This 45-year-old man, one of the many Cubans who chose to emigrate, has refereed in two FIFA Futsal World Cups, and currently works in the Major Arena Soccer League. “From Santa Clara to the world”, a well-known reporter would have said in this case. In addition to taking part in the FIFA Futsal World Cups in Thailand 2012 and Colombia 2016, he refereed the final of the 2014 International Women’s Tournament in Costa Rica, and the 2016 CONCACAF Futsal Championship.
– Why did you choose football in a country where, during your childhood and youth, everyone wanted to be a baseball player?
– My passion for football began during the 1986 World Cup final in Mexico. That day I was at my paternal grandparents’ house and our friends from the neighborhood got together to watch that final that was shown on television. The emotion that game aroused in me has remained until today. I never played in any organized soccer league or competition. My real dream was baseball statistics. Since I was 7 years old, I had mastered and collected all information on Cuban baseball players, their numbers, positions… In short, nothing to do with football and even less with futsal. Studying in the third year at the Faculty of Physical Culture of Santa Clara, I was the organizer of the Sports Games and Professor Armando Arrojo suggested that I report on the radio the futsal matches that were going to take place at the university. I liked the proposal, but it never came to fruition. Days later, Arrojo and Gilberto Gonzalez, then provincial football commissioner, asked me to help them find a place to organize the first national course for futsal referees, to be held in January 2000. I asked them to let me participate and they agreed to enroll me. This is how my career in Cuban and world refereeing began.
– Why would someone choose to referee in Cuba when the remuneration is poor and the conditions for development are precarious?
– At the beginning, I did not give importance to any impediment and even less to remuneration; I was very young, studying and I took it as an opportunity for professional growth. But as I got higher into national competitions, I woke up from my dream and began to experience how difficult it was to be a referee. I could list hundreds of problems that Cuban referees suffer, because payment is only one of them. From my 23 years of experience (16 of them in Cuba), I believe that the main problem is the limited priority that the national football leaders give to the refereeing department. It has always been the most neglected thing. And an important detail: if football referees are neglected, the futsal and beach soccer referees are in a worse condition.
– When and why did you switch to futsal?
– Actually, I was in futsal from the beginning. Later, when I gained individual recognition in Cuba, they asked me to be the main referee of Santa Clara refereeing quartet, and so I alternated between futsal and football from 2000 to 2016. But futsal has always been my true passion. Working futsal and football at the same time made it easier for me to increase my performance quicker and acquire more experience, assimilating the best individual aspects of the referees of my generation and creating my own style. I am extremely grateful to my colleagues who supported me because I was the youngest and I nourished myself with the best of each one of them to become what I am today.
– Until you emigrated…
– Indeed. After I attended my second World Cup, where I went through to the final phase, I decided to emigrate to the United States. I felt truly fulfilled as a FIFA futsal referee and, although I had the possibility of achieving another World Cup, I thought that it was the right time to prioritize my family. In Cuba, being an active FIFA referee with positive results guarantees absolutely nothing. Until then, my priority had been to be a good referee. From that exact moment, I wanted to be a good father.
– How did you connect with futsal in the United States?
– Upon arriving in the United States in 2016, having the endorsement of having participated in two FIFA Futsal World Cups and showing good results in all competitions, several American futsal personalities, institutions, and programs, in different states, invited me to participate in their effort to promote futsal refereeing. During these seven years, I have shared my experience and contributed the best of myself in Ohio, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, Virginia, Texas, and Florida, both for the growth of futsal referees in the United States and for some colleagues in Canada. All these groups have allowed me to remain active in refereeing after my arrival in the United States. In 2021 I started to referee in the Major Arena Soccer League, which represents the highest level of indoor soccer and keeps me with a professional mentality.
– What are the biggest differences between refereeing in Cuba and outside?
– They are two totally different worlds, but the individual effort to be successful on the pitch is the same, so the key lies in this aspect. From my experience, I believe that in Cuba the self-taught route continues to be the main way of individual growth for referees, although learning from experiences in centralized events and the sporadic courses that a referee is able to access also have an impact. In Cuba, there are generally very few university, youth, and school events, while in the United States football is played the entire year and with a tendency to increase the number of competitions. The payment for referees in all Cuban sports is laughable and, in many cases, non-existent. You only get paid better if you manage to be a FIFA referee and you are lucky if you are paid cash at the competitions you attended. I know many cases of Cuban referees who are owed money from competitions they attended more than seven years ago. Meanwhile, in the United States, each game has a clearly defined payment and depends on the type of competition, its level and the age of the participants, the better quality of the competition, the higher the remuneration.
– What future do you see for the Cuban refereeing?
– In Cuba, futsal is a very popular sport, followed by young people, but after the closure of the emblematic Havana club due to a government strategy, an evident decrease in the development of futsal and its refereeing is noted. It is striking that Cuba today only has two FIFA futsal referees, while we had six in the recent past. We didn’t even have a Cuban representative in the last World Cup, after having referees in the 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 World Cups. Being a referee in Cuba is swimming against the current from day one, or rather, whistling against the wind. Certainly, many referees give up, some wander, and others like me get tired and look for a better standard of living and emigrate.