Today, we meet international referee Berhe Tesfagiorgis. He was influenced by sports when he was young. While having a great talent for athletics, he became a soccer player for the Adulis athletics and soccer team as well. “Coming from a poor family, I had a dream to change my family’s life but most of all I worked hard to create a great future for myself” he says. With a dream so big, he started coaching the National Athletics Team while participating as an athlete at international contests. That wasn’t all. He became a referee at just 18 and made sure he had a profession he has been enjoying for a long time.
Berhe Tesfagiorgis, now 25 years later, is one of the few international referees accepted by FIFA. He has officiated in the biggest games held in Africa and around the world.
- -Let’s get acquainted Mr. Berhe….
Thank you for having me in your page. It is such a pleasure. To start with, like most Eritrean kids, I grew up in an environment where soccer was popular. Yet, I was more into running than soccer. I used to run for my school in 400m and 800m races and won in competitions. That is when I realized that I have the talent for athletics and made the decision to stick with it. Although I used to take part in many school competitions, it is after I joined Adulis Athletics Club that I started competing at international races. Since 1990, I have gone on many tournaments around the world.
- -What inspired you to be devoted to sports?
I came from a family with low income, which was challenging at times. I had to think not only for myself, but for my family as well. I had to be fully prepared for the future. I remember, with the little money I used to earn I got my driving license thinking it could be a backup profession. However, the athletics was not in good condition at the time, and I got into soccer to keep myself in sports although I wasn’t that good in soccer. Nevertheless, I was participating in both, soccer and athletics.
- -You became a referee at such a young age.
After Eritrea’s independence, I had the opportunity to take referee courses. Although I was young, like I said before, I just wanted to create a profession which would allow me to stay for a long time. People told me that you can still be in the profession till the age of 45- 48 if you are physically fit. To be totally honest, I had no interest in being a referee.
So, by 1995, when I came back after doing my national service, I was one of the people who had a chance to go to Kenya to get the IAFF certificate of Trainers to be able to work as a coach. As a result, I became the coach of the National Athletics Team in 1999. Not only was I the coach but I was also an athlete of the National team as I was good in the short distance races. As a matter of fact, I haven’t lost at any race except for one time. I have won 55 gold medals in running races around the world.
In 2001, I officially quit athletics and gave my all to being a referee. I got my 2nd level certificate in 1993 and my 1st level certificate in 95, a certificate that allowed me to get my federal referee certificate in 2000. Also, in 2004, FIFA accepted me as an international referee, and I started officiating at international games in Sudan. Ever since then, with unremitting courses, I have been working to upgrade my level as an international ref. I have traveled and participated in almost all the biggest African games. In 2007, I was the assistant ref in the under 20 African Cup held in Congo. After the African Cup I refereed, I had a chance to get my Young Talent Certificate in South Africa which was then followed by another certificate, Young Elite Certificate.
- -Well that is too many courses…
Yes. Once one is selected by the FIFA, many courses follow up to upgrade the skills. All my courses were just a step to other ones. Before I served as an assistant referee for the Africa Cup in 2011 for the 2nd time, I was upgraded to Elite B in 2009. Then in 2013, I was selected as the assistant referee for the African Cup of the Youth in Algeria, and also for the Africa Cup in 2014. I currently have an Elite status. That is the highest level a referee can reach in FIFIA to be able to officiate at big games held at the World Cup, World Cup of Clubs, Africa Cup, Confederation Cup, Club Championships etc.
- -You were a candidate for World Cup of 2018; what happened?
As an Elite referee, I was among the candidates for the World Cup of 2018. Unfortunately, not many of the African refs made it through. I have been in this profession for so long and I truly want to get that kind of experience. I wish to represent not only myself but my country as well. I hope to be one of the refs who make it to the world cup next time. I am looking forward to that. Still, though, I was fortunate enough to be one of the refs at the games of the African countries that made it to the world cup.
I am currently one of the refs to officiate at the World Clubs in Africa for the 2nd time. So far, I have been to Nigeria and Congo. Until now I have been part of five games. I am also going to take another course in November so that I can be at the 2019 African Nations Cup in Cameroon.
- -Before we say our good byes ref, is there anything you would like to add?
I have faced many challenges to get where I am today, and I would like to share my gratitude with everyone who was part of my journey. Anyone who wants to be in this profession should know there are many challenges that may occur and should prepare themselves to be successful. One has to be fit physically and should also be multilingual. But most of all, I would like to see more Eritrean professionals accepted to be international referees.