Europe's top referees have been sent into the coming season with a call to maintain the high standards and level of commitment that have been prevalent in recent times – with this summer's UEFA EURO 2012 tournament seen as a benchmark for the match officials to emulate over the next few months.
The referees are at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon this week for their annual summer gathering, which serves as a review of events in Poland and Ukraine, as well as a refresher course to look ahead to assignments in the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers. In addition to discussions and video analysis, the referees are undertaking a fitness test and being asked to give important feedback to the UEFA Referees Committee.
"I'd like to congratulate the referees, assistant referees and additional assistant referees for their extraordinary work at EURO 2012," said UEFA Referees Committee chairman Ángel María Villar Llona in welcoming the 22 elite, 14 elite development and 55 first-category referees to the course. "This is the beginning of a new season, and I ask you to approach your work with enthusiasm and willingness."
"This course is important, because each new season is different and there are always things that we can improve," said UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina. "I agree with [Mr Villar Llona] about the high standards of refereeing at EURO 2012 – we were all very pleased."
Collina told the referees of the UEFA Referees Committee's satisfaction that a number of goals set for last season had been achieved, particularly in protecting players as well as the image of the game with regard to reckless tackles and improper use of arms and elbows. This term, he said, the officials were also being asked to be vigilant on handball offences and offside decisions.
The former Italian referee said UEFA EURO 2012 had seen excellent work by the assistant referees as far as offside decisions were concerned. "We had 435 offside decisions where players were one metre from the offside line, and we had 95.9% accuracy," said Collina. "The reason for this accuracy was that the assistant referees were well-prepared for EURO. Preparation was the key. In addition, the additional assistant referees were very useful, because they took care of decisions in the penalty area, and the assistant referees could focus on offside decisions."
Turning to additional assistant referees, Collina reminded delegates that after an experiment over some 1,000 UEFA matches in four years, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) had decided to make the additional assistants part of the Laws of the Game in July. "They are a deterrent in the penalty area against pushing and pulling, especially from corners or free-kicks," he explained.
Collina emphasised that UEFA EURO 2012 had sounded a clear message to the football community regarding players' respect towards the men in the middle. There had been a drop in the number of incidents of dissent or mobbing of referees. "We have to continue this into the next UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League season," he urged. Collina also said that good showings by younger referees would be rewarded with appointments in higher competition categories – which would also act as motivation for the experienced referees to keep up their own levels of performance.
"You have achieved results and goals," Collina his audience. "This is important – and please continue to be strong." The match officials were also advised to be conscientious of their duty in representing UEFA and their country at European matches, and to stay focused on their task at all times.
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