The FIFA World Cup 2018 is just around the corner. The players are more athletic than ever, with teams also employing better tactics. The referees need to keep up with the players and be in the right position at the right time. Failure could result in making a bad call, outraging millions of fans worldwide.
So now more than ever the officials on the field have to be quicker, fitter and smarter.
The FIFA World Cup 2018 is right around the corner with the first match being between Russia and Saudi Arabia. The match will take place on the 14th of June, 2018. In preparation, referees have to study the teams to better understand their style of play in order to anticipate the action.
In an interview with Smithsonian Mag, Paul Tamberino, who is the U.S. Soccer Director of Referee Development stated that the officials need to know exactly what to expect when refereeing a specific game. “Teams have a reputation for a style of play. Players have certain tendencies,” says Paul Tamberino, “The referees need to know those going in, to know what to expect. African teams are extremely speedy. So you prepare your assistant referee (who calls offsides) to play the offside line. Germany is good on free kicks in the offensive third and very good on head balls. So you need to be ready for contact inside the penalty area.”
On the fitness side, the road to the World Cup is as demanding and competitive for the officials as it is for the players. In preparation for the World Cup, the officials undergo a rigorous fitness and psychological testing regime. Both, the referee and the assistant referee candidates are tested for their physical ability. In particular, to see if they are able to run and keep pace with the players. It is worth mentioning that some of the players may even be half of the referees age!
- The first fitness test consists of the referee running 40 meter sprints x 6, with each sprint having to be completed within 6.2 seconds!
- The second test consists of the referee running 150 meters in 30 seconds, proceeded by walking 50 metres in 35 seconds. This protocol is then repeated 19 more times!
Back in the Sports Science lab the referees undergo medical testing, which includes a blood test, an orthopaedic examination, a resting ECG, an echocardiogram and a stress test.
It Takes It’s Toll
Many officials are unable to cope with the large pressure of the strict training and testing regime. This is why FIFA has ensured that sports psychologists are on call to assist. Each of the referees get a personalised strategy for coping with the pressure whilst managing their work and personal lives.
As the physical ability and the skill level of the players keeps rising so does the need for referees to be fitter, quicker and smarter. Tamberino says: “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. If the referee is unable to keep up with the action, players may be more likely to break the rules. Often by taking a dive or fake being tackled. Referees making a bad call has a long been part of the FIFA World Cup.
- England/Argentina, 1986: In the aftermath of the Falkland War, a Tunisian referee in his first World Cup game failed to notice Diego Maradona punch a ball with his hand past a stunned English goalkeeper. This legendary incident became known as ‘Hand of God’.
- USA/Slovenia, 2010: A game which ended in a draw (2-2) as the first time World Cup referee disallowed a late game goal by the USA player Maurice Edu. The USA team complained about the referee refusing the cite a reason for the decision, with the referee later stating that it was for a foul by Edu. The foul was never found in the replays.
The Right Call
For the referee it is a game on angles. Being in the right position, with the right angle, at the right time, they have a much better chance of making the right call. This is why the physical demands of a professional high-level football referee are ever increasing.