in four matches including two as centre referee.
Sikazwe was at the centre of the Belgium versus Panama match and also the tie involving Japan and Colombia.
In a rare interaction with the media and the public, Sikazwe said the support from his countrymen whilst he was in Russia had spurred him to work hard.
“I am humbled, I did not expect to see a lot of people like this, I will tell you that we are used with my fellow referees that when we come here it is just a matter of going to our cars and go home without any reception,” he said.
“But to have this group here, I am speechless, the only thing that I have to say is thank you so much. The time I was in Moscow I was receiving messages from people here. It had never happened ever before. Even before I left for the World Cup I could see how people could encourage me to keep focussed and do it for Zambia.”
Sikazwe who is a teacher by profession said despite having been at other high level competitions, the World Cup had proved the apex.
“The experience that I had at the World Cup was so fantastic, remarkable. I had a different situation altogether, I had been to different tournaments but the World Cup was different,” he said.
“I am telling you my fellow referees, we really need to work hard. Otherwise I met different people, cultures. The way people react here (to decisions by referees) in Zambia, the way footballers react is totally different.”
He said that he was not disappointed at bowing out at the quarterfinal stage of the tournament.
“I am not disappointed and no one can change the destiny. God just said that this is your destiny. I am back home but I happy I reached where I reached,” Sikazwe said.
He also said that having been the first referee in the World to use the VAR technology in a high level game when he officiated at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2016 he had confidence the technology would improve the quality of decisions by referees.
The VAR was first used on a trial basis at the FIFA Club World Cup where Sikazwe officiated the opening and also the final that pitted Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers.
“It was not the first time to use VAR. I am proud to mention to the nation that I was the first one in the whole World to use that technology at the highest level that was in Japan during the Club World Cup where I did the opening game,” he said.
Sikazwe also said he had used the disappointment of missing out at the 2014 FIFA World Cup by staying focused and got an appointment for the 2018 games.
“It is all about hard work, set a goal and work toward it. I had a goal to go to the World Cup, I was supposed to go in 2014 but I did not make it. But this time around I was picked and I know God’s time is the best,” he said.
And Kashala said Sikazwe had made the country proud with his performance.
“We were very proud as we watched from our television sets one of our own fly the Zambian flag at the biggest sporting event in the world,” he said.
“Mr Sikazwe’s presence at the FIFA World Cup can be viewed as some small compensation for Zambia not qualifying for the event in Russia. We hope that his example will inspire many young people not only in sports but in any other endevours of life.”
And Chikuka said Sikazwe’s success would inspire aspiring whislemen to work harder.
“Janny we are very proud of you having been the first Zambian to reach this far. I was a referee myself, I never went to the World Cup. We had our colleagues who were high profile referees, they never went to the World Cup but our young man has done it,” Chikuka said.
“We are proud of you, you are our ambassador, and we will make use of your experience. Even the young referees we have in this country will be able to take a leaf from you and excel further.”
FAZ, soccer fans and the Ministry of General Education where Sikazwe serves organized a loud reception at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport.