Ingrid Jonsson: the first female Women’s World Cup Final referee

Ingrid Jonsson is the first female Women’s World Cup Final referee. In this interview with Dutch Referee Blog the Swedish referee and FIFA referee instructor talks about this experience and the development of female refereeing. “In the future I guess that many more female referees will be involved in men’s football and not because they are women but based on quality between referees.”

Ingrid Jonsson (right) with match commissioner Pricilla Janssens.

Ingrid Jonsson (right) with match commissioner Pricilla Janssens at a play-off between Argentina and Panama. (Picture provided by Ingrid Jonsson)

First ever female in a women’s final

In 1995, you were the first female referee to officiate a Women’s World Cup final. How was that for you?

Ingrid Jonsson: “In the Women’s World Cup in China 1991 I was one of the six so-colled “lines women” (assistant referees) that participated. I was AR1 in the final game between Norway and USA and 63.000 spectators. In Sweden 1995 the final game between Norway and Germany it was around 17.000 spectators – so two total different games and atmosphere. But of course being appointed for a final game in your own country is special.”

A mix of men and women

During that period referees at a big tournament were a mix between men and women. During that WC final you have a female trio, but in the 1996 Olympics 3rd place game your AR2 was a man. How important has this appointment with a complete female team been for the development of female refereeing?

Ingrid Jonsson: “During my three big tournaments it was always a mix between women and men and for me that was natural, what I was used to in my own country. I still think that quality is the most important thing, but not if you are a woman or a man. Still, there are not so many countries that will havea trio in the Womens World Cup 2019. They are usually a trio from a confederation and once again based on quality.”

Ingrid Jonsson during her 1995 world Cup final

Ingrid Jonsson during her 1995 world Cup final

Ingrid Jonsson’s career path

I’ve seen you were in many international referee committees. Can please tell a bit more about your life after active refereeing and your current role?

Ingrid Jonsson: “I started my refereeing in 1983, while still playing as a goalkeeper. By that time I was also a teacher in physical education. Since 1987 I was also a referee instructor for the Swedish FA and of course in my own area. When I became FIFA referee in 1995 I took a break from my instructor role, as I also was working as a principal in high school and my own kinds was 2 and 5 years old. My husband was by that time a international referee in bandy (Jan: ice hockey with a small ball on a big field).”

“When I stopped my refereeing after 2003 I returned as a instructor in the Swedish FA and is still active, I also started as a UEFA referee observer and am still active. From 2004 to 2011 I was active as a FIFA instructor, made a break between 2012 and 2016 when I was in the FIFA referees committe. And since 2017 until now I am still FIFA instructor.”

Looking for development

What makes it worth for you being involved in refereeing?

Ingrid Jonsson: “When You have been involved in sport always – it´s a great pleasure to have the possibility to continue to work with next generation, share experinece and knowledge and hopefully see the development.”

Uefa launches a report about women’s football across the national associations. The 2016/17 edition (can’t find a 17-18 version yet) shows a growth in number of female referees. But not every country has its own programme targeting development and recruitment of female referees yet. How important is it to have such a thing and how does it help grow women’s football?

Ingrid Jonsson: “I think it’s important that all parts of football develop, players, coaches and referees. To become a referee when you have ended your playing career, it is a good start for your next mission – if you do not become a coach. Because it will bring understanding into the different roles.”

Ingrid Jonsson refereeing Norway and Germany in the WWC Final

Ingrid Jonsson refereeing Norway and Germany in the WWC Final

Quality of the referee is key

In Germany Bibiana Steinhaus officiates in the Bundesliga. What do you expect for the future of female refereeing?

Ingrid Jonsson: “As we said in the previous question, different countries are in different levels and have choosen different ways. In the future I guess that many more female referees will be involved in mens football. Not because they are women, but based on quality between referees.”

Top 3 tips for you by Ingrid Jonsson

I ask people I speak with usually about their tips for others. What are your top 3 tips you’d like to share with other referees?

Ingrid Jonsson: That is difficult, because it’ss always individual what is important for different people/referees. But for life in general:

  • always do your best, so you do not regret that you did not give everything
  • enjoy every moment, do things that make you feel good
  • surround yourself with people who give you energy

Hakan Anaz shares his Asian Cup 2019 experiences

Hakan Anaz is a referee instructor and assessor at the Asian Cup 2019. The 2014 World Cup assistant referee from Australia is now helping other referees to reach their top level. In this interview he shares his experiences during the 2019 tournament and looks at the future of refereeing in Asia. “I have no doubt that we have many world class referees in Asia who can easily referee a World Cup final in Qatar.”Hakan Anaz with Asian Cup 2019 Logo

 

Asian Cup 2019 experiences

How do you look back to the Asian Cup 2019? 

“First of all I would like to thank AFC for having the faith in inviting me to their flagship tournament, the World Cup of Asia, The AFC Asian Cup. I have been Instructing and Assessing for three years now and to have been invited to this tournament was a great honor for me.”

Since Hakan Anaz retired he picked up a whole new role in the refereeing world. “My role at AFC is multi-faceted. I am a Referee Instructor and Assessor, covering all tournaments and competitions like the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup.”

PS: Kronika Sedziowska also wrote a worth-reading refereeing analysis of this tournament with clips. Check out their story.

AFC Referee Academy

“I also work at the AFC Referee Academy with my fellow Instructors Fernando Tresaco Gracia, Farkhad Abdullaev and Alejo  Perez LeGuizamon. I am Lead Instructor at the Referee Academy for batch 2018. Working with these gentleman is great and I think for me being involved in such a great program is motivational to me. The AFC Referee Academy is the only football academy in the world which involves in-class, remote and practical refereeing education over an intensive 4 year period. From my 2018 batch, I can already see some potential World Cup referees and should they make it, I will be ever so happy I was part of their dream.

Being together with many top refs together

At the Asian Cup, I think the highlight for me was the first day in the seminar room when all the best referees and Instructors were gathered in our conference room. I looked around the  room and felt awed to be part of this great tournament.  Working with best referees in Asia was great, my goal has always to make a difference. I think honesty and integrity is something I always hold dear to me, and if you can do this, the respect you get is assured I’m sure.

Keep fit 

“Actually, I trained as intensely as the referees during the Asian Cup and many of the referees made comment that I should come back to refereeing. However, my active refereeing finished after my World Cup 2014 assignment.” More about his momorable 2014 below.

The level is getting higher

“My new challenge is to develop new World Cup referees for 2022 and beyond. Hence my keen involvement in the AFC Referee Academy. “, says Hakan Anaz. During the 2018 World Cup Alireza Faghani was close to being the first Asian World Cup final referee. In the end he officiated the 3rd place match. 

“I was fortunate to have assessed Alireza Faghani in his round of 16 match at the Asian Cup. Again, he demonstrated how great strides refereeing in Asia has taken. The bar is constantly rising. I was also fortunate to have assessed another up and coming referee who I have no doubt will be at the next World Cup in 2022.”

World Cup final in Qatar

“If you look at the Asian referees at the last World Cup and the current referees at the Asian Cup, I have no doubt that we have many world class referees who can easily referee a World Cup final in Qatar. To achieve this goal, AFC are working extremely hard to make AFC Referees the best in the World.”

Recruiting new top referees

“My other roles in AFC is as a recruiter where I will assess potential referees into inclusion to the Elite group of referees and also as a video assessor. As can be seen, I am extremely busy at AFC which means I don’t have time for a full time job. My passion is refereeing and I put 100% into any position I do. I have had some potential job opportunities in refereeing education from countries in Asia, and its definetely something I would consider in the future if the right position came along. But at the moment, I am very happy working with AFC.”

2014: a wonderful year as assistant referee

Earlier on I spoke with Anaz after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A great experience to learn from as fellow referee. In this part Anaz shares his experiences and gives you some solid advice. 

How did you experience the tournament in Brazil?
Hakan Anaz: “The experience that summer in Brazil was truly special. FIFA told us that not many referees get to go to a World Cup. A World Cup in the atmosphere in Brazil is a once in a lifetime experience, truly unforgettable experience. All the referees knew how special is would be. Having said that, all the referees were there to referee games and all the referees just wanted to get out onto the park. We trained 36 out of the 39 days we were there, so we had excellent preparation during the tournament.”

Working 20 years for this moment

“Team Australia (with Ben Williams and Matthew Cream) were fortunate to have 3 games during the tournament. After appointments were announced by FIFA, all the referees congratulated the respective referees. It was a very good atmosphere. All the referees got along very well. For me walking out before every game was special. I’ve worked 20 years for this moment and arriving on the biggest sports tournament in the world was worth all the blood , sweat and tears. It was very fulfilling. Having said that, the round of 16 game Costa Rica Vs Greece was a very pleasing experience for Team Australia because it was the first time a match trio from Australia has refereed a game in the knock-out stages.”

Referee Hakan Anaz in dressing room

Hakan Anaz’ first World Cup

It was your first one WC – and probably your last one because you are 44 now. What are your goals now in refereeing? Will you stay AR on national level or do you have other ambitions?
Hakan Anaz: “I have now retired from active refereeing. My goal has always been to get to the World Cup. I achieved that. I always have been humble during my referee career and feel that going on more than you need to would be selfish, and my character is never like that. I want the next generation to have a chance at achieving what I have achieved, and I exit the stage at the highest level possible. Not many can say that. I knew the time was right to leave so I declined the contract offer by Football Federation Australia to referee further in the national league.”

Improve as referee

How did you improve yourself as referee?
Hakan Anaz: “I am my worst critic. I watch my games, even when I know the game went well, and critically analyse my decisions, positioning and performance. I have an ethos and that is “you never stop learning”. You always analyse your game and you always try to achieve a higher and higher level. I do a lot of visualisation and technical drills at training so that I am as prepared as much as I can. There is a saying “fail to prepare … prepare to fail”, My preparation – both physical and technical – was at a very high standard prior to the tournament and I’m sure our Round of 16 appointment we got our reward for all 3 of us.”

Lasting friendships with referees

What else brought 2014 for you as referee?
Hakan Anaz: “One of the most important for me was not only the memories, but also the lasting friendships. This is also important because there will always come a time when referees will no longer officiate. What is always long lasting is your friendships you make along the way. I have made some great friends who I always stay in contact with which is something that means a lot to me. Your fellow Dutch referee, Bjorn Kuipers, his assistants Sander and Erwin, was some good friendships I made in the 2 years on the candidates program.”

Family time

“2014 also bought to me retirement from refereeing but also now a new phase in my life. I now have more time with my family which I want to devote more time to. I have a young daughter who is very happy now to have her dad spend more time at home. I enjoy family time.”

Hakan Anaz and world cup team.

Hakan Anaz (left), referee Ben Williams (center) and Matthew Cream. Photo provided by referee.

Becoming a referee

Back to your roots. How did you become a referee?

“I have played football since I was 7. I love football. I played until I was 23 at which time I knew I could not make the highest level of football in Australia. So I wanted to remain active in football. A friend of mine was a referee so I decided to give it a go. After about 6 months, I enjoyed it so much, I decided to devote more of my time and energy towards refereeing. As I moved higher up the ranks, my goals changed and I set myself higher and higher goals. When we were put on the candidates program back in 2012, we knew that it would be a very intense program as FIFA wanted only the best referees and assistants at the Brazil World Cup. We kept working harder and harder, always knowing that there was never any guarantee of being selected to go to Brazil. We were always well grounded and knew we had to keep working hard.”

Personality of a referee

I’ve seen many referees with Turkish roots climbing the refereeing ranks in other countries. Aytekin in Germany, Gozubuyuk in The Netherlands and of course you in Australia. What is the reason by their and your success?

Hakan Anaz: “I think ones personality is very important here. It does not matter if you are from such and such a country, the reason for anyone’s success is hard work, and being humble. Of course it is rather special when you have lived your life in one country and you are appreciated in the country of your parents birth. But there is no substitute for hard work. I would like to believe that we were chosen because all the instructions and directives that FIFA wanted of us, we fulfilled and then some.”

“The planning that the 3 of us went through for the 2 and a half year on the program was so meticulous I think in the end paid off with our selection. And of course, there is the performances on the field. Being honest and humble is very important. But also applying the laws of the game, and never compromising on your morals is also very important. Respect for yourself and fair play.”

Advice for young referees

What advice would you give to (young) referees?
Hakan Anaz: “If you want to achieve the highest in whatever you do, be it as a player, coach or referee, then be prepared to work hard. Planning is important. Always be humble. Always review your past matches and always learn from other referees.”

Listen to your mentors

“When I started refereeing, I had two mentors who I was always asking for advice, trying to understand what the art of refereeing is about. Learning from other referees is important, but also to take advice. If another more experienced referee gives you advice, be prepared to listen and appreciate what he/she is saying. Refereeing is not black and white, sometimes it is grey. It’s how a referee reacts to these grey areas is important. And always let your personality come through in your refereeing. And always be in position, this helps “sell” your decision. Whether as a referee or as an assistant, if you are in position then you can sell your decision. Finally, enjoy refereeing. If you don’t enjoy refereeing this will show in your performance.”

Read the interview with Ben Williams, Hakan Anaz’ refereeing partner during the World Cup, on my blog.

Harish Karki: youngest Nepalese referee at the national league

Harish Karki is the youngest referee at the Nepalese national league. But that doesn’t mean he is there yet. He needs to work even harder. “I have to do much more better than before to achieve my goal”. And Nepal does not have the regular league system. “I train almost 3 weeks a month and 1 week I officiate matches.” Read the exclusive interview with an ambitious young referee and get some interesting insights in refereeing in Nepal. 

Harish Karki

Harish Karki. Photo provided by referee

22 years old and national referee

Dear Harish Karki, please introduce yourself as referee.

Harish Karki: First of all,  I wanna give a big thanks to Dutch Referee Blog  for this great opportunity for letting me being in your blog. That’s  a great pleasure for me. I have been following your blog for 2 years. It has helped me a lot in my refereeing career. Thanks a lot.

My name is Harish Karki. I am a national referee from Nepal, which is located in South Asia. My age is 22. I have been a part of my All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) from the age of 18. I started my refereeing career from the age of 19. As I started my career I got huge opportunity from the start. It’s been 3 years on my refereeing field. I debuted officially from the District League, Redbull ‘C’ Division League Qualifiers, Interschool Cocacola Cup.

More challenges are coming

You’ve just been promoted as youngest national referee. Congratulations. How does it feel? What does it mean to you?

Harish Karki: Thank you for your warm wishes and all the beautiful people who have wished and supported me till now. I am happy for what, I have achieved. I see many more struggle, tackle and challenges in the upcoming days. So, I am taking the things for challenges upon me. I have to be updated with the Laws of the Game, prepare training schedules and make proper diet plans everyday. I have to do much more better than before to achieve my goal.

After, I have promoted I will get higher level and International matches in the upcoming days. It sounds really better to me through the promotion.

Love, hate and inspiring people

What did you do to achieve this milestone? (what did you do? how much effort/training do you put in?)

Harish Karki: I have awaited for many years to be at this stage. I have planned much more than this. So, I think that my career has now officially started. I am happy for this milestone I have made. It reminds me of the pain, struggle, love, hate, inspiring people, training and hard work i have been through.

I had always been preparing for this course, but it has not started yet because of the political instability of my association. But when I got notice that the course going to be held I had only few days to prepare myself. I worked hard, trained for 4-5 hours a day, maintained the diet plans. I wanna thank to my brother FIFA Referees Rojen Shrestha and Prakash Nath Shrestha for the training plans.

Small country: not many referees

How is refereeing in Nepal?

Harish Karki: It feels great to officiate the matches in Nepal. Recently, the association has held the election and the newly elected members are taking charge. It has been 4 years with none of the leagues in Nepal. But they have fixed the date of the A Division League which is going to be after 2 months.

So, in the last years clubs, District Associations used to organize Gold Cups, high cash prize tournaments. The craze of football in Nepal is too much that I can’t even explain. The stadium is always packed with great crowds. I love officiating here.

We have less numbers of Referees in Nepal. 12 FIFA Referees (including 2 women), 13 ‘A’ level Referees, 10 National Referees and 20-30 Active ANFA Referees.

3 weeks training, 1 week of games

What does a week as referee look like for you?

Harish Karki: In the context of our country, we don’t have regular leagues. As I said before we officiate most of the matches organized by the authorized clubs, District Associations, Event Management,  etc.

So from my side I manage these things in a professional way. I train almost 3 weeks a month and 1 week I officiate matches. We don’t have the 6-9 months leagues as like other countries.

I have my family business Shivapuri Greenview Restaurant and Hotel Blue Moon, of which I take care in my holidays. In my weekends I go hiking and gather around with my friends and families. I also go to gym for my fitness during my free hours.

The future for referees in Nepal

How often did you go to international youth tournaments/games and what makes that special?

Harish Karki: I haven’t gone for any international youth tournaments yet. But, planning for the upcoming tournaments / games. It is so hard for our country’s Referee to take part in international tournaments. There used to be AFC U-14 football tournament. I was a bit unlucky about this. This event was cancelled when I was preparing for this. But no worries, I will be doing a lot of hard work and will be making up for the great international matches. Even though our seniors do not get to travel for the senior international tournaments much because of past political instability of the association. Hope the newly elected members of the association will take care of this and bring these problems to an end.

Learn from international referees

You’ve worked with international referees. What are the best things you learned from them?

Harish Karki: I have worked only with my domestic FIFA  international referees. I mostly officiate with them. It was great pleasure working with them. I got a lot of knowledges, experiences and chances to learn different things too. Changes in lifestyle, behaviours, disciplines, confidence building, game management and many more are the things i have learned and been inspired from them. They try to inspire and motivate me through their experiences and support. I have brought better changes on myself about being disciplined, self-patience, confidence building and humble.

Refereeing is always a challenge

What are your biggest challenges as referee?

Harish Karki: First of all, as my point of view being as referee is always a challenging and tough job ever. I try to keep myself motivated all the time. I see my senior referees doing better. So, I see myself competing with them. That’s a great way for being always the best. Prajwol Chhetri(A Level Referee) is my biggest inspiration among the all. He is one of the promising referee of Nepal. He has always helped and inspired me to reach at this stage. I most of the time officiate with him and i love officiating with him as he supports a lot and builds up my confidence.

Harish Karki’s injuries

Dealing with injuries is the most frustrating part in refereeing career. As I was preparing for my National Refereeing Course, I was injured. I had slight hamstring problem on my right thigh. I was thinking to quit due to my injury but I did not give up and came up with this frustrating moment. “Pain is temporary, success is permanent” so at that moment I thought my dream of reaching the next level of my life should not be distracted by my injury. So, I put all my efforts to overcome this situation. I consulted to physiotherapist and took rest as he advised for about 2 weeks. I wanna thank my physiotherapist Dr. Suraj Bhusal for the treatment and great councelling at the time.  

Goals and ambitions

You’re now a national referee. What are your goals and ambitions as referee? And how will you reach them?

Harish Karki: I feel happy being a National Referee but I see a lot of challenges, tackles and obstacles in upcoming way of my life. So, i have to keep myself motivated, determined, concentrated, train hard than before, stick to my proper diet plans and keep myself updated to the Laws of the Game.

My goal is to bring the Elite Referee back to my country and my ambition is to be one the best referee of all the time in my continent with a lot of patience and inspiring capabilities. I want to be an inspiration for the new young referees.

 

Do you have any right free images that I may use in the blog?

 

You can use these photos for your blog. Though these photos has logo of goalnepal there in no problem using them.

 

Use this first photo as display picture if possible.

Homosexuals in sports have to cope with abuse

Banner about homosexuals in sports and how they are treated
Verbally abusing someone because of his race is not done, says Karin Blankenstein. “But homosexuals still have to cope with being abused.” As if that’s normal. Blankenstein fights for gay acceptance in sports in The Netherlands. I interviewed her during a meeting at The Hague’s Referee Association a few years ago. This issue is still very relevant these days. How is the situation for homosexuals in sports?

Acceptance is difficult

Karin Blankenstein is the founder of the John Blankenstein Foundation, called after her brother, a homosexual professional referee in football who died in 2006. The battle for gay acceptance in sports is difficult. She made an action plan to gain equal rights for everyone in cooperation with Dutch football association KNVB and she has sent it to all football clubs. “I got no response”, she says and stresses that the abuse is a big problem. “Fifty percent of the homosexual boys think about suicide during puberty. People should give that a moment of thought. They need to become thoughtful about what it means when you verbally abuse someone because of his sexual preferences.”

Verbal abuse

And what can referees do about it? “I hear players using the word ‘gay’ all the time on the football pitches. As a referee you need to say to players that it’s inappropriate.” Verbally abusing someone because of his race is not done, she adds. “But homosexuals need to cope with being abused.” John Blankenstein was openly gay. Likewise Jeroen Sanders, who was a referee and is AR in Dutch professional football. “But there’s a veil of secrecy on homosexuality amongst football players”. The German player Thomas Hitzlsperger told he was gay only after he retired. “He got more than 1000 interview requests, because this was so unique.”

Fans reactions on homosexuals in sports

Many football fans are not open for homosexuality according to Blankenstein. “They would love to party on Friday night with gay pop stars on stage in a big football stadium. But if a gay attacker would play in the same stadium the next weekend, they’ll boo at him.” There’s so much to gain for homosexuals in sports. Blankenstein hopes it starts with little things like people taking action when people verbally abuse gays and when football and referee clubs put gay acceptance in their code of conduct. “It’s important that as little people as possible quit with sports or refereeing because of their sexual preferences”.

Martin Atkinson: work harder if you don’t get the big games

Refereeing at the Premier League every week is what drives Martin Atkinson. “The goal is to get the biggest games”, he says in an interview with Dutch Referee Blog. “So I have to keep my standards high.”

Want to win a pair of signed cards by Martin too? Fill out my blog’s reader survey on DutchReferee.com/atkinson.

Martin Atkinson and Jan from Dutch Referee Blog

To do so, he makes sure to be physically very fit. “During the summer break it’s important to do the base work. But make sure you’re not tired at the start of the season.” Atkinson gradually builds up his fitness and officiates maybe two to three friendlies. Not many more, “because you only have a pause of ten weeks”.

Setting goals for the new season

Before every season he always sets his goals. “You need to have targets as referee”, he says. “Otherwise you will stand still or even go back”. Atkinson officiates the top clashes in the Premier League, for example Chelsea – Arsenal on matchday 2. He has also done the major national finals, so he will not do it again. “My main goal is always to referee a semi-final. In 2017-2018 it was the FA Cup, last year the Champions League. I want to referee the highest possible game.”

Work harder if you don’t get the big games

Michael Oliver, Anthony Taylor, Craig Pawson, they all want to do the highest games. “So I have to keep my standards high as well. And if I don’t get the big games, I have to work harder. I do still have the hunger for that.

“Every season has its highs and lows, but I focus one game at the time.” For him it is important to get the whole refereeing team at the same level. “The team is only focused when I am good and my ARs are as well. We need to be at the same level for a good performance.”

Join your Referees’ Association

Referees are a family. Atkinson is very happy with support from referees around the world, also for his trip for the good cause earlier this year. According to him it is very important to support each other. A great way is to do that at the local Referees’ Association.

“I am the member of my local RA for over 30 years”, he says. Meetings at Heavy Woollen RA are every first Monday. He can sit next to newbie referees. “I am going since I was 17. It gives a referee massive support. There is always somebody who has faced the same situations. They can give you advice. You’ll learn so much by listening to others.”

Martin Atkinson’s confidence

Atkinson tells confidence is a very important characteristic of referees. Referees should not get afraid or nervous when they receive a big game. “If you are confident enough, people appoint you because they know you can do it”.

Go out and referee!

His final tip for referees is to officiate as much as you can. “Go out. Deal with games at u9, u11 and so on. The more experience you get, the better you’ll get. You will learn how to talk with players and sell decisions. One of the best ways to learn is by doing it.”

So good luck with your games next weekend. Gain experience, be confident and enjoy!

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Preparing referees for a World Cup final

Preparing referees for a World Cup is a big task. And Nestor Pitana has the honour of refereeing the final between France and Croatia. How does he make sure to be ready? I got the chance to speak with Esfandiar Baharmast, present in Russia as a FIFA referee instructor. “I work with all the referees in their technical preparation as well as mentoring and debriefings”, he says. “Our job is to prepare the referees to the highest standards and make sure that they arrive in top physical and mental conditions.”

In this interview you’ll get to know Esfandiar Baharmast, but will also get an insight in World Cup refereeing.

 

 

Highlights of his career

What is the biggest highlight of your refereeing career and why?

Esfandiar Baharmast: There are so many highlights that I am not sure which one to mention and keep it brief. From a refereeing point, semi-final of 1996 Olympics in Atlanta between Argentina and Portugal and of course my 1998 World Cup match between Brazil and Norway that to this day is talked about everywhere I go and is an incredible story that does not fade from memories. My assignments to do the opening game of Major League Soccer as well as its 1st Championship match, a game that became an instant classic between DC United and LA Galaxy, both in 1996.

Roles in 7 World Cups

This beautiful career has taken me to 5 Men World Cups, 2 Women World Cups, 4 Olympic games, and every FIFA and Confederation tournaments imaginable. I was the assessor of Rio Olympics final game ( Brazil-Germany) as well as Copa America Centennario championship match (Argentina-Chile).

The awards and accolades that have come are beyond belief, from being the only soccer referee to be the recipient of the NASO ( National Association of Sports Officials) Gold Whistle Award, to receiving the Inaugural MLS Referee of the year award in 1997 and induction to Colorado Soccer Hall of Fame in 1998.

Friendships all over the world

The list goes on and on, but for me the most wonderful highlights are the beautiful friendships that I have with so many quality people in every corner of the globe. They are my true gems and are priceless. I want to highlight each and every one of them, from the mentors who taught me everything I know and my fellow referees, the players and coaches that we still maintain respect and friendship every time we see each other. I also love to celebrate my younger referee friends who through their success and reaching their full potential, bring a smile to my face each and every day.

Watching the new generation achieve their dreams

You’ve had several jobs in refereeing after you quit as active match official. What does it make so beautiful for you to remain involved in refereeing and do you miss it to officiate games yourself?

Esfandiar Baharmast: This game has given me so much and by staying involved and passing on what I have learned is my way of thanking those who came before me as we build on those collective experinces. My best reward is watching the new generation of refeees achieve their dreams and If I can make their journey a little easier and more pleasant, then it is all worthwhile. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my family and specially my wife Afshan and my daughter Arianna, who know the importance of this and allow me to spend the time away, even though it involves a lot of sacrifice on their part to make it happen.

16 cameras did not see the foul

Let’s go back in time a little bit. You were the center of attention after awarding Norway a penalty kick. Footage afterwards proves that you made a great call, which nobody could see at the moment of the game. I did write a blog post on this topic, but can you briefly explain how you experienced this media storm during such a big tournament?

Esfandiar Baharmast: The media can be brutal and when the tsunami of criticism starts, it takes a great deal of self-confidence and a lot of support from those who are dear and near to your heart to make you stay balanced and in control of your emotions. It is amazing that in the eyes of the media in a span of 36 hours I went from the most incompetent and useless referee (those are some of the mildest words, I give you, as the rest can not be published for people with good manners) to one the best referees who saw something that 16 cameras failed to see. How I was the best and deserved the highest games and all of a sudden had X-ray vision and was super human!

Esfandiar Baharmast

Being comfortable with who I am

The fact of the matter is that nothing had changed, I was the same person with the same judgement and the same decision. Thank God for the Swedish cameraman Mr. Stig Carlsson who had captured the penalty from his location, behind the goal to show the World, what were the simple facts. That Junior Baiano, had CLEARLY pulled the Jersey of Tore Andre Flo and the penalty was 100% the correct decision and I just refereed the game to the best of my ability with honesty and integrity.

Those are the simple facts and allow me to have the most clear conscience and be at peace and very comfortable with who I am and what my values are. For that, I don’t need to read any media or listen to people who have never met me, don’t know my background and have their opinions based on limited information.

Media attention in the current World Cup

How has this changed in recent years now the World Cup is getting even more attention and more people are sharing their opinions on online and social channels? 

Esfandiar Baharmast: I think the level of scrutiny and pressure has become so much more, that is almost like trying to drink from a FIRE HOSE. It can be very difficult with all the social media and everything showing up in matter of seconds and shared all over the world, and many times with brutality and lack of civility. This is a shame and It can be seen in every part of our lives, from the kids in school who experience bullying and humiliation through social media, to what happens after a game to referees, and sometimes players and coaches.

Positive thinking as referee

People forget that these are real people, humans with feelings and families to care for. It is not correct to spread so much harsh and negative feelings into this world, as what we spread, is exactly what comes back to us in return. My Motto has always been to “think positive, talk positive and act positive“, very simple words to say, but putting it into action is the real art of living and good humanity.

So my advice to all referees, is that in your life, stay balanced , be humble and always keep your feet to the ground and your eyes to the stars. When you know how to handle success and setbacks and have humility in victory and defeat, then you are at peace with who you are. Do your best, give it all and have faith that good things will come to good people.

First ever MLS match referee

You were the referee of the first ever MLS match. The game was played on April 6, 1996 between San Jose Clash & D.C. United. How has football changed and professionalized since then? And what does that mean for the role of the referee?

Esfandiar Baharmast: The Speed of the game is simply mind boggling now in comparison to 22 years ago. The pace of games and how you can have 3 counter attacks from one goal to another in less than 30 seconds are simply amazing. The game is played at incredible pace and referees need to be top athletes and be able to maintain fitness and concentration for over 120 minutes and more, as you can not lose your sharpness and focus in the most important moments of the match, namely when the players are tired and mistakes can occur. The increased number of cameras, more coverage of games in print, TV and social media adds to the amount of scrutiny to everything that we do on and off the field of play.

Esfandiar Baharmast in stadium World Cup

The role of FIFA instructor in Russia

What is your current role for the match officials that will go to the World Cup in Russia?

Esfandiar Baharmast: I am a FIFA instructor and work with all the referees in their technical preparation as well as mentoring and debriefings. Our role is the same as the coaching staff of any team that prepares the players for their games. We conduct practical training on the field of play, as well as preparing video clips from matches to debrief after games and prepare for next matches. In addition I have participated in meeting with teams in the Team Arrival Meetings to make sure players and coaches are informed about the general guidelines given and that we are all on the same page.

The highest standards of refereeing

You’ve been to several events prior to this final tournament with the selected candidates. How do you prepare them for the World Cup?

Esfandiar Baharmast: Our job is to prepare the referees to the highest standards and make sure that they arrive in top physical and mental conditions. Also from a technical standpoint, that they have practiced movement and positioning on the field of play and everything has become natural to them. During the games, they must anticipate and read the game, to move quickly to next phase of play, so that they are always in optimal position and have a great angle of view to see the incidents clearly and judge it according to the consistent interpretations of the laws, which again has been practiced by having gone through countless number of video tests and video discussions in the classroom.

Preparation and selection process

How does FIFA provide the referees with the best preparation possible?

Esfandiar Baharmast: The World Cup referees have gone through a 4 year preparation process. Immediately following the the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we identified the next group of candidates and they have participated in numerous FIFA tournaments from the Olympic games, to FIFA Youth World Cups (U-20 and U-17) in addition to the FIFA Club World Cups , Confederation tournaments,and countless seminars at every opportunity. Same as players who go through a qualifying process and the best are chosen to play for their National teams, we follow in the same way to select the best possible candidates to arrive at the World Cup. It is a long and very intense selection process to ensure that we get the best referees.

Exciting World Cup

What do you expect from the tournament?

Esfandiar Baharmast: I expect that our referees will be in best fitness form and compete as top athletes, with mental toughness and total technical preparation. They will have be the best prepared referees and we have invested lots of time and resources to make sure that they are successful. They will work to the best of their abilities and as a result we should have a wonderful tournament, where players can showcase their talent and provide an exciting World Cup.

Top 3 tips for (young) referees

Most of my readers are not yet at their personal top. What tips (top 3) would you give them to manage their (amateur) games well?

Esfandiar Baharmast: My advice woule be:

  1. “Love the game, not the fame!!!” Remember that the game is all about the players and we are there to provide a service to the game, protect the players, the image of the game and ensure saftey and fair paly, so that the beautiful game can be enjoyed.  Keep your egos checked and be humble and fair, yet firm when necessary in dealing with players and coaches. Your attitude will speak volume about who you are as a person and a referee
  2. Be student of the game: play the game, take a coaching course, watch games and discuss with fellow referees, players and coaches and always keep an open perspective. You don’t have to agree, but if you hear the same input regarding your behavior from different sources, then may be there is something for you to re-evaluate and do adjustments.
  3. “Never settle for ordinary, the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that extra that you give”. If this is your passion and you love what you do, then giving that extra comes naturally and you can not get enough, but also remember to stay balanced. Do not sacrifice your family and your loved ones, or your work. Keep the balance in your life and treat all 3 with same focus and attention, It will strengthen your charcater to alwys do the right thing , no matter who is watching or not watching. Treat people with respect and kindness”.

The importance of physical training for referees

Bjorn Kuipers and his assistants worked very hard on their training session closely watched by the Dutch press. And by Hilco de Boer. In an interview with Dutch Referee Blog Hilco de Boer tells about the importance of physical training for referees. Hilco de Boer is the physical trainer of referees in the Dutch professional leagues. He guides and monitors their training sessions – whether they are at the KNVB or at home. Based on upcoming games he makes the training schedules for most of the referees.

Dutch top referee Bjorn Kuipers will also receive schemes from Uefa. “All those training schedules are made based on the games that are scheduled”, says De Boer.

Hilco de Boer gives training session to Euro 2016 referees.

Challenge yourself physically twice per week

Hilco de Boer meets most referees once per month face-to-face. “I don’t see Kuipers every week either”, he says. All tests and data from the physical training sessions will be send to him. “But I can’t feel from a distance how he’s doing. Luckily Kuipers is experienced enough to feel that correctly himself.” The training schedules are a good guidance for referees, but a referee is not obliged to follow them to the letter. “If a referee experienced lack of sleep, then he should be able to adjust his schedule a bit.”

What does a training schedule look like? “That really depends on the number of games a referee officiates per week”, stresses De Boer. “If someone has no midweek game, then I’ll advise him to do two intensive running sessions per week.” This advice is also very important for amateur referees according to him. “For amateur referees the intensity of the training session might be different compared to the pro’s. And you need to take into account you can’t do the same if you have a physically hard job. But it’s also good for amateur referees to challenge your physical condition twice a week.”

Train your muscle strength and stability

Besides the running practice, De Boer also recommends every referee to train the strength of the weaker muscles in your body. “Referees get a lot of the same injures and to prevent this, it is very important to do exercises that focus specifically on strength and stability. It prevents referees from getting injuries, but it also helps them perform better, because they’ll be able to move more efficiently.”

De Boer also advices referees to do a light training session on the day before the game. He calls this the ‘matchday -1 training’. “Such a training sessions are an activating trigger for referees”, he says. “It stimulates the circulation of the blood and creates a healthy tension on the muscles. That’s a better preparation than doing nothing.”

Basics of a good training session

The physical trainer joined the KNVB in the summer of 2015 as head of physical training for referees in Dutch professional football. Before that he helped writing the training schedules. “It’s a wonderful job. Sports players in football, so also the referees, are very very motivated most of the time.” In his experience the training sessions at local referee associationsare good. He wants to collaborate a bit more. “It is very important for referees to lay a good foundation for your training sessions and many refs start at local RA’s with their training sessions in The Netherlands.”

Hilco de Boer

Get help from a running coach

There’s one thing that many referees can improve: the running technique. “On tip for everyone: get help from a good running coach.” Good running education is important to improve the way someone runs. With the right running technique you will be able to develop more speed and you’ll be running more efficiently, which makes you less likely tired after a few runs. “That’s why we always record the training sessions of young referees in the talent program on video tape. We monitor how they run. I also collaborate with a former Olympic triathlete to improve the running technique of the talents.” De Boer gives assistant referees the advice to run along with someone who’s an expert with running with a flag in their hand. “That’s something really different”.

To stimulate young referees to do proper physical training, De Boer once send an e-mail with a quote from Collina, someone they look up to. “Collina adviced them to start at a young age with good training sessions. If you’re young you’ll learn easily. When you get older, it’s difficult to adapt to a different training pattern.”

Big Brother is watching

Referees themselves are responsible for following the training schedules made by De Boer. He get the training logs from every referee in professional football in The Netherlands. Those contain the type of training a referee did, what his heartrate was and how tough he found the training session. He prefers to hear from referees if they go to a sports massage therapist and if they recover well from a training or game. “It feels like Big Brother is watching them for some referees, but that’s the only way aI can see how someone trains and if he for example needs to do more sprints. Based on the data I adapt the personal training schedules and in the end it helps the referees.”

Bad weather, busy at the office, meetings with friends or you just don’t want to. You might recognize those ‘reasons’ for not training. Relaxing on the couch sounds good and is so easy. But to stay fit you need to get up your feet and train. “In the end every referee is responsible for their own physical fitness.” De Boer has no doubt about Kuipers’ fitness level before big tournaments. “He takes his responsibility. That will be allright.”

De Boer will follow Kuipers’s performances the first weeks from his holiday destination. “I can’t mean anything form hem, because Uefa is organizing all training sessions in France. For me it is important to be back early July. That’s when all friendlies begin for the other referees.”

5 tips physical training tips by Hilco de Boer

  • Train twice a week intensively to stimulate your physical fitness
  • Do strength and stability exercises 2 to 3 times a week for legs and torso
  • Do a light training session one day before the game to stimulate the blood circulation
  • Do some running with a good running coach and focus on your technique (and not just speed)
  • Start at young age with good training. If you get older it is difficult to adapt your training pattern.

Please share how you do your training sessions. How often do you train (twice or less) and what exercises do you do?