How to Train a World Cup Referee

Just as the players on the pitch have trained for years, the referees for the World Cup are required to be physically fit for duty

For officials, the road to the World Cup is as competitive and demanding as it is for players. (Shawn Thew / epa / Corbis)

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In the lab, a medical team in Zurich assessed each match official earlier this year. Among the tests were a blood test, an orthopedic examination, a resting EKG, an echocardiogram and a stress test.

In late May, FIFA announced that 2 of the chosen 30 teams would not be officiating at the World Cup because an assistant referee in each team had failed the final fitness test.

FIFA says that because of the huge pressure on match officials, sports psychologists help each of them develop a personalized strategy to cope with it and prevent it from affecting their work and personal lives.

Instructors maintain close contact with match officials throughout the World Cup games to discuss any concerns. Before games, match officials meet to discuss the problem players, the matchups, the coaching philosophies and the consequences of the game. If a player is sent off early for a red card, will their team play for the tie or continue to attack because they need the point to move on to the next round?

“Referees have to be prepared,” Tamberino says. “There’s so many styles, so many tactics.”

Tamberino, named the Major League Soccer referee of the year each year from 1998 to his retirement in 2001, worked nine World Cup qualifying matches. He says the two biggest changes in the game in the past decade are the increases in speed and technical ability. “Everything is geared to make the game faster and more exciting, not that it wasn’t exciting ten years ago,” he adds. “It puts more demands on referees.”

Teams are more likely to move the ball quickly from the defensive third into the offensive end on the foot of a speedy attacker, making fitness imperative for referees, who may run seven to nine miles during a game, as much as a midfielder.

Players are also more likely to take a dive, fake being tackled. “The referee needs to be so close to see if it’s a dive or it’s really contact,” Tamberino notes. “Everything rides on that one call.”

Ultimately, for referees, it’s a game of angles, just like so many other sports. If the referee is in the right position with the right angle, he has a much better chance to make the right call.

As a referee, Tamberino believed in the players. “You want to contribute to the entertainment,” he says. “You want to let the players exhibit their skills without over-calling the game for trifling offenses, as they say in the rule book. You want to make it as enjoyable as possible for the spectators, minimize the whistles and encourage fair play.”

About Jim Morrison
Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison is a freelance writer whose stories, reported from two dozen countries, have appeared in numerous publications including, the New York Times, and National Wildlife.

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