The Men In The Middle – World Cup 2014 Referees


Here come the Men In Black.  Okay FIFA’s World Cup referees may not be galaxy defenders protecting against extra-terrestrial violence and there are surely some referees who wish they could neuralize whole stadiums and television audiences so fans would forget poor officiating, but they are very much on a government list, soccer’s government that is.

In fact, FIFA has maintained and worked on referee selection for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil for close to three years by FIFA’s Referee Committee and FIFA’s Referees Assistance Program (RAP). They have this to say of their final selections:

The referees selected for the World Cup in Brazil have been chosen based especially on their personality and their quality in football understanding by being able to read the game and the teams’ tactical approaches towards each game.”

FIFA’s Referee Committee is chaired by Jim Boyce of Northern Ireland, former Irish Football Association President from 1995-2001 along with deputy chairman Zhang Jilong, former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Rules Committee member, and former AFC Finance committee chairman.  The committee, including Boyce and Jilong, consists of seventeen members, sixteen plus one medical representative.  Of the sixteen, ten are former referees.

FIFA’s selection process does not simply involve them going to the biggest leagues (La Liga, BPL, Bundesliga etc) for the best referees.  On the contrary, their initial list from which they whittle down, are recommendations and selections from each of FIFA’s six confederations (Asia, Africa, North/Central America & Caribbean, South America Oceania, Europea) according to former international referee Angelo Bratsis. These submissions, put forward in 2011, represent the initial pool 52 trios of referees that the final selections will be made from.

This is done so that every participating federation has a representative referee in the tournament.  Beyond equal representation another objective to selecting officials from every participating federation is to make sure that there are no games where a referee officiates a match from his home confederation unless both teams competing are from the same confederation. As a further measure, an individual country can only have one referee team participating in the tournament.

From the initial submissions, the Referees’ Committee at FIFA along with FIFA’s head of officiating, Massimo Busacca, went about assessing the candidates in a similar manner to the 2010 World Cup whereby “the RAP working group, a team of international experts in the fields of refereeing technique, fitness and psychology was set up by FIFA to monitor and analyse all of the information on the candidate referees, involving those responsible for refereeing in each confederation. The FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) were another key group in this process.”

It is over a three-year process that the pool of 52 trios of candidates have fitness, physical condition, psychological condition, and game demeanor monitored while participating in FIFA’s RAP.  Every referee in the pool, as part of RAP, have been attending each of FIFA’s various age-group tournaments where each of their performances were evaluated and put through a debriefing process.

The medical and physical tests are fairly exhaustive in terms of assessment.  The medical tests include blood work, resting EKG, echocardiogram, stress tests and an orthopedic examination.  The physical tests involves 40 meter sprints with a time requirement of 5.8 seconds each as well as 150 meter 30 second runs followed by 50 meter walks within 35 seconds.

Canadian referee Joe Fletcher says the he has undergone around 10 separate fitness tests over the past four years beyond keeping and submitting fitness logs to FIFA.  These referees must be able to keep up with World Cup players, most of whom are in peak competition age and fitness and also more than likely close to half the age of the referees.

After the 52 trios have been reduced to the final 25 with 8 support duos, they go through a series of four seminars to reinforce consistency and conformity covering subjects like understanding football and team mentalities as well as fair play and protecting players.

The trios of referees consist of one main field referee partnered by two sideline referees.  The support duos act as fourth and fifth officials by the team benches.  As reference for anyone unfamiliar, the fifth official, among other things, is the man who visually signals how much stoppage time will be added, while the fourth official, also among other tasks, is frequently the official communicating with coaches on the sideline.

Here is the confederation breakdown of referee trios and support duos:

North/Central America & Caribbean32
South America51

There are 40 different nationalities among the selected referees and among those referees, strictly based on their birth year, their average age is around 39.

There is a misconception that World Cup appointed referees do so essentially on a volunteer basis meaning that they do not get paid.  This is false.  For the past two world cups (2006 & 2010) FIFA spent $12.37 million and $15 million on referees in general respectively.  FIFA’s financials do not explain how those numbers break down in terms of compensation, expenses etc. but it is known that in 2002 referees received around $17,300 (11,500 GBP) each game (after 1.51 GBP to USD conversion), in 2006 they received around $46,250 (25,000GBP) each game (after 1.85 GBP to USD conversion), and in 2010 they received $50,000 per game.

The financials of this upcoming World Cup in Brazil in terms of referee compensation is not clear, however, it is hard to imagine that with consistent revenue growth from FIFA and expected increased revenue for the 2014 tournament over the 2010 tournament,  that referee compensation would not increase as well, or at the very least stay level.  Battling corruption and match fixing world-wide, FIFA is attempting to make sure that they cover every possible angle that referees can be approached by these criminal organizations and money is definitely a top avenue.

Personally, and I’m sure most fans agree, I hope that officiating will not be the topic of conversation in this upcoming tournament.  It will be indicative of results being determined by quality play and not officiating decisions.  This is a high task and certainly one that FIFA has been trying to prepare referees to do.  We’ll see the results of their preparation in just over 14 days and It will be exciting to see how US field referee Mark Geiger does on the world’s stage.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.