A training session for the referees can be a curious thing indeed. On first look, it is just like any other practice session — players with multi-coloured bibs enacting the various facets of a football game. But on closer look, you’ll find that neither the attackers nor the defenders are what they seem. The former’s objective is not to score, but to dive or simulate, while the latter fouls. In the middle, the referees and the linesmen have to spot what was real and what was not.
On Monday, the referees for the U-17 World Cup had such a session in Kolkata and it was supervised by none other than Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s Head of Refereeing. On the field, Busacca interacted with the referees in the session, explaining what they were doing wrong. Off it, another team monitored the entire thing on video, scrutinising each and every gesture.
“The tournament is very fast-paced, as the players are all at the highest level, so our officials need to be fit too,” said the 48-year-old Swiss. “The job isn’t just a matter of running, but also about working hard to understand each team’s tactics. Referees need to anticipate what will happen before the ball is played. If you run like Forrest Gump, you will not arrive.”
Interacting with the press, Busacca discussed a number of issues from women’s refereeing, to the German coach’s complaints against the referee in Sunday’s semifinal against Brazil. But it was his views on the Virtual Assistant Referee system that was trialed at the Confederations Cup that piqued the most interest. “Technology cannot substitute your skills,” Busacca said. “Technology can only be a help for us. The day we will think technology can substitute human decision, it will kill football, referees and everything.
“But I am very positive (about VAR). I don’t want to be arrogant to say this for sure will be the solution for football today. We are at the beginning and we did some trials in FIFA around 75 games,” he added. Busacca admitted that a World Cup in India had been difficult from the referees’ point of view. “It is not easy to play in your country,” he said. “I saw some referees were really exhausted at the end of the game. The humidity is very high.”
But at the same time, he was all praise for the tournament. “I’ve never seen so many fans packed into the stadiums at a FIFA U-17 World Cup,” he said. “That’s a wonderful thing. Football is in India’s blood, just like cricket. The country has shown that it can organise a World Cup.”While the Indian players and organisers have benefited from the country hosting the tournament, the same cannot be said of the referees. Not a single Indian has found his name in the list of designated officials. But Busacca was quick to clarify that the referees at the tournament were those who had a chance of being a Russia next year. “In FIFA competitions, we are always looking to groom the referees for the next World Cup,” he said. “And then, we take the ranking of the confederation. For India, this is very low at the moment.”
“But a group of Indian match officials spent a week here to gain an insight into how we work, and were grateful for the experience,” he said. “It’s now up to them to make the best of it. They know what they need to do and certainly have the motivation to do it. Although they currently lack experience, that will soon change. I’m sure that an Indian referee will be able to take part in a FIFA tournament in a few years’ time.”
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