Whittaker takes refs to next level

Alfredo Whittaker used to be everywhere, it seemed, officiating at football matches in the Cayman Islands.

But 15 months ago that all changed when he became an island-hopping official, organizing referee associations around the Caribbean.

Whittaker is now the head of the referees’ department appointed by the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football for the Caribbean region.

Between him, Brian Hall, Peter Prendergast, Carlos Batres and Hector Vergara, they generally decide for CONCACAF who should officiate at matches.

Whittaker’s days of officiating at matches are over. Now it’s strictly administrative duties, which he thoroughly enjoys.

When he first got his position, many Caribbean countries did not have a structured referees’ department or organization.

In conjunction with Prendergast, the chairman of the referees committee, and fitness instructor Alan Brown, they visit countries and implement training and tracking of all officials. “Now it is really easy for us to make appointments, with the database we have built up,” Whittaker said.

“The next task now is to visit the French speaking countries that have become full members of CONCACAF and assist them in coordinating their referees and implementing training programs,” he added.

They are Martinique, St. Maarten, St. Martin, Guadeloupe and French Guiana.

“I’m very happy the way we have referees in the Caribbean now,” he said. “I’m looking forward to my next big challenge, which is a group of male referees pushing hard for the next World Cup in Brazil next year.

“That is strictly my responsibility. And I’m looking forward to good representation from Caribbean referees too in the next Gold Cup in the next two years. I’m very positive about it and know that we’ll be successful with it.”

Whittaker is also finalizing all the officials for the women’s CONCACAF Under-20 tournament here in January.

Locally, there has been a lack of enough officials for the many leagues but in recent months that has improved.

He is pleased that the new crop of refs tend to be younger – some even teenagers.

The increase in football being played in Cayman extends to the Heineken Sunday League, which has become so popular that accomplished players like Garth Anderson, Kiegel Atkinson, Rodrick Pearson and Stephen Dunkley enjoy it as much as when they were in Premier League sides.

The youth leagues are getting a big boost from the success of the better players in tryouts abroad and the women and girls’ leagues are also achieving record involvement because of the higher profile of female footballers in recent years. Even the summer government and indoor leagues at the King’s Sports Center, as well as all the coed leagues, are seeing an increase in participation.

Whittaker is glad that the Sunday League is flourishing and that it now has a rule excluding Premier League players.

“Whoever came up with that decision had a fantastic idea. It was disrespectful of the Premier League players to play on Sunday mornings, then turn out for the Premiership clubs in the evening. It was taking away their performance as an individual.

“What we see now is that there are better performances in the Premier League. The players are fresher and also when these players were in the Sunday League the pace of the game was much faster and it was more demanding on the referees.”

Whittaker also feels that the Sunday league fills a void for players who may be disenchanted with training and turning out in the top flight and just want to enjoy the game on a more recreational level.

He went through the same process aged 33, not wanting to train as hard as before as a goalkeeper in the professional leagues in Costa Rica and Honduras.

Now at 47, his immediate goal is to elevate Caribbean referees so that they get to officiate in the biggest tournaments.

“I want to see credibility in our officiating and we’re working hard towards that,” he said.

He is also the proud father of three sporty and smart kids, Ashleigh, 16, Alfredo, 12, and Alejandro, 10.

It looks like the Whittaker name is going to be around for a long time in Cayman football circles.