What it takes to be a referee in the World Cup


They have trained their entire careers to perform at the World Cup – building endurance, strength and stamina, and developing the mental toughness to handle the pressures of the game.

It is not easy to be an elite football referee.

While the focus of the fans and spectators is on the sportsmanship of the players in the FIFA Men’s World Cup tournament in Qatar, the football officials overseeing the event also need to demonstrate a world class level of sportsmanship.

According to Werner Helsen, a sports scientist with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), referees typically throw six to eight miles during a 90-minute match. Working as a referee requires sprinting, endurance and the ability to quickly change direction, as well as the emotional skills to manage player tempers and referee stress. They must last 90-plus minutes with some of the fastest athletes in the world, all while enforcing the rules of the game.

“There’s a lot of running that a referee needs to do,” said Mark Geiger, who in 2014 became the first referee from the United States to officiate a World Cup match. “Synonymous with international and professional players, it’s very demanding on the body, and that’s why they train the way they do.”

A fitness test for the ranks

World Cup referees must pass fitness tests approved by FIFA that assess sprint speed and aerobic fitness.

“Fitness is your passport,” said Rick Eddy, director of referee development with US Soccer. “If you don’t have good fitness, you won’t progress and you won’t pass the test, and the tests have become more and more difficult in the past few years.”

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

At the World Cup matches in Qatar, there are five officials on the field: one referee (sometimes known as the center referee) who officiates the match, two assistant referees on opposite halves of the pitch and a fourth and fifth official between the seats who perform administrative duties. and help the referee. Video assistant referees (VAR) monitor match footage and review off-field replays.

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To become a FIFA referee, a person 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 involving the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which governs professional soccer referees in North America, as well as U.S. Soccer. make a.

There is also a tough test of speed that all refs 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 male referees and 6.4 seconds for female referees.
  • An intense interval test, repeated 40 times without stopping, consisting of a 75-meter sprint (15 seconds or less for men; 17 seconds for women) followed by a brisk 25-meter walk (18 seconds or less for men seconds; for men 20 seconds). women) – which is 4,000 meters, or 10 laps of the 400-meter track.
  • A change-of-direction test known as the 7-7-7. Geiger, who retired from professional refereeing in 2019 and now works with the PRO as director of senior match officials, said the test required a seven-meter sprint, then a 90-degree left turn and another seven meters. quickly, then turn 90 degrees to the right. and sprinted another seven meters. The maneuver must be performed twice, he said, and judges must do it in 4.9 seconds or faster each time.

“They’re trying to test what the refereeing demands are in the game,” Geiger said. “In a game, they don’t walk continuously. They run a little and then they take a little break. They might walk.”

Assistant referees have a slightly different test that involves sprinting and sideline changes, to mimic what referees do on the sidelines during a match.

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The Washington Post asked American soccer player Drew Skundrich, 27, to try out at the training ground of his former club, DC United, in early November. Later, Skundrich said that the tests made him a better judge for the job of an arbitrator.

“It was definitely harder than I expected,” he said. “The refs have to move a lot, which makes sense because they have to keep up with the pace of the game. Some plays can go back and forth really quickly, and unlike defenders or forwards, who can kind of stay on one side of the field, The refs have to cover everything, so it makes sense that they have to do these fitness tests.”

In Qatar, one of the first female World Cup referees will live an ‘impossible dream’.

Referees must constantly train to keep up with the demands of the game. For 34-year-old Joe Dickerson, who has been a full-time referee with PRO since 2018 and has been working Major League Soccer matches, that means training all year.

“I think we have to be as fit as the players,” said Dickerson, who has not refereed at the World Cup.

His training regimen varies throughout the year. During the MLS season, Dickerson focuses on light running and light lifting, before turning to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to prepare for the FIFA referee fitness test. During the season, Dickerson does a lot of cross training, including swimming, to recover when the match load is high.

Eddy, who worked as a referee in MLS before his job with US Soccer, also advocates for aerobic strength building in addition to cycling. He advises that referees mix it up when it comes to sports.

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

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Training for the mental game

Understanding a team and a player’s style of play can make a referee’s job easier. All good referees, Eddy said, keep a notebook on players’ tendencies. Professional referees must predict where the ball will be and place accordingly.

“It’s not far,” Dickerson said. It is fast and only one can be explosive and dynamic. Then the next difficult part is reading the plays. “We put a lot of effort into watching film and trying to understand what teams are going to do to predict where we’re going to be before we get there.”

They are one or two meters away the best angle to view the game can mean the difference between getting or missing a penalty call.

“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 take it with physical challenges in the right place.”

World Cup in Qatar

At the latest: Portugal eased to a 6-1 win over Switzerland and will face Morocco in the quarter-finals on Saturday after the Atlas Lions stunned Spain on penalties earlier on Tuesday.

USMNT: The US men’s national team lost 3-1 to the Netherlands in their opening round of 16 match on Saturday. The United States has not won a World Cup match since 2002, when it lost to regional rival Mexico in the qualifying round. 16 in South Korea.

Graduation schedule: A World Cup group stage filled with shocking upsets and dramatic twists will now give way to a match that promises more surprises.

Today’s World View: The 2022 World Cup has been mired in controversy since Qatar won the right to host it more than a decade ago. Sometimes drowning in madness: Confronting the climate impact of the tournament. Perhaps anticipating a setback, Qatar has made an ambitious promise: to host the first carbon-neutral World Cup.


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