Europe's leading referees and newcomers to the international referees' list are ready for their assignments in the second half of the UEFA club and national-team competition season after successfully coming through their UEFA winter courses in Limassol, Cyprus, last week.
The courses not only gave the referees and members of UEFA's Referees Committee the opportunity to review the first half of the campaign – but also to check the match officials' fitness in a variety of ways. The introductory course brought together 34 new international referees, selected by FIFA from 24 countries, while the advanced course was attended by their more experienced colleagues – 24 Elite and 21 Premier and Premier Development referees.
A new element of this year's programme, which supplemented the medical and weight checks and fitness training carried out under the watchful eye of UEFA referee fitness expert Werner Helsen, was a comprehensive visual examination for all the referees.
"We have to look at referees' field of vision," said UEFA refereeing officer Hugh Dallas, "as well as their ability to 'fix a vision' – to take an 'instant photograph' of an incident – their ability to focus on close or moving objects and their ability to react to movements around them." Maintaining focus and concentration amid the high pace of a modern elite game are a key purpose behind such tests.
UEFA's new referees underwent the full FIFA fitness test, and were given invaluable instruction by Referees Committee members on decision-making and positioning, using footage from UEFA matches. The advanced course referees also took the FIFA fitness test and held discussion sessions. Deliberations centred on experiences at last year's FIFA World Cup and the experiment with additional assistant referees which is ongoing in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying competition.
The January gathering in Cyprus also gave many of the referees a welcome respite from winter conditions elsewhere in Europe. "We come to the warmer climate at this time of the year," Dallas explained, "because Werner Helsen can have the referees on the pitch every day, working very hard and looking at fitness levels. We obviously have to have good conditions for that."
In addition, the referees and the Referees Committee used the week to talk about refereeing issues – the committee not only gives advice to match officials, but is also extremely keen to receive feedback from the men in the middle. "It's important for everyone to exchange views and hear what the referees have to say – in particular about the additional assistant referees' experiment," said Dallas.
"With the advanced referees, first of all we're preparing them for the business end of the season, with the competitions now entering the knockout rounds," Dallas reflected. "We have to make sure they are prepared and fit – it's important that we monitor them. We review the first six matchdays of the UEFA Champions League, for example, and we deliver the message to have a consistent line so that we have uniformity."
The newcomers to the FIFA list were given a full introduction to their assignments at European level. They were tested for English knowledge – English is the common referee language – and were instructed on how they should fulfil their role as a UEFA referee, from administrative tasks to how they should conduct themselves as UEFA representatives when travelling abroad to a match.
"The course also gives us our first opportunity to look at these new referees, and to look at their fitness levels – which are improving year after year," said Dallas. "I think we can put this down to the introduction of the UEFA Referee Convention, which has also provided funding to the national associations, and which is allowing them to invest in their referees.
"There is now a much more professional approach. We're now seeing at national level that referees are being monitored by fitness specialists and doctors – they are receiving all sorts of professional support." Such support by UEFA and the associations will doubtless help referees improve and develop in their testing job at the summit of the world and European game.
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