Refereeing the FIFA World Cup
FEEL THE GAME - Bobby Motus (The Freeman) - June 22, 2018 - 12:00am

Avid football fans in this part of the world had already lost precious sleep considering that good matches start at 11p.m. up to 4a.m.  We had witnessed favored teams like Argentina, Brazil, Spain and Germany struggling and underdog teams like Russia, Iceland and Japan showing class.

Iceland prevented Argentina from getting a win with a 1-1 draw.  The Argentines are now 2 games without a win in a FIFA World Cup match.  Their last victory was a shoot-out win over the Netherlands in the semis during the 2014 Brazil WC and were runners-up to eventual champion Germany.

After 15 defeats and 3 draws, the Blue Samurais of Japan in their victory over Colombia, became the first Asian team in World Cup history to beat a South American team. 

But what we’re seeing on a late night basis won’t be possible without those unnamed people controlling the game.  They have the most important yet thankless job on the tournament.

Football referees have 9 “grades” and you have to start from the lowest grade and move up.  Only those who had moved up to Grades 1 and 2 are eligible to officiate in FIFA sanctioned matches.  Grade 1 or international referee must be over 25 years old and can officiate as head referee in World Cup matches.  Grade 2 or international assistant referee specialist serves as assistant to the head referee during international matches.  Grade 3 referees or national referees will be officiating in all matches except in FIFA international games but will be eligible for consideration in international matches.

Grade 1 refs are the few who had survived the rigorous screening process.  Not only will they know the rules of the game but also be able to anticipate and read the game and the technical and mental capacity of players for them to decide and apply the level of fouls called.  There is the constant upgrading – written and fitness tests and recommendations from evaluators for them to advance to the next grade.

They must have speed and stamina.   Football players run an average of 11 kilometers per match.  Because referees have to position themselves to make the right calls, most of the time they have to outrun players, sometimes half their age.  In so doing, every match referees had ran an average 19 kilometers.  It takes a special kind of person to outrun the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo.

FIFA referees have to retire when they reach 45.  Because refereeing is not exactly a good paying job, most international referees are doing it part time.  Some are lawyers, doctors, managers and policemen who balance their full-time careers with refereeing FIFA matches.

There are about 30 referees chosen for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.  It was reported that 16 of them will receive a fixed stipend of $70,000 for the duration of the tournament, and shall be receiving $6,500 per match.  The amount was increased from the $50,000 that was given at Brazil 2014.  Linesmen get $30,000 and $2,500 per match.

During a match, there are four game officials – the head referee, the two linesmen or assistant refs and another referee that keeps track of the time and substitutions.  Based on their performance, they are allowed to stay for the later stages and the best gets to officiate in the final match.  If a referee does not do well, FIFA sends them home on the next available flight.

Choosing officials for the World Cup is handled by the FIFA Refereeing Department and the FIFA Referee Assistance Program.  They are chosen in teams of 3 – one head referee and 2 assistant referees.  Their performances at FIFA tournaments are evaluated and they attend workshops on fitness, theory, medical concerns and match analysis.

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