What it takes to be a referee in the World Cup


They’ve trained their entire careers to perform at the World Cup — building endurance, strength and agility, and developing the mental toughness to cope with the pressures of the game.

It is not easy to be an elite football referee.

While the attention of fans and viewers is focused on the athletic prowess of the players at FIFA’s Men’s World Cup tournament in Qatar, the football officials overseeing the event also need to show their level of competence. world class fitness.

According to Werner Helsen, a sports scientist with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), referees typically run six to eight miles in a 90-minute match. Being a referee requires sprinting, endurance and the ability to change direction quickly, as well as emotional skills to handle player temperament and operator stress. They had to keep up with some of the fastest athletes in the world for more than 90 minutes, while also enforcing the rules of the game.

Mark Geiger, who in 2014 became the first US referee to run a knockout match at a World Cup, said: “There are a lot of high-intensity activities that the referee will need to do. . “Keeping up with international and professional players, it’s extremely physically demanding, and that’s why they train the way they do.”

Fitness test for referees

World Cup referees must pass FIFA-approved fitness tests to assess sprint speed and aerobic fitness.

“Fitness is your passport,” said Rick Eddy, director of referee development for US Soccer. “If you’re not physically fit, you’re not going to advance and you’re not going to pass the test, and the tests have become more and more difficult over the past few years.”

The FIFA Arbitration Committee has selected 36 referees, 69 assistant referees and 24 video game officials to work at this year’s World Cup.

At World Cup matches in Qatar, there are five officials on the field: a referee (sometimes called the center referee) responsible for administering the match, two assistant referees on opposite halves of the pitch and the fourth and fifth officials in between. benches perform administrative duties and assist referees. Video assistant referees (VARs) monitor match footage and evaluate off-field replays.

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To become a FIFA referee, an individual must have worked in their country’s top league for at least two years, Eddy said. To qualify for the World Cup, U.S. referees must first be recommended to FIFA through a process that includes the Professional Arbitration Organization (PRO), the governing body of professional football referees in North Korea. America, as well as US Soccer.

There is also a challenging test of speed and agility that all introducers must pass. According to FIFA and Geiger, it includes:

  • Six 40-meter sprints with no more than 60 seconds of recovery between each repetition. Each sprint must be completed within six seconds for men and 6.4 seconds for women.
  • A grueling interval test, repeated 40 times non-stop, consisting of running 75 meters (15 seconds or less for men; 17 seconds for women), followed by a brisk 25-meter walk (18 seconds) or less for men; 20 seconds for women) — equals 4,000 meters, or 10 laps of a 400-meter track.
  • A test of changing direction is called 7-7-7. Geiger, who retired as a professional referee in 2019 and now serves as PRO’s director of senior match officials, said the test calls for a seven-meter sprint followed by a 90-degree turn to the left and sprint for seven more meters, then turn 90 degrees to the right and sprint for another seven meters. The exercise had to be done twice, he said, and the referees had to do it 4.9 seconds or faster each time.

“They’re trying to get the test to mimic the requirements for a referee during a match,” said Geiger. “In a game, they don’t run continuously. They are running some and then they rest a bit. They can walk.”

The assistant referee has a slightly different test that includes sprinting and side shuffling, to mimic what a referee does in a sideline game.

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The Washington Post asked American professional soccer player Drew Skundrich, 27, to try the tests in early November on the training ground of his former club, DC United. Later, Skundrich said the tests helped him appreciate the job of a referee.

“It was definitely more difficult than I expected,” he said. “The referees have to move a lot, which makes sense because they have to keep up with the pace of the game. Some games can go back and forth very quickly, and unlike defenders or attacking players, who can be on one side of the field, the referees have to cover the whole thing, so they have to do the exercises. This fitness test makes sense. “

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Referees need to practice continuously to keep up with the requirements of the game. For 34-year-old Joe Dickerson, who has been a full-time referee for PRO since 2018 and oversees Major League matches, that means year-round coaching.

“I think we have to match the players,” said Dickerson, who did not run at a World Cup.

His training regimen fluctuates throughout the year. During the MLS season, Dickerson focused on light jogging and light weight lifting, before switching to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to prepare for the FIFA referee’s fitness test. Throughout the season, Dickerson does a lot of cross training, including swimming, to recover from high game intensity.

Eddy, who served as a referee in the MLS before joining US Soccer, also advocates swimming, in addition to cycling, to increase fitness. He advises that referees mix it up in practice.

“You want to get fit for refereeing games. You don’t want to referee games to get in shape,” Eddy said. “It’s about balance. You know, one day it might be a sprint, the next day it might be a distance run, the next day it might be in the pool to recover.”

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Training for mental games

Understanding the play of a team and players can help the referee’s job go more smoothly. All good referees, Eddy said, take notes on the tendencies of the players. Professional referees need to predict the position of the ball and determine the position accordingly.

“It’s not the distance,” Dickerson said. It’s speed and explosiveness and dynamism. Then the other difficult part was reading plays. We put a lot of effort into watching the movie and trying to understand what the teams were going to do so we could predict where we would be before we had to get there.”

A yard or two away The best angle to watch the game could mean the difference between catching or missing a penalty.

“There are all these things that we’re trying to balance,” Dickerson said. “We just want to make the right decisions, so we need to accept that with the physical challenges of being in the right place.”

Qatar World Cup

Latest: Portugal won easily 6-1 over Switzerland and will face Morocco in the quarterfinals on Saturday after the Atlas Lions beat Spain in a penalty shootout earlier on Tuesday.

USMNT: The United States men’s national team fell to the Netherlands 3-1 on Saturday in the opening match of the round of 16. The United States hasn’t won a knockout match at the World Cup since 2002, when they beat regional rival Mexico in the knockout round. 16 in Korea.

Schedule for the knockout round: A World Cup group stage full of shocking and dramatic comebacks will now give way to a knockout stage that promises many surprises.

Worldview today: The 2022 World Cup has faced a series of controversies since Qatar won the right to host it more than a decade ago. Sometimes drowned in noise: Concerns about the league’s climate impact. Perhaps anticipating the consequences, Qatar made an ambitious commitment: hosting the first carbon-neutral World Cup.


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