The participation of women referees at the UEFA winter courses reflects the attention given by UEFA to women referees, as well as the development of women's football.
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The inclusion of women referees in the UEFA winter referee courses is showing its worth – the move is now proving to be a resounding success.
The latest courses in Athens were attended by UEFA's elite women's referees, as well as newcomers to the international list. This was the third time that female match officials have joined their male counterparts at the UEFA sessions, in a move that has reflected not only the attention that UEFA wishes to give women referees' development, but also emphasises the flourishing of European women's football in recent years.
Specific parts of the women's course agenda were led by two UEFA Referees Committee members – Dagmar Damková, a former leading women's international referee from the Czech Republic, and Bo Karlsson, the Swedish former referee who took charge of the 1991 European Cup Winners' Cup final between Manchester United FC and FC Barcelona.
The newcomers and elite referees undertook fitness tests and attended education and instructional sessions aimed at helping them further develop not only their decision-making consistency, but to measure their fitness as the women's game becomes ever quicker in pace and skill.
For the elite referees, crucial assignments are upcoming in the closing stages of the UEFA Women's Champions League, and some are candidates to travel to Canada in the summer to officiate at matches in the FIFA Women's World Cup. The women referees worked together with the male referees in a number of technical sessions, including those on topics such as offside and severity of offences, while other technical sessions, led by Damková and Karlsson, focused on the women's competitions.
"The courses are really beneficial for our referees," says Damková, who took charge of the women's football final at the 2008 Olympic Games, the final of UEFA Women's EURO 2009 and the 2011 UEFA Women's Champions League final, as well as officiating at two FIFA Women's World Cups. "It's proving very important for the younger referees to come together with their elite women colleagues, and to exchange advice and experiences with the male referees."
The fitness tests in particular prove to be vital for UEFA and the women referees in being able to assess their physical condition. "The girls know they have to be at the top level in terms of fitness, and the tests are demanding," Damková explains. "Women's football is increasing in pace, and you must be prepared." Group work in the technical sessions also included studying video clips relating to issues such as handball, playing advantage and managing players on the pitch.
Damková and Karlsson are wise mentors to the referees, and continually emphasise the need for dedication if they want to reach the highest levels. "Nowadays to be a top referee – male, female, it doesn't matter," says Damková, "You must really dedicate your life to refereeing – otherwise you can't succeed." The women referees were advised at the winter course about the responsibilities involved in representing both their country and UEFA while they are on international duty, and were also given strict advice about how they should act vis-a-vis social media.
Like all of the UEFA Referees Committee members, Damková is delighted to have the opportunity to pass on her vast experience as a former elite match official. "I feel really happy to have this chance to continue in refereeing, and put something back to help today's referees," she reflects. "I can understand how it is for people to reach a certain level and have to stop. I'm more than satisfied with what I'm doing."