Already known for its big strides in the development of women’s rugby in the region, Cayman Rugby Football Union (CRFU) now has its sights set on raising the profile of its dedicated team of local referees.
With a new three-year corporate sponsorship deal with Strategic Wealth Preservation (SWP) under their belt, the Cayman Rugby Referees Society (CRRS) are looking to build the backbone of rugby in the Cayman Islands (CI) and encourage others to join them in a career in refereeing.
Caroline Deegan, CRFU Operations Manager and former national player, Captain, Coach, and one of the pioneers of women’s rugby in the CI, has been one of the driving forces in the development of refereeing in the CI and is committed to boosting the caliber of match officials in the region and beyond.
The development of refereeing in the Cayman Islands
Dave Robinson, lifetime member of CRFU, RAN Match Commissioner, and Coach of Match Officials (CMO), has been involved in the development of refereeing in the CI right from the beginning.
“I arrived in Cayman as a ‘mature’ player in 1991,” he says. “The refs that were in place were just other mature players taking it in turns officiating the mainly social and informal local rugby matches.”
According to Robinson, a couple of years later an explosion in playing numbers saw more interest from people to get involved in the sport, including a newcomer to CI – Probation Officer John Retson.
“John’s arrival in 1995 is pivotal to the story of reffing here,” he says. “He came with prior international experience at a club level, so we decided to team up and create the Cayman Rugby Referees Society (CRRS).”
It was in late 1997, that Dave says he and John alongside other nominated Caribbean referees, were invited by the International Rugby Board (IRB) to the first Regional Referee Development Course, in Trinidad with a backdrop of the Caribbean XVs Tournament.
“We learned to teach IRB Level one refereeing and officiated the Tournament, but also formed a West Indies Rugby Referees Society (WIRRS) to train match officials and provide a flow of regional referees suitable for future tournaments,” he says.
Over the next few years, the members of the WIRRS including Dave and John went on to officiate most of the Caribbean tournaments, often with a highly-ranked US or Canadian referee added to the group; as WIRRS and the West Indies Rugby Union gradually became part of a new North American body, eventually to be known as Rugby Americas North (RAN).
“John and I delivered the IRB Level 1 Course several times in Cayman, and also in Jamaica,” he says. “We added more local male referees – mostly former players – as well as our first female officials. We also added IRB Level 2 to our training portfolio and were able to bring our new local panel up to that level too.”
After John returned to the UK in 2004, and Hurricane Ivan devastated the CI, Robinson says rugby continued to push forward with more people arriving and willing to pick up the whistle, leading him to become the Coach of Match Officials (CMO) to help to grow the local panel further.
“Cayman referees have been at the core of most RAN competitions ever since,” he says. “The latest crop of refs have really stepped up the standard, acquiring various qualifications and experience at world-class tournaments, including the Rugby World Cup. It’s an exciting time in reffing.”
Moving into a new era …
Caroline Deegan says the recent developments in sponsorship by international precious metals dealer and secure storage provider Strategic Wealth Preservation (SWP) for the CRRS has been a lifeline for the referees.
“It enables us to promote new courses, buy new equipment, and really gives our unsung rugby heroes a morale boost,” she says.
Stuart Bostock, SWP Managing Director, echoes these sentiments.
“We are proud to support the Cayman Rugby Referees Society, not just for the excellent work they do to ensure safe and good quality rugby for the Cayman Islands, but also because without them our community would not benefit from having access to such a thriving and diverse range of rugby that includes domestic rugby for Men, Women and Youth leagues, and our National Teams that represent us all over the world,” he says. “We are very fortunate to have these officials who volunteer their time to remain qualified and active as referees.”
Despite having seven active and highly-qualified referees in the CRRS, Deegan says they are always looking for new referees to join.
“It can be quite a tough position to fill, so we really encourage players who are retiring to step into that role,” she says. “Having said that, we are also trying to get some of the younger kids involved and we really want to push for more women to participate. Both of our female refs have left the island now so given our recent strong developments in women’s rugby on the playing side, we would really like to see some of our ladies take on the challenge of giving reffing a go too.”
Watch this space …
SPOTLIGHT ON CAYMAN ISLAND REFS
Name: Dave Sherwin
Years a referee: 22 years
What is your career highlight?
“Refereeing Australia vs Canada in the Women’s 7s final at the Commonwealth Youth Games. The level of skill from the girls was absolutely outstanding and, having refereed elite adult women at an international level, it was clear that the standard of the next generation was going to be exponentially higher, which is so exciting for the growth of women’s rugby.”
Name: Tim Coak
Years a referee: 10 years
What is the best thing about being a referee?
“The challenge of working in a team to officiate a set of pretty complex laws in a fast-moving game.”
Name: Alasdair Robinson
Years a referee: 22 years
How did you get into refereeing?
“Having returned to Cayman from Hong Kong, I had suffered a shoulder injury while playing for the Hong Kong Football Club which kept me out the game for about six months. In the absence of me being able to play, some of the players asked if I could referee. So, I gave it a shot and I never went back to playing.”
Name: Ben Cullen
Years a referee: 16 years
Who is your favourite ref and why?
“Wayne Barnes. I think he has good game management and really good player rapport in all of his games. He also has a pretty good pragmatic approach to how he interprets the law generally when he manages the games.”
Name: Daniel Coelho
Years a referee: 8 years
What is the best thing about refereeing in the Cayman Islands?
“It’s a great way to stay involved in the community game, to meet like-minded rugby lovers, and to keep the heart rate up while enjoying the game from the best seat in the house! For a small population, the quality of club rugby is very competitive and often matches come down to the wire. From my perspective, players are respectful and friendly which makes the refereeing experience all the more rewarding.”
Name: Justin Colgan
Years a referee: 10 years
What does your reffing future hold?
“I would love to do more of the internationals and the Caribbean. If I ever go home, I would love to do grassroots club rugby and maybe someday officiate at an interprovincial Ulster, Leinster, Munster or Connacht match. Whether that’s as an assistant referee or I might go on and do the course. I would love to do something like that and get involved. I fully believe there are not enough ex-players refereeing and I would love to give something back to the game.”
Name: Nik Fox
Years a referee: 20 years
What would you say to anyone considering becoming a referee?
“The thing I would emphasise to those considering being a ref, it that still has all the fellowship, the comradery, and the principles of respect of the game. It gives you a lot of avenues to travel and meet new people. Rugby is a very inclusive game; it has a great community spirit. In terms of encouraging people or how we can get people to do more refereeing, I would just emphasise on a personal level I find it incredibly rewarding and fun.”