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Referees primed for Women's EURO challenge

“Play your part in a great event” – the clarion call issued to the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 refereeing team as they finalised preparations for July’s tournament in England.

French referee Stéphanie Frappart (front) and colleagues undertake a stretching exercise
French referee Stéphanie Frappart (front) and colleagues undertake a stretching exercise UEFA via Getty Images

The 13 referees, 25 assistant referees, two support officials/fourth officials and 16 video assistant referees forming the 17th team at the EURO came together at a four-day pre-tournament workshop in Istanbul to bond as a ‘family’, take in important technical instructions, test fitness levels and absorb crucial advice on their role as key actors at the much-awaited finals.

The entire team were urged to make their own special contribution to the success of the EURO at the end of what UEFA Referees’ Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti described as “a long road of preparation.”

‘100 percent ready’

UEFA Referees' Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti
UEFA Referees' Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti UEFA via Getty Images

“I believe that this group is the best that UEFA has ever had for a Women’s EURO,” Rosetti emphasised. “They’re professional and they have a great attitude. This EURO will be a fantastic occasion – and we’re 100 percent ready for it.”

“We used this workshop for team-building,” added UEFA refereeing officer Dagmar Damková. “And you could sense the anticipation. There was also a certain sense of relief among the officials. Any pressure they had felt ahead of the selection announcement had disappeared.”

UEFA refereeing officer Dagmar Damková
UEFA refereeing officer Dagmar DamkováUEFA via Getty Images

Damková admitted that the EURO referees' selection process had been a demanding task on account of the growing number of high-quality female referees now handling matches across Europe. “The process lasted three years,” she reflected. “We followed the referees constantly – how they were refereeing their matches, how they worked at courses. Performance was obviously the number-one factor, but more things mattered this time.”

Welcome balance

The result is a EURO team uniting vastly experienced referees with younger officials savouring a major step along their career pathways. “We’re preparing not only for the present, but also for tomorrow,” Rosetti explained. “It’s been a key target in selecting the team,” Damková added. “We have referees who were at youth tournaments a short while ago, and who have now made this big leap forward. It proves that referee development is on the right track.”

 Referees working with the physio team in  Istanbul
Referees working with the physio team in IstanbulUEFA via Getty Images

In addition, as part of an exchange programme within the framework of the cooperation agreement between UEFA and the South American football confederation CONMEBOL, Venezuelan referee Emikar Calderas Barrera and assistant referees Migdalia Rodríguez Chirino (Venezuela) and Mary Blanco Bolívar (Colombia) will be part of the group in England. A European refereeing team will officiate together with CONMEBOL’s referees at the forthcoming Copa América Femenina 2022 in Colombia – referee Sandra Braz Bastos (Portugal) will be accompanied by assistant referees Andreia Catarina Ferreira Sousa (Portugal) and Rita Cabañero Mompó (Spain).

New challenges

The referees are looking forward to their Women's EURO challenge
The referees are looking forward to their Women's EURO challengeUEFA via Getty Images

The EURO comes at an exciting time for European women’s football. The tournament follows on from the first UEFA Women’s Champions League season to feature a 16-team group stage with centralised media and sponsorship rights which has boosted the competition’s visibility and exposure.

Rosetti agrees that referees are adjusting to new challenges as the women’s game evolves in terms of technical skills, tactical knowledge, fitness and preparation. “We’ve entered a new era,” he reflected. “The Women’s Champions League has had a significant impact on levels of intensity – for example, the enhanced physical preparation of players means that the game is getting faster, and all our referees are having to adapt to this trend.”

“It’s becoming more and more professional,” Damková added. “There are many more people around the referees to support their preparation – for instance, the number of fitness coaches and physios accompanying them. Referees now study team tactics and player characteristics ahead of matches. We’re moving closer to the men’s game in many ways. So we’re asking more from the referees – and in return they’re also getting more support from us to help them prepare and develop.”

VAR’s decision-making role

The video assistant referee system (VAR) will be deployed at a Women's EURO for the first time
The video assistant referee system (VAR) will be deployed at a Women's EURO for the first time UEFA

Following on from its deployment in the latter stages of last season’s Women’s Champions League, the video assistant referee (VAR) system is being used at a Women’s EURO for the first time, and the Istanbul workshop included specific practical exercises. Both Rosetti and Damková – former leading international referees themselves – hailed this move as a crucial contribution to women’s refereeing.

“VAR is there to help the referees,” said Damková. “It should give them a greater incentive to be calm and focussed.” Rosetti sent out a clear VAR message. “Decision-making on the field must be left to the referees,” he said, “but the VARs will obviously be ready to intervene in the event of a clear and obvious mistake.”

Just as the talented footballers on show in England will act as important role models, Damková underlined that the EURO referee team can also serve to inspire women and young girls to take up refereeing. “National associations are now fostering a growing number of female referees,” she reflected, “and when I’ve spoken to younger referees, some say that they started refereeing after seeing the top female officials at tournaments like this. So it’s actually already happening!”

UEFA referee briefings for EURO teams

UEFA Referees Committee members are visiting all 16 teams ahead of the Women’s EURO to explain exactly how the Laws of the Game will be interpreted in England, as part of UEFA’s commitment to ensuring that referees, players and coaches are on the same page at the tournament.

The measure has proved successful at the last two men’s EUROs. Teams will be briefed in full about the various technical instructions and guidelines that UEFA has given the Women’s EURO referee team.

They will hear about the guidelines given by UEFA to the referees on issues such as handball, offside, penalty-area incidents, and protecting players from reckless challenges.

“It means that the teams will know what is expected of them,” said UEFA Referees Committee chairman Roberto Rosetti. “It’s a very positive process that is proving its worth – in fact, not only the players and coaches learn from us, but we receive important feedback from them as well. It’s a win-win exercise.”