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Europe's referees ready for testing campaign

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UEFA's summer course puts elite officials through their paces ahead of a packed season of European football.

UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Top match officials from all over from Europe gathered in Switzerland this week to prepare for the 2023/24 season, which will culminate with UEFA EURO 2024.

More than 100 male and female referees were invited to join UEFA's team of experts and trainers, led by chief refereeing officer Roberto Rosetti, who last week urged officials to help protect the game's image with a zero-tolerance approach to abusive behaviour from players and coaches.

Referees take a fitness test
Referees take a fitness testUEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Encouragement and praise from the top

At this gathering in Geneva, that message was reiterated face-to-face as European football readies itself for the commencement of UEFA's club competition group stages, with the reminder that Europe's officials are the best in the business.

"You are the best referees in the world, it's a fact. But being here is not a licence to do less, being here is a responsibility to do more.

"This is a great moment before the start of the season where we are all here together and it is a very important time for us. There is a crucial season ahead, and with EURO 2024 at the end of it, each and every one of us has the responsibility to be the very best we can be."

Roberto Rosetti, UEFA chief refereeing officer

Irfan Peljto, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, is one of UEFA's elite-level referees, and explained what the course means for its attendees.

"I'm very honoured to be here to receive the new messages on the UEFA guidelines and discuss the changes to the Laws of the Game, it will be a very interesting season," said the 39-year-old.

"We are a huge community, a big family, and we all communicate regularly between each other. All of us referees come from different countries with different approaches, different associations and leagues and it's very good to compare, so this course is fantastic for making a deep friendship with other guys from around Europe."

Referee Irfan Peljto at the summer course
Referee Irfan Peljto at the summer courseUEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

There was much more on the agenda than motivating messages and social catch-ups, however. The course is also used to screen officials' health and fitness, with referees in Europe's top competitions required to cover up to 12km per match. That meant a series of fitness tests and information sessions designed to ensure they are in peak physical condition when the group stages arrive later this month.

Prizes awarded to top refs

Two of UEFA's top referees also received international recognition in front of their peers. Poland's Szymon Marciniak and France's Stéphanie Frappart were named Best Referee in the World by International Federation of Football – History and Statistics (IFFHS), picking up their awards on stage to rapturous applause from their colleagues.

Stéphanie Frappart accepts her award
Stéphanie Frappart accepts her awardUEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

UEFA's officials were joined at the course by two from CONMEBOL as part of UEFA's on-going collaboration with South American football's governing body. Facundo Tello (Argentina) and Wilton Sampaio (Brazil) received a warm welcome to the group as they learnt more about European processes.

Recruitment campaign support

The course, which also included CPR training for the officials, followed last week's launch of UEFA's "Be a Referee!" campaign, which aims to recruit thousands of new officials via European football's national football associations.

Roberto Rosetti discusses the 'Be a Referee!' campaign
Roberto Rosetti discusses the 'Be a Referee!' campaignUEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

"UEFA is doing a great job for all of us with this campaign and promoting young referees, Peljto said. "We are an important part of football and I hope young people will get involved with the 'Be a Referee!' campaign. My advice is to join us, we are a big family, and it's very exciting.

"I remember my first match as a referee, it was a long time ago! We didn’t have so many good pitches, it was after the war that we suffered, so there was no grass on the pitch and it was a kids' match. I could barely whistle for a throw-in because I felt so much pressure on me!"

Thankfully, those nerves soon eased, and Peljto graduated through the ranks to make his UEFA Champions League debut in 2021. He is just one of Europe's many refereeing success stories we are looking to replicate in the coming years, but for now, his focus, like his colleagues', is on the challenges ahead in 2023/24.

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