Europe's leading referees, including the group of women referees who will take charge of matches at this summer's UEFA Women's EURO 2013 in Sweden, have been sent into the second half of the season with words of encouragement ringing in their ears – and a message to keep up the high standards which make European match officials respected across the world.
At the 21st UEFA Advanced Course for Top Referees and the 22nd UEFA Introductory Course for International Referees, held in Rome this week, the top men's match officials were joined by newcomers to the FIFA international list – and, for the first time, elite female referees attended a UEFA winter course, reflecting the huge strides forward taken by women's football in recent years.
Over the three days in Italy, the referees undertook fitness tests and medical checks within an intensive training programme, held group discussions, attended presentations by UEFA Referees Committee members, and followed video sessions analysing specially prepared footage from UEFA matches over past and present seasons. The course has primed the officials for their assignments in UEFA club and national-team competitions over the coming months – especially those who will be in the middle at the eagerly awaited European women's final round in July.
The opportunity for the women referees to join their male counterparts has been a welcome innovation – a point taken up by Hungary's Katalin Kulcsár, who will be a member of the UEFA Women's EURO 2013 team this summer. "We have all appreciated this occasion," she told UEFA.com. "It's a new challenge for us to be here. It's special to be together with the men referees and share experiences with them.
"We appreciate the help that we are given by [UEFA referee fitness expert] Werner Helsen and his team. We need this help. When you start refereeing, it's not easy to find out for yourself how to train well – you need the coaches to help you do this."
An exciting few months lie ahead for Kulcsár, and her experience in Rome will doubtless stand her in good stead. "I am in the group who were selected for EURO 2013, so my goal this year is to perform well at this event," she said. "I'm looking forward to it – and this was a good start to preparations for this year."
German men's referee Felix Brych, a seasoned performer at the highest European levels, echoed the unanimous view of his colleagues that UEFA's winter course was an ideal and stimulating way to look back at the first part of the campaign and to plan for future assignments. "We meet every half-year and it provides big motivation for the upcoming games. We also refresh the main topics of refereeing," he explained. "I love to come to meet my colleagues, and to prepare for the next matches. It's a great opportunity to share experiences with referees from the present and past."
UEFA is also deploying additional assistant referees (AARs) in its major competitions, after the system was introduced into the Laws of the Game last summer. The system is proving its worth, with the additional assistants posted on the goal line to help referees make decisions on penalty-area incidents in particular. A fascinating feature of the Rome activities was a practical session where the referees were shown the specific training methods being used to train AARs and further improve their performances.
"It was interesting to stand beside the goals in order to see the view of the additional assistant referees," said Brych. "It was good for me to change my perspective and angle of view, and I'm sure this will help in matches."
"I'd never been in that position in a game or even in a training session – I had only heard some things about it and it was certainly interesting to see the game from a different angle," Kulcsár added.
UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina wished the delegates every success in their spring and summer appointments. "We are happy that you have worked hard," he said. "We are pleased about the women referees' performances. The presence of the women referees is a milestone for UEFA.
"We are now facing the most important part of the season," Collina told the referees. "Your commitment has been outstanding. You are professionals, you are at the top of football. You have to be proud and you also have to be responsible – and UEFA is always ready to support you."
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