UEFA has repeated a series of key messages to its top referees as they prepare for a testing spring with the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.
At the end of the referee course week in Antalya, Turkey, the referees were asked to protect players, nurture football's image, conduct themselves in the appropriate manner as UEFA ambassadors, and report to UEFA any attempted corruption or match-fixing that they may witness – or if they are a target for such practices.
Additionally, the delegates were reminded by UEFA referee officer Hugh Dallas of guidelines that UEFA issued at the start of the season. Strict action should be taken in the event of players crowding or mobbing match officials, as well as against reckless challenges and serious foul play.
"It's important to protect the players – they want to feel safe on the field of play," said Dallas. "You are there as the pitch policemen to make sure that things are being done in accordance with the Laws of the Game. Try also to act in a preventative manner – don't wait until something happens, try to stop it before it happens."
There was also a call to act against players who exaggerate physical contact to try to get an opponent into trouble. "Be aware of it – give players warnings," said Dallas. "Let them be aware that you know what's going on." Similar vigilance should be shown against acts of simulation. "If players are guilty of simulation," the former officiator emphasised, "they should be punished anywhere on the field."
The course focused in particular on the importance to referees of diligent preparation and planning for matches, especially in a tactical sense. Correct positioning – being in the right place at the right time – will also help the men in the middle to make effective decisions.
Match officials are expected to represent UEFA in the appropriate manner when they travel to and from assignments, as well as before and after games. "Show professionalism at all times," said Dallas. "You are representing UEFA and your national association, and you are also representing yourself and your family – make sure that you are professional on and off the field. You never know who may be sitting behind you on a plane. You are easily identified – be very careful travelling through airports if you're wearing your association's uniform."
Dallas also reiterated the dangers of social networks. "Something that can be said really innocently or simply can be taken totally out of context," he said. "You're now operating at a very high level in domestic football because you're international referees – so please be careful."
Betting and match-fixing are being fought against by, among others, UEFA and its associations. "We would ask you that if you are suspicious at any time, you must make sure that you inform [UEFA]," continued the Scotsman. "Referees can be targeted, so don't be vulnerable."
Dallas also spoke to UEFA.com about the aims of the winter course which has now been completed. "We're running two different courses, one for elite referees, and one for new international referees who are being introduced to the UEFA family," he said. "We are trying to remind our referees of a consistent approach, which the clubs and the coaches and players expect, and it's also good to show the new referees of the standards that are required. Top football needs top referees – and the future generation of top referees has been here.
"I think courses like this mean that we can learn from each other and learn from experience," he added. "The young referees can learn from the experienced referees, while the experienced referees can also offer guidance – and provide a path that the young referees should follow."
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