Football referees are the most abused, intimidated and disrespected figures on the field. Assistant referees running the line come a close second, especially when there is a disputed goal that involves a debatable offside decision.
With that full knowledge, two girl footballers have bravely trained up to be assistant referees for primary school football. They took a test, passed it and are well on their way to becoming accomplished referees of the future if they choose to go in that direction.
It’s an innovation from FIFA, the sport’s governing body and Jessica Ebanks and Sara Webster are Cayman’s pioneers. They were working the lines in the game between Triple C and Grace Wesleyan Under-11s on Saturday.
Ebanks, 15, plays for Elite U-17s and women’s team. She attends Cayman Prep and High. ‘I got sent a letter from FIFA saying there would be an assistant referee’s course and I decided to follow up on it. It’s a great experience. I’ve only done two games so far. You get to see how the primary school kids are developing. I haven’t really made any mistakes yet.’ (If that’s so then she’s well on her way to officiating at a World Cup match!)
Sara Webster, 13, is an Elite player too and also attends Cayman Prep. ‘We did pretty good. We didn’t make any mistakes actually. I like watching the younger kids and seeing how they develop. I’m going to do a couple more games and see how I feel about it after that. I might possibly be a referee in the future.’
What about all the abuse and dissent? ‘You’ll just have to ignore it. I can cope with it.’
Suzanne St Thomas is a coordinator and arranged for the girls to become assistant referees. ‘The referee’s association has always tried to recruit new referees. In the particular realm of the youth games it’s an arena that referees are quite comfortable, if trained and capable of handling.
‘This is a big help to the referee’s association because of the few qualified referees on the island. Some of the younger games aren’t staffed fully with officials. In fact, even the U-13 and U-14 games have not always had assistant referees. And they probably more so need them. Historically, referees sent for youth games would ask parents to do the line. The girls are out of season right now. Their season starts in January so this is an ideal complement for them. They’re doing really well. Excellent, in fact. I couldn’t have asked for two better candidates. They passed their tests with remarkably strong grades.’