The rift between the Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) and Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy shows no sign of closing as, in the immediate aftermath of the 2017 TTSL season, Look Loy likened the local refereeing fraternity to a “mafia.”
Look Loy spoke to the media seconds after a 1-0 defeat by his FC Santa Rosa club to UTT—on 10 December; the final match day of the season—which meant that HydroTech Guaya United became the inaugural champions of the TTSL One competition.
Look Loy, who is also Santa Rosa coach, was displeased with the officiating of referee Rodphin Harris on the day. But he explained why his criticism went well beyond that one match.
“The organisation of refereeing in Trinidad and Tobago contravenes FIFA’s regulations,” Look Loy told Wired868. “The president of the referees’ association [Joseph Taylor] is the chairman of the referees’ committee, the secretary [Boni Bishop] is the chairperson of the appointments committee. You have Osmond Downer and Lee Davis on both [the referees’ association and committee].
“It is convenient, therefore, for them to manipulate the organisation and delivery of refereeing in this country. So when the referees’ association vexed with Look Loy, then they can effect that decision within the TTFA structure organised under FIFA.
“They are the mafia of refereeing and they can do literally whatever they want and the TTFA sits aside and lets them do it.”
In support of his claim, he pointed to FIFA’s regulations regarding the structure for referees, within its member associations.
“Each Member Association is obliged to establish a Referees Committee which is directly subordinate to the Member Association based on article 13 paragraph 1 (e) of the FIFA Statutes.
“The Referees Committee must be an integral part of the Member Association’s structure […] and under no circumstances may it fall under the supervision or control of other bodies, such as the leagues, unions or government (including parliaments and any other state authorities)[…]. Its members may not be affiliated to any clubs, leagues or any other football organisation[…]
“Each Member Association must set up a dedicated refereeing department headed by an expert with broad experience in the field of refereeing. The refereeing department must be set up within the administration of the Member Association.”
Look Loy’s argument is that the TTFRA’s perceived influence over the operation of both refereeing bodies amounts to third-party control, whereas FIFA stipulates that referees must answer only to its Member Association.
It is important to note that the TTFRA was the body in charge of all matters related to referees up until 2012 when a new FIFA statute ordered that Member Associations take direct charge of their officials.
At present, as Look Loy pointed out, the TTFRA comprises Joseph Taylor (president), Clynt Taylor (first vice-president), Glorick Maynard (second vice-president), Osmond Downer (third vice-president) and Boni Bishop (secretary). Taylor (J) also heads the Referees Committee while Bishop heads the committee responsible for appointing match officials.
Taylor (C), who is also the general secretary of the Central Football Association (CFA), has supported the TTSL and Look Loy in several petitions, including the call for a national consultation on the state of refereeing. However, he suggested that Look Loy is wide of the mark on this occasion.
“Since , they took away the authority from the referees’ association to do anything,” said Taylor (C). “So we are just there to represent the referees’ interest when there are issues. That is it.”
Such “issues” appear to include referees believing they have been put in an unsafe work environment owing to the manner in which they have been criticised by a certain Santa Rosa head coach.
Last month, Look Loy drew condemnation from the TTFRA and the Tobago Referees Association (TRA) head Noel Bynoe for his scathing criticism of and, in at least one case, use of obscene language towards officials Tricia Des Vignes and Cecile Hinds.
The TRA subsequently boycotted two TTSL matches in Tobago while the TTFRA did not appoint officials for a Santa Rosa game. Look Loy eventually apologised and agreed not to publicly criticise referees—although the latter position only lasted until the end of the season.
For Look Loy, the problem is that Taylor and Bishop would have discussed their response to him as TTFRA executive members before executing that plan using the power afforded to them by the TTFA through the Referees Committee.
“When an interest group, which is the Referees Association, controls the Referees Committee and Referees Department,” said the TTSL president, “then literally they have a monopoly on refereeing and they are a refereeing mafia.”
Former Referees Department head Ramesh Ramdhan agrees with Look Loy’s interpretation and it was Ramdhan who first raised the issue during an interview with I95.5FM last month.
Notably, five years ago, Ramdhan was the CONCACAF official with responsibility for referees in the English-speaking confederation and, thus, the person charged with implementing FIFA’s policy change.
Up until his unsuccessful run for the TTFA presidency in 2015, Ramdhan also served as head of the local Referees Department.
“Taylor and [current Referees Department head Wayne] Caesar appear not to know their responsibilities,” said Ramdhan. “Caesar cannot let referees take a decision he is not comfortable with […]. This would have never happened if I was there because I knew I was representing the TTFA and not the referees. That is why FIFA made the change.
“The refereeing association had no direct influence with any refereeing decisions while I was there and I was surprised to see this change back [after I left]. If John-Williams is allowing his refereeing department to go contrary to this, then that is why football can be held to ransom in this way.”
Despite Ramdhan’s assertion, at present, the appointment of referees is not the business of the Referees Department and its head, Wayne Caesar.
Ramdhan, who officiated at the 1998 World Cup in France, suggested that the TTFRA’s move against Santa Rosa was an effort by an outdated body to remain relevant.
“They are trying to legitimatise (sic) the refereeing association,” said Ramdhan. “[…] The referees don’t need a union. The Referees Department and the TTFA is supposed to seek the interest of the referees.”
It is debatable whether referees no longer have need for a union. Downer suggested that anyone who does not grasp the relevance of the TTFRA should take a closer look at what FIFA says about the function of the Referees Committee and Department.
“Nowhere [in the regulations for the refereeing committee and department] do you see ‘to represent the interest of members to and on the controlling bodies of Association Football’,” said Downer, “or ‘to support and protect referees from injustice and unfair treatment in matters related to refereeing.’
“In other words, (there is) nothing dealing with the representation of referees. These matters certainly fall within the remit of a referees’ association.”
Notably, two years ago, the TTFA ratified its new constitution—with FIFA oversight—and offered two votes and a position on the new board of directors to the TTFRA. There is little question, then, that the referees’ association does have a role to play in local football.
Downer noted too that many football nations across the globe, including England, Mexico and Jamaica, have vibrant referees’ associations despite also having functional refereeing committees and departments.
Arguably, the bigger problem lies in the blurring of the lines between the respective bodies.
Current Referees Department head Caesar gave some insight into one function that is the source of some contention: the appointment of referees.
“What used to happen is appointments were made by the referees’ association and passed to the referees’ committee for ratification,” Caesar told Wired868. “With the new FIFA mandate, we continued with that.”
The current structure puts policy in the hands of the Referees Committee while implementation is the business of the Referees Department. Caesar’s position is a salaried one while Taylor’s role—which Ramdhan described as a conduit between the TTFA board and the referees—is not.
Caesar suggested that Trinidad and Tobago is not the only country having problems in executing the FIFA mandate for referees, though. Three weeks ago, he attended a CONCACAF workshop in Miami which addressed several issues, including the appointment of referees.
According to the FIFA’s regulations, the Referees Committee has the responsibility to “appoint Referees to matches in competitions organised by the Member Association or for any other tournaments, whenever requested to do so.”
“The end of that sentence says ‘whenever requested to do so’ and different Member Associations have interpreted that differently,” said Caesar. “So what FIFA wants to do is to standardise that function and bring it under the Referees Department.”
Had the Referees Department had the power to appoint officials, it would have meant that, instead of Taylor, whose full-time job is as the San Juan North Secondary vice-principal, Caesar—a paid employee of the TTFA—would have had to consider whether to be a party to the TTFRA’s proposed TTSL boycott.
That does not necessarily mean that the outcome would have been different but Caesar’s motivation is likely to be different from that of the current head of the referees’ union, Taylor.
While Trinidad and Tobago’s various refereeing bodies continue to work on redefining their roles, Look Loy is banging on their door.
At a recent mediation between the TTFRA, the Referees Committee, the TTFA and the TTSL, Look Loy claimed that all parties agreed to a national consultation on the state of refereeing at the end of the season.
However, neither John-Williams nor TTFA general secretary Justin Latapy-George has thus far publicly committed to that idea.
“They did not include [the national consultation on refereeing] in the [joint] press statement and they are ignoring my requests for the minutes of that meeting,” said Look Loy, “because John-Williams and the referees don’t want to agree to that.”
He hinted that John-Williams might be trying to exploit the rift between the TTSL and the TTFRA in an effort to gain an advantage over a potential political rival.
The TTSL demanded that the TTFRA repay the TT$19,206 in “unrecoverable expenses” incurred by the former body as a result of the latter body’s recent boycotts. So far, Downer has given little indication that the referees’ association takes the request seriously.
Look Loy’s own tug-of-war with referees shows no sign of ending as the TTFRA could not have missed the TTSL president’s trenchant condemnation of Harris.
“Referees come [to Santa Rosa matches] with an agenda,” said Look Loy. “It seems they don’t have a problem with the Super League as a whole; they have a problem with Look Loy.
“They think I have a reputation, a reputation they are trying to create. And, therefore, when [Harris] thinks he has an opportunity to put me off for the crowd to see and for you to report on tomorrow, he tells me come off.
“[…] But when he reflects for a split second and realises that I have given him nothing to write in the report about why he put me off, he changes his mind and tells the fourth man ‘if he tells me anything again, he will put me off.’”
At this rate, the TTSL might need an international peacekeeping mission to get referees onboard for the 2018 season.
Still, although Taylor’s position is unpaid, referees are paid to officiate at TTSL matches while Caesar receives a salary from the TTFA to ensure that things run smoothly under its umbrella. Among the three refereeing groups, Association, Committee and Department, that apparent divergence of interests has to be resolved soon.