Thursday 02 February 2023, 15:00

Match Officials on track for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™

  • Doha hosted the second of three preparatory seminars for the referees on duty at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™

  • Event attended by match officials from the AFC, CAF and OFC

  • Kari Seitz: It’s a pit-stop on the road to Australia & New Zealand 2023

The roads leading to FIFA World Cup™ competitions are long and winding for both teams and referees alike, especially when the competitions in question are held on the other side of the world. Launched in 2020, the Road to Australia and New Zealand project set out a road map for 170 match officials hoping to take part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup later this year. Three years on and with less than six months to go before the big kick-off, only 33 referees, 55 assistant referees and 19 video assistant referees will be heading Down Under. In preparation for the big event, some of them have just participated in seminars in the Qatari capital, Doha, while the rest will attend another to be held in Montevideo, Uruguay, later this month.

“It is really a pit-stop on the road to Australia and New Zealand,” said Kari Seitz, FIFA Head of Refereeing, Women. “This is the moment where we bring everybody together and really fine tune it. So, you have to fill the gas tank, check the tyres… Think of it like a national team and they have their last training camp. We have already selected our players. These are our players for the World Cup.” The first to head to Doha were match officials from UEFA for a four-day seminar running from 24 to 28 January. They have been followed by their counterparts from the AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa) and OFC (Oceania). Last but not least, representatives from Concacaf and CONMEBOL will head to the Uruguayan capital later in February. The drill is the same for all of them: fitness tests and preparation, recovery work, VAR, and theory sessions. “We monitor them all the time. We follow them. We offer them all the support they need,” said FIFA Referees Committee Chairman Pierluigi Collina. “These seminars are the occasion to work with them directly, to see them in person, to work on the field of play, to get some feedback from them, to make some evaluations of their fitness or their health conditions. In terms of theoretical lessons, we have many of them during the seminars, trying to go through all the most difficult incidents that could occur on the field of play.” “We have five months to get them completely at peak performance. And that’s what these seminars are about,” added Seitz. “We want to make sure that when they leave here, they have a clear path to be 100% ready in terms of fitness, 100% ready in terms of medical, and that they are very clear on our teachings from FIFA on how we want the matches to be considered and analysed and called.”

There is a real sense of excitement among the referees currently in Doha and a growing sense of anticipation as the tournament start date of 20 July approaches. As one of the attendees at the second seminar in the Qatari capital, Heba Sadieeh can vouch for that. The Palestinian referee will be on duty at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™, becoming the first person from her country ever to take part in a men’s or women’s World Cup. “To be the first Palestinian at the World Cup is a huge responsibility in terms of showing how much progress has been made in football, especially in refereeing,” she said. “I’m so happy to represent my country and all the women of west Asia. By being at a World Cup, I would like to inspire other women to become a referee.” Assistant referee Fanta Kone of Mali has a challenge of her own on her hands, having given birth to twins. “After giving birth to my beautiful twins it’s not been easy at all, because it requires a lot of work,” she explained. “I created a plan with my husband and my department: the physical trainer and the director. I trained a lot and did a lot of hard work to maintain a good level of fitness. And I was appointed to matches in the men’s Malian First Division, big matches especially, and soon I’ll be at the World Cup.”

Expectations are huge and the challenges no less significant. After all, the road to any FIFA Women’s World Cup is littered with pitfalls. However, as Seitz pointed out, the end is in sight: “The goal and the challenge over the next five months is to keep everybody healthy. The fitness shouldn’t be an issue because we have a very clear plan, but their health – in five months, anything can happen. “We’re really focused on making sure that the referees are correctly taking care of themselves, because unlike the players, in some cases, these girls have other jobs. They have work that they do, and so they have to find this balance, but with the goal of being 100% ready. “The other side is that we still have challenges for women in football. Still we have countries who don’t give enough matches to these women referees, who don’t take them to the training courses with their elite referees. We still need to make sure that the countries are doing everything possible in concert with FIFA, together with us, that they really believe in these women referees and they give them the support they need at home. So, with that, with them staying healthy, we’re sure to have a successful World Cup.”

FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a selfie with the referees during the FIFA Women's World Cup Referees Seminar II