Europe's top referees and assistants have been urged to set the highest standards in performance and image as a new and challenging season gets underway.
The match officials are in Switzerland for their annual UEFA summer gathering, where they will be preparing for the 2013/14 campaign and looking back at the latter stages of last season. The group present in Nyon includes elite women referees and leading assistant referees as the European body strives for continual progress and improvement in the refereeing sector.
This week's programme includes fitness training, and UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina insisted on the need for referees to be able to cope with the physical demands of the modern-day elite game. "It is important to be an athlete – and a referee or assistant referee is definitely an athlete," he said. "If you are not an athlete, you cannot deal with a match, given the speed and intensity of matches that are played today.
"You also have to look like an athlete. The results you are achieving in terms of shape and image are brilliant," Collina added about the training and dietary necessities that referees have to adhere to. "It is more and more difficult to see the difference between a player and a referee on the field. This is what we want to achieve."
Collina also reminded the match officials of the importance of their responsibilities as UEFA representatives at matches. "You are on duty, not visiting a city as a tourist," he said. Collina emphasised the need for match officials to take care with how they comported themselves in a world where people were able to send photos and comments around the world at the push of a button, and to avoid situations which could lead to negative or erroneous press coverage.
Collina told the referees that UEFA would continue to appoint referees from the elite development and first categories to UEFA Champions League matches if performances merited such assignments. "Last season, in 96 UEFA Champions League matches, 25 were refereed by elite development referees and 13 by first category referees. In the UEFA Europa League, 34 out of 144 matches were refereed by second category referees. This shows that we are giving them a chance alongside the elite referees – we think they have the quality. There are matches at the top level for each of you – it is important that you perform well."
UEFA, Collina explained, was pleased with the quality shown by its referees, but would not shy away from honesty with the officials when performances or decisions fell below the required standards. "We cannot always say that everything goes well," he reflected. "And when something doesn't go well, it is better to speak and find a reason to get back to the standards that you are ready to offer. The overall impression is good, but we must continually seek improvement."
The importance of effective teamwork between referees and their assistants was highlighted by Collina, who also called on the match officials to continue to be vigilant in the face of mobbing of referees following a contested decision. "We don't want to have referees put under pressure by players or coaches," he said. "You are responsible, because no one can prevent this behaviour better than you if you're strong enough."
UEFA is concentrating on the important role undertaken by assistant referees, who will undergo their own specific training at this week's UEFA course. Practical work and discussions will centre on new laws on offside which come into force this season, and the women referees will undertake a review of the recent UEFA Women's EURO 2013 in Sweden.