Europe's top female referees face important challenges in the coming months – with UEFA issuing a clarion call encouraging them to make the most of the opportunities that are waiting for them.
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With the UEFA Women's EURO in England in July fast approaching, the referees – all candidates for the team of match officials at the tournament – are being called on to make every performance count in the period ahead as they strive to book their place at the premier event in European women's national team football.
"Sport, like all of life, is about taking your chances," UEFA refereeing officer Dagmar Damková told the group of 23 European female referees at UEFA's annual winter course.
"This EURO is going to be a massive event for women's football," she added. "New standards are going to be set and the referees who take part are going to make a hugely important contribution."
The winter course, held online owing to restrictions brought about by the pandemic, served to prime the match officials for their schedule in the next few months.
The first challenges arrive with the knockout stages of the UEFA Women's Champions League, which will crown a memorable season of change and evolution for the competition with its new 16-team group stage, centralised sponsorship and media rights and heightened profile and exposure.
Performances ahead of names
The Women's EURO referee team will be selected after the UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finals, and those who perform well over the two legs in late March will put themselves in the frame for the tournament in England between 6 and 31 July.
"Performances will take priority over names when we choose the referees," Damková said. "We could have a situation where referees that are not so well known impress us just as much as established officials."
UEFA is delighted that its pool of female referees is more impressive than ever in terms of quality and dedication. "The decisions about who goes to the EURO are going to be very difficult, because we now have a growing group of high-calibre referees from which to choose," reflected UEFA Referees Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti. "The selection process will be very interesting."
"Before now, we had a smaller group of referees that we knew we could rely on for big occasions," Damková added. "But now that group has grown in size. We believe that Europe's female referees are reaching new heights. It's positive that we now have a bigger pool to choose from for important assignments.
"We've used the winter course to prepare the referees for their duties, passed on technical instructions, and told them not only what they should expect, but what UEFA expects of them – focus, consistency, confidence and correct and uniform decision-making."
Video assistant referees (VAR) will be deployed from the UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finals onwards, and will also be used for the first time at a Women's EURO this summer.
"We’ve been very busy preparing for VAR activities in recent months and we're ready for the challenges ahead," Damková explained. "VAR is good for the game, because it helps the decision-making process, and provides a safety net in the event of clear and obvious refereeing errors."
Keeping pace with the game
UEFA's comprehensive development programme for female referees reflects the body's determination to ensure that refereeing keeps pace with the rapidly evolving tactical and technical evolution of women's football.
"The development of female referees must go hand in hand with the development of the game on the field," Damková said. "A lot of our work with the referees may be hidden from view, but our work has been diligent and focused – referees will not be left behind as women's football goes forward."
Damková herself was a leading international referee, taking charge of finals of the Women's EURO (2009), UEFA Women's Champions League (2011) and Olympic women's football tournament (2008). Her broad experience proves crucial in helping modern-day referees cope with their high-pressure, high-stakes duties, and will be an equally important factor in guiding the officials through a demanding programme this spring and summer.
'Live the experience'
"You have to live the experience – you're obviously allowed moments of euphoria when you're chosen to referee big matches or participate in major tournaments," she explained. "But then comes the time for serious focus and concentration in the search for excellence.
"It's important that you're able to be self-critical and to overcome difficult moments, and I think it helps to have people accompanying you who are not only positive, but also honest in their opinions, to help you fulfil your potential.
"The coming months will be very exciting with the climax of the Women's Champions League season and the EURO to come. I'm proud of our referees for the commitment they show, as well as the flexibility they have demonstrated during these difficult times. Now is the moment when they must strive to take hold of the opportunities that are in front of them."