A new UEFA club competition campaign and qualifying matches for UEFA EURO 2012 are fast approaching – and Europe's referees have joined forces with UEFA in Slovenia this week for a comprehensive review and preview process that is designed to ensure that the match officials are fully prepared for their coming assignments.
The eighth UEFA Summer Gathering for UEFA Top Referees opened in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana with a common pledge to uphold and, as far as possible, improve standards over the coming months. As top referees are now considered athletes in terms of fitness amid the high-pace modern game, the gathering in Slovenia features fitness tests and monitoring of body mass measurements. In addition, group discussions will enable the referees to put their views forward to UEFA on a variety of topics that affect them.
UEFA's Referees Committee has created a comprehensive programme for the referees from the UEFA elite and premier categories, as well as the second-category group of match officials. Video footage of UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches is being used to highlight match situations, with the focus on areas such as simulation, handball and dissent. "We have a duty to protect the image of the game," said UEFA refereeing officer Hugh Dallas, who also stressed the importance of a consistent approach to decision-making in such incidents, and of maintaining an ideal balance between managing the players on the pitch and taking appropriate disciplinary measures.
UEFA will profit from group talks involving the elite and category referees. "The Referees Committee should listen to the experienced referees," Dallas explained. "Information has been gathered from last season, and we want to find out [referees'] opinions."
One element of refereeing that is receiving special attention in Slovenia is the experiment with two additional assistant referees, which will continue in the UEFA club competitions over the next two seasons. In the experiment, the referee, two assistant referees and the fourth official are accompanied by two additional assistants who take up positions alongside each goal. Their particular remit is to concentrate on incidents that take place in the penalty area.
"This is an experiment that UEFA is taking very seriously," said Dallas. The second-category referees will be appraised of the relevant guidelines set down by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), while UEFA is also keen to share experiences with match officials who have already officiated at games with additional assistant referees. The trial was carried out in 200 matches in last season's UEFA Europa League, and resumed this season in the UEFA Champions League play-off round and last Friday's UEFA Super Cup in Monaco.
UEFA first vice-president Şenes Erzik and the president of the Football Association of Slovenia (NZS) Ivan Simič both wished the referees the best of luck in what is sure to be a testing campaign at club and national-team level. UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina then reminded the referees that fitness is a key factor in delivering good performances.
"We will ask you for more, because we need more from you," Collina told the officials. The elite and premier referees' fitness test is seen as an essential component of preparations for the coming European season. "We cannot consider you just as officials, but as athletes," Collina underlined. The Italian will be joined by two UEFA refereeing officers, Scotsman Dallas and Frenchman Marc Batta, in devoting their time not only to work within the Referees Committee, but also to appointments and other strategic and technical aspects of European refereeing.
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