The referees face a hectic domestic and international schedule, including appointments in the closing stages of this season’s UEFA Champions’ League and UEFA Europa League, as well as the start of the European Qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The latest UEFA winter advanced course for elite and first-category referees, held online owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, gave UEFA the opportunity to urge the referees to maintain the standards that have earned them respect and renown across the globe.
“Treat every match as a final in the coming months,” UEFA Referees Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti told the referees during the two-day review of the first half of the 2020/21 season and preview of the period leading up to this summer’s EURO 2020 finals.
The EURO 2020 referee team will be chosen closer to the tournament, and Rosetti emphasised that places in the team were still up for grabs. “All of the elite referees are candidates for the EURO,” Rosetti said, “and we’ll also be looking at the performances of our first-category referees in view of the various duties required at the finals. Experience will obviously count as a criterion for our choices, but we’ll be closely monitoring everybody in the coming matches before taking our final decision.”
“It’s time to be fit, focused and 100% committed,” he added. “Every match is not only important for UEFA, but also for your careers as referees.”
Keeping up standards
Rosetti asked the referees to share UEFA’s commitment to maintaining the highest levels of quality. “We feel, quite rightly, that you’re the best referees in the world – our goal is for you to keep up your standards. We’re strict with you because we want to keep the bar high.”
The referees were instructed to protect the image not only of UEFA, but also of football. “Take strong action in cases of mass confrontation between players on the field, as well as when you are being mobbed by players,” said Rosetti, who also urged consistent action from referees in cases of holding, pushing and physical contact in the penalty area, especially at free-kicks and corners. The referees were advised to show understanding of the spirit of the game in taking decisions on potential handball situations in the area.
Setting an example
Rosetti reminded the referees of their role in setting an example off the field, especially to young football fans. “When you leave your car at the airport to travel to an assignment, you begin representing UEFA – your mission starts then,” he said. “You must be careful to think about how you act and what you’re saying. People who may know who you are will be looking at you – so you must be perfect ambassadors for UEFA and European football.”
Online review sessions featuring video clips of incidents so far this season were led by the deputy chairman of UEFA’s Referees Committee, Hugh Dallas, and UEFA refereeing officer Vlado Sajn, and the referees took part in discussion groups to talk about the incidents and give their views. “It’s essential that we talk together to get your feedback,” Rosetti told them.
UEFA will continue its online courses during the coming months. A specialist online winter course has already been held for top assistant referees, and further meetings for elite and first-category referees are in the pipeline, as well as courses for video assistant referees (VAR), top women’s referees and match officials who are newcomers to the FIFA international list. Plans are being put in place to stage the traditional pre-EURO training workshop for the tournament referees, should circumstances allow.
Flexibility in the COVID crisis
The European body’s refereeing community has managed to overcome countless restrictions and obstacles caused by the COVID pandemic since its outbreak last spring. In the absence of the regular UEFA fitness courses and tests, referees have, among other things, been undertaking fitness work in their home countries and sending the results to the team led by Belgian sports scientist and fitness expert Werner Helsen.
“It’s been a difficult period for the referees and the UEFA refereeing department,” Rosetti told UEFA.com. “In fact, we’ve had to communicate more than ever because of the pandemic. There have been tough issues to deal with, for instance in relation to travelling and health checks – we’ve had to change appointments and replace referees, and there have been long hours of work for all the team – for example, we’ve often waited until late at night to hear from referees that they have arrived safely at venues and are safe health-wise.”
“But everyone has been flexible and stuck together – the referees have been dedicated and committed, the UEFA staff have been outstanding – it’s a tribute to the constant professionalism of the UEFA refereeing family.”
Rosetti’s fervent hope is that he and his team will soon be meeting Europe’s male and female match officials for the resumption of normal activities. “I’m optimistic and I look forward to that day,” he says. “But until then, I feel it’s important to think how fortunate we are to be in refereeing, and in football.”
“These have been extremely difficult times for the world and for many millions of people. There are so many who have suffered. We must always remember that we’re privileged and lucky to still able to do something that we love…”