Club officials are investigating after a Cooper City youth soccer coach was ejected from a game when he gave instructions to players in Spanish.
Coach Ruben Albarracin, 54, of Plantation, told NBC 6 on Friday that he felt discriminated when referees forced him out of the Dec. 8 game. He said he took issue with the referees’ actions, because people have the right to speak any language “in a free country.”
“I’ve never seen an act of discrimination that was so bad,” he said.
He said he hopes the incident raises awareness that people shouldn’t be “shut down because of their culture or language.”
Albarracin, a native of Argentina, said he lived in New York for 18 years before moving to South Florida in 2001. The players on Albarracin's team are mostly immigrants or the children of immigrants from Latin America.
Officials with the Optimist Club, which oversees the league, say the board asked coaches during a recent meeting to speak in a language that everyone understands, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. They confirmed that the incident occurred, but called it a misunderstanding.
They cited an incident last year when a coach speaking in Hebrew told players to break the legs of a rival team during a game.
Officials say league rules do not prohibit speaking in a foreign language during games.
Optimist Club board member Geri Kelly told the Sun Sentinel, "During a meeting, we asked coaches to be careful and, for the benefit of the majority, speak in a language that everyone understands. We have no rule [against speaking Spanish]. How could this be a rule?"
"This is a youth recreational program, with players of different races and nationalities, and we want all the players to enjoy the benefit of the instructions offered by their coaches," she said. "We want everybody to understand."
Albarracin told NBC 6 that he gave his Dallas FC players instructions in Spanish because he was overcome with the emotion of the game. He said he had been warned before not to speak Spanish, but “it comes to me naturally. I’m a very passionate guy,” he said.
“I like to tell my players that we can have fun and we can win,” he said. Ten to 11 players are on his team, ranging in ages from 14 to 18, he said.
One referee told Albarracin that there was “a new rule” that prohibited him from speaking Spanish. Albarracin protested, saying he wanted to see the rule in writing. A second referee then approached and told him he would be ejected from the game if he kept speaking Spanish, he said.
Albarracin complained referees also were rude as they ordered him not to speak Spanish. “They could have spoken to me with respect,” he said. When Albarracin was ejected, the game stopped and the opposing team was announced the winner, he said.
Since the Dec. 8 game, Albarracin has coached about nine more games. He acknowledges that he has still spoken in Spanish during games, but says he needs to stand up against discrimination.
“What they did was wrong,” he said.