There will be a graduate Singaporean in the heartbeat of Qatar’s World Cup, with Muhammad Taqi Aljaafari Jahari, making his debut as a VAR (video assistant referee).
He will be one of 24 VARs and the only man-in-black from Asean, which is a major feather in his cap.
Reaching this pinnacle of the World Cup, Taqi, who holds a Bachelor of Science (Upper second-class honours), is thrilled he’s following the footsteps of the late George Suppiah, the first Asian to referee at the 1974 Finals in the-then West Germany.
“It was very, very sentimental. I was overjoyed with tears. I didn’t expect this appointment and coming from a country like Singapore, where we are from a very small nation on the world map,” Taqi said.
Only four other Singaporeans had been chosen to officiate at the world’s most prestigious event: Suppiah and Shamsul Maidin refereed at the 1974 World Cup and the 2006 World Cup – both in Germany – respectively, while K. Visvanathan was the assistant referee at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan and Jeffrey Goh was the reserve assistant referee at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Taqi’s journey began when he was just 16. As a youngster, he honed his football skills at the void deck with friends. But he eventually joined the hockey team as there was no football co-curricular activity offered in his school.
“Football was just a pastime for us because we had an interest in football. And we just played football socially among my schoolmates,” he recalled.
“When I took up the refereeing course, it was to know more about the game. There wasn’t any like so-called deep interest into refereeing, just learning the Laws of the Game and officiating matches at the grassroots level, at the amateur levels.”
Normally at 19 years, teenagers aspire to make their debut for their national team, or for the age group team as a football player. “But for me making a debut as a referee itself, I think it put a lot of pressure on me… because I was facing on the field of play very, very experienced players, whether local players or even international players,” Taqi said.
Congratulations, yet again, Taqi, Singapore salutes you for reaching the FIFA World Cup level.
Suresh Nair is an award-winning sports journalist who is also a qualified international coach and international referee instructor
Send in your scoops to email@example.com