Europe's top male and female referees have been preparing for the 2019/20 campaign at their UEFA pre-season course in Croatia – and have been encouraged to maintain their consistently high standards.
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A challenging season awaits Europe's leading male and female referees in UEFA's club and national team competitions – and UEFA's message to them for the coming months is simple: "Work hard, be courageous ... and enjoy what you do."
A total of 123 officials – 72 from UEFA's men's elite and first categories, 31 women's elite and first category referees and 20 video assistant referees – have been preparing for the 2019/20 campaign this week at their UEFA summer course in Zagreb, Croatia.
During the coming season, the referees will be taking charge of matches in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA Women's Champions League, as well as qualifying games for UEFA EURO 2020 and UEFA Women's EURO 2021. Next summer, referee teams will also be selected for the UEFA EURO 2020 finals, which will be taking place in 12 countries across Europe.
The three-day course featured a review of the second half of the 2018/19 campaign, and gave referees the opportunity to exchange views and provide UEFA's Referees Committee with opinions, ideas and proposals. In addition, the referees undertook stringent fitness testing as part of their preparations for the assignments ahead.
The course also included analysis and discussions on the video assistant referee (VAR) system introduced into the Laws of the Game last season, and which UEFA began implementing in its competitions in the second half of last term. This summer has seen amendments to the Laws of the Game come into force, and the gathering in Zagreb served as a 'refresher' session, with the referees taking a test on the laws to consolidate and confirm their knowledge.
"It's a very important season for our referees, especially for the men's referees in view of the run-up to EURO 2020," said UEFA Referees Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti. "So it's important that we have brought the referees together to get them ready for the season.
"As usual, much of the work at the course centred on ensuring that there is consistency and uniformity in referees' decision-taking in UEFA's competitions."
Rosetti was joined by deputy Referees Committee chairman Hugh Dallas and UEFA refereeing officers Vlado Sajn and Dagmar Damková in leading the presentations in Zagreb – which included analysis using video clips of incidents from UEFA matches last season. UEFA's expert team led by Werner Helsen took the referees through their fitness training, which involved the Single Double Single high intensity interval test, introduced by UEFA to enhance its referee training and replicate more what the referee does on the field.
During the course, the referees were given guidelines and instructions to take into the new campaign, especially in relation to VAR, which will be deployed from this season's UEFA Champions League play-offs, as well as at the EURO 2020 finals next summer. "The final decision in a VAR intervention will always be down to the referee," Rosetti said. "The referee remains the leader on the field, and will be at the centre of the decision-making process."
Protecting players and football's image remains essential. "We have a duty to protect players from reckless challenges, serious foul play and violent conduct which endangers their safety," said Rosetti, "and we have reminded the referees of their duty in this respect."
Rosetti outlined the advantages of the VAR system, and emphasised that the work on fine-tuning the system will continue apace. "We only want to see VAR interventions when the video assistant referee has clear video images which prove a clear and obvious mistake by the referee," he explained.
"The aim is for a situation with VAR where maximum benefit is derived with minimum interference. We will also be working to reduce the amount of time taken when the referee reviews an incident on the screen at the side of the pitch. Of course, we want accuracy, but we also want to minimise the amount of time that a match is interrupted.
"An example of the result that we are aiming for with VAR came in the semi-finals and finals of last season's UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League – there was not one VAR intervention in these matches, and that's exactly what we want to achieve."
Honest and open dialogue is a key component of the relationship between UEFA and its referees. The referees were keen to put their views forward, and the Referees Committee members welcomed the feedback from match officials who are deeply committed to attaining the highest standards. "This is an example of the teamwork that we want on and off the field," said Rosetti.
Rosetti urged the referees to strive for performances of the highest calibre in 2019/20. "They are the best referees in Europe and beyond," he stressed. "I ask them to work hard – be brave when they take decisions – and enjoy this important and fulfilling time in their lives."