Jamaica Gleaner / Former FIFA referee Peter Prendergast has been the most talked-about local sports official over the last two weeks. In his time, Prendy was a no-nonsense referee who was always prepared to referee a game in the same way a strict headmaster would address unruly truants. He developed a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for being quick to send off players. He tolerated little in terms of indiscretions on the part of the players. Maybe in another life, Prendy will be a judge.
His tough refereeing style was not out of character with the man himself. He has always been a man who didn’t mince words when he gives his opinion. He has earned quite a few detractors for calling football in Jamaica “bush league.”
He feels that football in Jamaica is so substandard that it cannot be given any kudos and he has gone hard at criticizing the Jamaica Football Federation and every other stakeholder. Prendy’s statements have also earned him a few supporters. Since his outburst about the bush league, many people, including yours truly, feel that in many cases he does have a point. There are still a lot of things that we can do to our football to make it comparable to the other top leagues around the world. He may be a little caustic in his utterances, but there are a lot of ills that he addresses about Jamaican football that can be improved. We may want to cuss the messenger, but in his message are some salient points.
Maybe emboldened by the positive feedback about his bush league comments, Prendy decided to up the tempo. The Jamaica College management staff went hard at the referees after that disallowed goal in the FLOW Super Cup semi-finals. The referees complained about it in their report to the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), and Prendy was not convinced that ISSA was dealing with it with the haste they should. He became a man on a mission over the last few days. He appeared hell-bent on standing up for the referees and wanted to ensure that ISSA or FLOW made certain that something was done. The cause here is honourable. Prendy must be commended for his concerns for referees.
Things came to a head in the FLOW Super Cup final. We were all there expecting a 7 p.m. start. Half an hour after the scheduled start, the players and officials were still not on the field. No public announcement was made as to why, and there was general confusion inside Sabina Park. After a while, we were told that there was a high-level meeting involving the referees, representatives from ISSA and FLOW and, of course, the indefatigable Prendergast. Prendy was now wielding his power in no uncertain way.
On my radio show earlier this week I spoke to ISSA competition director George Forbes. He wasn’t happy that Prendy should be able to hijack the FLOW final the way he did and dismissed him as nothing but an “attention seeker”, desperate to be in the limelight.
Forbes also questioned the legitimacy of Prendy’s authority to act in such a manner. He pointed out that he was not the head of the referees’ body and, in fact, was not even a member. He asked, quite fairly, what right did the former FIFA referee has to claim to be acting and speaking on behalf of the referees. George Forbes said if left to him, Prendy wouldn’t even be allowed in the room. When I put this issue to Prendy, he said he was an “adviser” to the referees’ group and therefore had every right to act in the manner he did.
Did Peter Prendergast overstep his bounds when he effectively stalled the FLOW Super Cup final which was being televised to a Caribbean audience? Was he merely grandstanding to show who has the greater power and to effectively embarrass the FLOW Super Cup organisers or was he acting purely out of the need to ensure the referees were protected? On Wednesday, ISSA ruled that the JC officials should apologise in writing for their verbal assault against the referees. It was the right thing to do. The JC officials did behave in an unacceptable manner for what turned out to be a good call by the referee and they couldn’t get off scot-free.
Would that have happened without Prendy’s intervention? Is Peter Prendergast an attention-seeking man with a penchant for wielding his own power, or should he be seen as a tireless advocate for the rights of referees? I know the answer. Now, what say you?
– Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to [email protected] .