Cayman’s football referees are on strike amid allegations that a match official was assaulted by a coach in the closing minutes of a weekend cup match in West Bay on Saturday.
It is the fifth reported incident this season involving “physical attacks and discrimination,” against match officials, according to a statement from the Cayman Islands Referee’s Association.
Now the referees are calling for a police presence at local games amid concerns for their safety.
In recent seasons, a referee has been knocked unconscious and put in hospital for three days, another official was threatened with a knife, and refs in youth games have faced abuse and threats from competitive parents, according to senior match officials who spoke to the Cayman Compass Tuesday.
The referees withdrew their services after the latest incident on Saturday night, forcing the postponement of a slate of games on Sunday. Representatives were meeting with the Cayman Islands Football Association executive committee Tuesday evening in an attempt to resolve the situation.
Derrick Williams, president of the association, said verbal abuse and violence toward referees had been escalating over the past few years and the officials had decided enough was enough.
“Instead of going out there to be assaulted and verbally abused, we took the decision as a group that we would not put ourselves at risk until some necessary measures are put in place for our security.”
Mr. Williams, who was assaulted during a masters game, for older players, in 2014 and spent three days in hospital following the attack, said referees gave up their time to give back to the community and to the sport for a small stipend that covered gas money.
He said they were committed to the game but wanted assurances about their safety and that offenders would be dealt with severely before they would resume their services.
“We need to see strong action, not just a slap on the wrist.”
Alfredo Whittaker, an experienced referee, said the disrespect and poor treatment of referees had increased in recent seasons. He said one official was threatened with a knife after a game. Even in youth matches, he said, the verbal abuse of referees from parents is extreme.
“It has got to the point where we have to consider separating the parents from the game,” he added.
“There have been multiple incidents and not enough has been done by CIFA to deal with it.”
The latest allegation stems from a cup semifinal match between Future Sports Club and Alliance FC at the Ed Bush Stadium on Saturday night.
According to Mr. Williams, who was not present at the game but received reports from match officials, the linesman flagged for an infringement against an Alliance player, late in the game, with Future SC leading 3-0.
He said the official had been struck from behind by a coach from Alliance and was briefly knocked unconscious. He was taken to hospital and released the same evening, he said.
William Conolly, the president of Alliance Football Club, was off island for the game, but made his own inquiries into the incident.
He said there was no evidence that the linesman had been knocked unconscious and suggested it was the linesman who had initiated the confrontation. He said the reports he received indicated the official had pushed the coach, who had responded with a slap that barely touched the side of linesman’s face.
“Despite our position that the linesman was wrong to initiate physical contact by pushing the coach, we regret the incident as it is not indicative of the Alliance FC objects and perspective of leading from the front. It is never good for football on any level whenever an incident like this occurs regardless of who is right or wrong. Alliance FC does not condone such unprofessional behavior and [we] apologize to our fans and all kids that witnessed the incident.”
He said the club had not yet been contacted by CIFA for its side of the story.
A Royal Cayman Islands Police Service spokeswoman confirmed it had received a report of a referee being punched during a match at the Ed Bush stadium and sustaining a “minor injury to his face.” A 50-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assault causing actual bodily harm and later released on police bail, according to the statement.
Mr. Williams said the referees wanted to see strong and consistent disciplinary action against anyone who assaulted an official.
The player who “rabbit punched” him, putting him in hospital, was suspended for 10 games, he said.
Another two players, who assaulted a referee last season, were suspended for three years.
CIFA president Lee Ramoon could not be reached for comment. Vice President Bruce Blake and General Secretary Wendy Fisher did not respond to emailed questions from the Compass.
Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden said that although government had pulled its funding from CIFA because of a lack of transparency and accountability, he remained concerned about the game and hoped the issue would be resolved quickly.
“This is unacceptable behavior, and should be scorned upon by all players and clubs, and the responsible parties should be disciplined and sternly dealt with,” he said. “Refs should be respected, and even when they make mistakes, they should be appreciated for the job they do. CIFA has a duty to protect them.”