The first rule of football is you’re not supposed to use your hands – especially if it’s to assault a referee.
With a reported five incidents of “physical attacks and discrimination” aimed at Cayman Islands football referees this year, behavior being exhibited on and off the pitch has gone far beyond simple “unsporting behavior” into potential criminal activity.
Although it would still be intolerable, it would be somewhat more understandable if the violence and aggression were being committed by adolescents fueled by adrenaline and testosterone, and uninhibited by a fully matured prefrontal cortex. However, the referees’ allegations are not being lodged against misconduct by Cayman’s youth, but by Cayman’s adults: coaches and parents.
It is difficult to imagine a worse role model than a so-called “grown up” who in front of children (and quite possibly while under the influence of alcohol) storms the field and throws a cowardly and vicious punch at a referee, who in addition to being a fellow human being, also at that moment (by virtue of his uniform and his position) happens to be a symbol of official authority and law and order.
Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden said in response to the situation, “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. Refs should be respected, and even when they make mistakes, they should be appreciated for the job they do. [The Cayman Islands Football Association] has a duty to protect them.”
Allow us to abridge Minister Bodden’s remarks for clarity: “This is unacceptable.”
We as a society need to take a step back and put our athletics scene in proper perspective. The football matches – at which referees have been knocked unconscious, threatened with a knife and assailed with verbal abuse – are not being played for money, fame or (outside the narrow confines of our shores) even serious bragging rights. These sporting events are for the purposes of recreation, public health and pure love of the game. The assaults on referees are not compatible with that mission.
The Cayman Islands Referees Association has requested police protection at events in order to ensure the safety of officials. For a police officer or two to be nearby (or at least on standby) wherever large crowds have gathered may be desirable; but for police resources to be dedicated specifically to “bodyguard duty” for volunteer referees is disgraceful.
One senior referee said the mistreatment of officials by parents during youth matches has gotten so extreme that they are considering “separating parents from the game.” (How will that prevent a coach from assaulting a referee, as was alleged to occur April 8?)
There may be a more elegant solution. Except to the participants, it would be no major loss if the referees refused to officiate adult recreational leagues. While it would be sorrowful for youth athletes to be deprived of proper refereeing during their competitive matches, the absence of referees would be preferable to the children’s development than for them to witness referees being abused and assaulted.
In other words, perhaps it’s time for Cayman’s volunteer referees to consider packing up their whistles, and voluntarily going home.