Friday 29 October 2021, 16:00

Doha hosts women’s candidate Referee and VAR seminar

  • FIFA welcomes candidates from four Confederations to the five-day workshop in Qatar

  • It was the first gathering of its kind in almost two years following the COVID-19 pandemic

  • The seminar was used to identify and train officials for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup™

As preparations continue for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, the first physical refereeing seminar in 20 months has been delivered in Qatar, following almost two years of cancellations and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In attendance for the seminar in Doha, which blended theoretical and practical assessments, were 20 candidates for referee and five for video match official roles. The group – the majority of whom were attending a FIFA refereeing seminar for the first time – were made up of attendees from the AFC, CAF, CONCACAF and UEFA. The five-day seminar acted as FIFA’s refereeing department’s first opportunity to assess the new candidates for the tournament due to take place in Australia and New Zealand between 20 July and 20 August 2023. Candidates were put through their paces both in the classroom and on the training fields each day and, thanks to the help of 40 players provided by the Qatar Football Association, allowing them to replicate match situations in preparation for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup.

FIFA Women’s Elite Referees Seminar VAR analysis

Pierluigi Collina, Chairman of the FIFA Referee Committee, said that such seminars are always critical as – although much work has been carried out remotely during the pandemic – nothing can replace being on the pitch when it comes to training and preparation. “It’s crucial. Preparation is the only to way succeed in a competition for players, and referees also,” he said. “We must ensure we are at an elite level for every game, and the only way to do that is to work with them very closely up to the competition. “The challenge we all faced was the pandemic. It was not possible to work with the referees in person as we would have liked because the risk to create a cluster was too high. We had to suspend all our activities, and unfortunately several tournaments were cancelled. Those tournaments would have been very important to have our referee candidates for both World Cups working with us. “We had to deal with it. We had to cope – we tried to do as much as possible remotely. But now we are more than happy to be back in person and able to work not only in the classroom but also on the field of play.” The seminar was led by Kari Seitz, FIFA Head of Refereeing, Women and the only person to officiate at four FIFA Women’s World Cups. Each day began in the classroom, with attendees asked to participate in various exercises and assessments analysing video footage. Each session began by focusing on a different area of officiating, including tactical fouls, challenges and handballs, among others. Although in regular cycles, such kick-off seminars would usually take place more than three years ahead of the tournament, the pandemic has meant the same preparation must be compressed into an 18-month period. Seitz said it was undoubtedly a challenge, but one she and her team are more than capable of navigating. She said: “There’s a lot of time lost. We are fortunate that in some parts of the world they have been able to have games. But events like this couldn’t be more important as we move forward and finally bring them together. We can see them physically and assess what level they are at; these are all things you have to see in person.” Although VAR was used for the first time at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™, the pandemic and slow take-up among some national women’s leagues has led to a shortage of female VARs and AVRs. Of the 20 candidates on the Doha seminar, nine arrived at the seminar with no video refereeing experience.

FIFA Women’s Elite Referees Seminar. VAR workshop

To help address this, Seitz and her team set up a complete simulation of elite-level VAR match conditions at the training site, with 12 specialist cameras installed. However, although providing the candidates with best-in-class training facilities and technologies, Seitz reiterated that while such seminars play a critical role in the development process, real-life experience is most important. She said FIFA continues to encourage member associations to up their commitments to expanding their roster of female video match officials. “We will be using VAR in 2023. We really hope and are working hard to bring women VAR,” she explained. “That is a very transformative idea because there is only one league that has women’s football with VAR right now, and it’s only a few games. While our women are working more in men’s football, which is wonderful to see, very few are involved in the VAR projects. FIFA is working very hard and encouraging the member associations to increase this number.” Following the successful delivery of the event, both Collina and Seitz ended the week by reiterating the message that while significant progress has been made in all areas of developing the women’s game among players, the investments – in time and money – across the refereeing sector has been equally as impressive. The seminars’ schedule, frequencies, methods, and facilities are identical to those for male tournaments, with the department sharing one clear vision. “FIFA is doing something great in terms of promoting women’s football in general,” Collina continued. “The attention given to promoting women’s football is enormous. Refereeing is part of football, so we are also doing everything to improve the quality of refereeing in women’s competitions. “In the future, there is a general target that we should not need to specify women’s refereeing or men’s refereeing; only refereeing, with no gender difference. If someone is good enough for a competition, it should not even be part of the conversation as to what gender they are.”

FIFA Women’s Elite Referees Seminar (AFC, CAF, CONCACAF and OFC)

In his role as host of the event Hani Ballan, Vice Chairman of the FIFA Referees Committee, Vice-Chairperson of the AFC Referees Committee, Chairman of the Referees Committee in Qatar and the CEO of the Qatar Stars League, added his own words of welcome. “We are very privileged to host these events,” he said. “We started hosting FIFA events a few years ago, and I would like to thank them for their trust in us to host such important gatherings. In 2019 we had the privilege at Aspire to welcome the 27 referees and 48 assistants selected for the Women’s World Cup in France to officiate at the Al Kass U-17 International Cup, which formed a crucial part of their VAR preparation for the final tournament. “We welcome this ongoing collaboration with FIFA, and we look forward to hosting many more seminars such as this in the future.”