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Protect the players – protect the image of the game. This is the message being given by UEFA to Europe's international referees as they move into another hectic season of club and national-team duty.
UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina spelt out the message at UEFA's European football kick-off events in Monaco. He also underlined the overall satisfaction with the ongoing experiment with two additional assistant referees, and highlighted the December date with destiny for Europe's elite match officials as they strive to be appointed for next summer's UEFA EURO 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine.
Protecting the players, Collina said, meant taking action against serious foul play and reckless tackles. "We do not want to see broken legs," the Italian emphasised. "We have to avoid the potential for a player to see his health endangered by someone else. We do not need doctors on the pitch. We have to convince players not to put the safety of an opponent in danger. Respecting opponents and protecting players is one of our main objectives.
"The other main aim is to protect football's image," Collina added. "We don't want to see referees mobbed by players. We are experiencing situations where players run from a long distance to put pressure on and crowd the referee. We are recommending referees not to accept this kind of behaviour." The message has been reiterated to the referees at this week's UEFA summer gathering in Nyon.
Collina also spoke of the punishment that faces players who deliberately provoke a yellow card to receive a suspension. "Players will receive a two-match ban," he stressed. "This is clear – you cannot decide when you want to be suspended."
The experiment with additional assistant referees continues this season in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, and the two additional assistants will also be deployed at UEFA EURO 2012. "Very positive feedback has been received from the referees," Collina said. "They feel they have a better control of what is happening on the pitch, and that the presence of the additional assistants is serving as a deterrent against holding or pulling offences in the penalty area from set pieces."
As with any experiment, improvements are being sought constantly – the positioning of the additional assistants has been changed, and special efforts are being made to make the public more aware of the role of these assistants.
Moreover, Collina explained the UEFA refereeing set-up. The UEFA Referees Committee, he said, comprises 16 members appointed by the UEFA Executive Committee. Chairman Ángel María Villar Llona and deputy chairman Şenes Erzik are both members of the UEFA Executive Committee and all the other members are former referees.
In February 2010, the UEFA Executive Committee appointed Collina as UEFA chief refereeing officer, and Marc Bata (France) and Hugh Dallas (Scotland) as refereeing officers with the task of coordinating UEFA Referees Committee activities, defining UEFA's refereeing technical strategies, and preparing and appointing referees for UEFA competitions.
Referee preparation, meanwhile, involves three main areas – physical, technical, and development and future. Referees receive training programmes, nutrition instructions and advice, and their fitness levels are subject to remote monitoring. Fitness tests throughout the season and medical examinations complete the thorough catalogue of activities – including a visual ability test to ensure that referees can 'fix a vision', take an 'instant photograph' of an incident, focus on close or moving objects and react to movements around them.
The referees are also regularly followed by UEFA Referees Committee members and observers for assessment and coaching reasons. Courses are held for different referee levels, and development and future activities include the talents and mentors scheme, as well as training at UEFA's Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE) within the UEFA Centre of Football Excellence in Nyon.
The refereeing teams for UEFA EURO 2012 will be chosen in December. "Referees from the UEFA elite category will be monitored until then, the list of the 12 selected quintets of match officials will be finalised in December, and the selected match officials will then be monitored from February until May 2012," said Collina. "The selected quintets will work together." A EURO preparation workshop will be held in Warsaw next May, and the assistant referees are set to receive specialist coaching.
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