Björn Kuipers has been selected to referee tonight's UEFA European Under-17 Championship final between Russia and the Czech Republic, his first major tournament since joining the UEFA list. And the Dutchman is delighted with his progress as an official.
"I am very pleased," he told uefa.com. "I'm 33, I have been refereeing since I was 17. I started as a hobby and I never thought there was a possibility of being an international referee. I went abroad for a year during my studies to Indonesia and had to stop for a while but then I came back and it moved very quickly. Last January I became an international referee, the most wonderful thing I could have."
An Eredivisie referee back home for the last two years, Kuipers believes handling youth games needs a different approach. "Senior games are more tactical, they use their heads more," he said. "With the younger players you have to be the manager on the field when you are refereeing. To tell the players where the line is." Even if he and the players do not share a common language. "You can make yourself clear to the players with your personality, with your body language and basic English phrases that they players know. And you can make yourself clear with your whistle."
To ease the situation all UEFA referees must now speak good English, a considerable aid to the multinational lineup of officials in Luxembourg. Kuipers said: "When I came to this tournament I was thinking: six referees and eight assistants from different countries, maybe it will be difficult because of the language and the different interpretation of the rules. But I think we did a fairly good job with each other, everybody can make themselves clear in English which is an improvement on previous years. For me it was quite an experience to referee with assistants I did not know, from other countries. We became one family. When I leave on Monday my list of friends will be longer than before."
One advantage for Kuipers has been living for two weeks at the officials' hotel, where experienced assessors have led discussions of the referees' performances using videos of matches. He said: "We are familiar with it from Holland where we do it several times every month; we come together and analyse the matches. It is good as you see yourself, and others are talking about you so you have a confrontation. We should do it a lot more, as this is how you learn and progress."
However, just as for the teams, not everybody makes the cut for the second week of the tournament, when only four games remain. "It is exciting, who will go or stay," Kuipers said. "You are in a group, have a good time, and we knew two referees and four assistants had to go. It's a strange feeling but that's the job, and I was glad I could stay."
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