UEFA’s top European male and female referees have been in training in Lisbon – preparing for the second half of the campaign, as well as for the introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) in the UEFA Champions League.
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A challenging second half of the season awaits Europe’s top referees – with UEFA confident that the match officials will take an important period for refereeing in their stride.
The 122 male and female referees – 46 of them newcomers to the international list - have spent the week in Lisbon at UEFA’s latest annual winter gathering, in preparation for assignments in UEFA’s club and national team competitions over the coming months.
For top European male match officials on the advanced course, the four days in Portugal saw training and fine-tuning work for the imminent introduction of video assistant referees (VAR) in the UEFA Champions League, starting in the Round of 16, which kicks off on 12 February.
Last year, VAR was incorporated into the Laws of the Game by football’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), following trials in major competitions. The video assistant referee reviews decisions made by the referee in certain key match situations with the use of video footage and a headset for communication.
UEFA’s Executive Committee decided to introduce VAR in UEFA competitions last September, and the committee took a subsequent decision in December for VAR to be deployed from the start of this season’s UEFA Champions League knockout phase. In addition, VAR is to be used at this season's UEFA Europa League final in Baku, the UEFA Nations League Finals in Portugal in June and the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final tournament in Italy in the same month.
The referees took part in specific practical training sessions and simulation sessions involving recorded footage of actual matches, practising reviews in particular. Study sessions on recent incidents in UEFA matches, using video clips, also included discussions on potential VAR situations. “VAR will provide an important help to match officials,” said UEFA’s chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti. “It’s a big step forward for Europe’s referees, and we are ready for the challenge.”
In addition to VAR preparation, the referees were encouraged to be decisive and firm in fulfilling their crucial role on the field. Instructions given to them included the need to protect players from serious injury caused by reckless challenges, as well as to safeguard the image of the game by, for example, acting firmly against cases of dissent or mobbing.
“We don’t need nice or popular referees,” Rosetti said. “We need strong personalities with a professional attitude, who show courage in taking decisions and act as role models for other referees around Europe”.
The international newcomers received a full briefing into what UEFA expects from them as they start out on their journey. “You should be proud, because this is a very important time for you,” Rosetti told them. “Be yourselves – look for improvement every day, don’t try to copy others, and enjoy this moment.”
The new referees were also given wise words of motivation by two officials who have reached the European summit – Germany’s Felix Brych and Switzerland’s Esther Staubli – who advised them in particular about their important role as ambassadors for UEFA and European football.
Fitness training was a key item on the agenda in Lisbon, with the newcomers in particular tested in sprint exercises and undertaking the yo-yo intermittent endurance test – the aim being to check their physical condition. “Challenge yourself to make progress – we are there to help you,” UEFA referee fitness expert Werner Helsen told them.
During the course, referees were reminded of the need for consistency and uniformity in decision-making. The new officials in particular were informed of the standards that UEFA expects of them as they set on what they hope will be long and successful careers.
The week ended with an inspirational moment – courtesy of special guest Beatrice Vio, the Italian wheelchair fencer who has won the world, European and Paralympic titles in recent years.
The 21-year-old, who at the age of 11 had both legs amputated from the knee, and both arms from the forearms owing to meningitis, was given a standing ovation by the referees for her stirring story of courage and determination to overcome adversity and achieve sporting success. “If you referee, you are doing it because you love it,” she told the officials. “Believe in yourselves, and believe that what you are doing is right.”