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.


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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.”

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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?

Esther Staubli: interview with a top class referee

Esther Staubli is one of the best female referees at the moment. I got the chance to ask her a few questions for my blog. She shares here experiences about refereeing at big tournaments, like World Cups, European finals and international games.

A great insight into professional refereeing. Interesting to see how much dedication and effort she puts into it.

Esther Staubli.

Esther Staubli. Photo: Uefa press release

The year 2017

First we go back to 2017, a big year for Esther Staubli. How was 2017 for you as a referee?

Esther Staubli: It was an amazing year that I never expected!

On Twitter I mentioned that I could ask you a few questions. I  – of course – want to know more about the u17 World Cup and a few readers ask something about that too. Bruce Bode asks: What was the most surprising/ unexpected thing about participating at U17WC? Arbitro Internacional asks: What are your experiences at the u17 WC?

Esther Staubli: It was already a big surprise for me and the other six women to be selected as fouth officials for the u17 World Cup in India. Nothing was planned and I even had to cancel a trip to Sicilia which I had offered my mother for her 70th birthday.

Unique refereeing moment

You are a fourth official during the tournament in India first. Then you get an appointment for Japan vs New Caledonia. A unique moment in history. How did you hear it and how did you experience the game?

Esther Staubli: My role at the tournament was clear. I was a fourth official and my goal was to support my male referee colleagues as much as possible. In the morning after breakfast FIFA always presented the appointments for the next days and it really was a big surprise to hear my name as a referee in this meeting.

I tried to take the match just as a normal appointment but of course it was a special moment go onto the pitch to referee this match, also because of the special weather conditions in India. But once the game started I was just a referee in the middle of a football game and nobody really cared if it was a man or a woman officiating.

Esther Staubli and team

Esther Staubli and team. Photo: Sportsfile from Uefa press release

Working with Anthony Taylor’s AR’s

In that game you work with Adam Nunn and Gary Beswick, both assisting Anthony Taylor a lot. They officiated plenty of games together. How is the chemistry in a mixed refereeing team?

Esther Staubli: They supported me really great and also Anthony who “lent me” his assistants was very supportive. It was a great chance for me to work with such experienced Assistant Referees who normally do games in premier league. I really liked their positive attitude very much and the spirit in our mixed team was great.

Officials from different countries

The u17 tournament officials are new for you. In the Women’s Euro final you work with Belinda Brem, also from Switzerland, but also with Sanja Rodjak Karšić from Croatia. How is it to work with referees you’ve never worked with before?

Esther Staubli: During the preparation for the Euro I invited Sanja to Switzerland for a friendly game and we spent some days together. Furthermore, UEFA appointed our Euro team also for a women’s champions league semi-final in France. For me it was very important to have the games and these days we spent together as a preparation for the Euro.

Generally, I like to work with different AR’s and in Europe we have quite a large group of assistants on a really good level. Still it is very important to prepare a big tournament like the Euro carefully. There are so many small details to discuss before to be able to work as best as possible together.

Euro 2017 final in The Netherlands

How did you experience the Euro 2017 final in The Netherlands?

Esther Staubli: It was a fantastic publicity for women’s football as both teams showed a great match in the final. Once the match started it was for me again a game as others and just after the final whistle I really realized it was something very special we just had.

Finally, it was also a great pay back for all the hard work we did in the last years and for all the efforts and sacrifices needed in these years to reach this goal in the end.

I was of course a fan of the Dutch ladies, but as always keep an eye out for the refereeing team. Great non-offside call at the Danish equaliser in the final. How important is it for a refereeing team to make these big calls correctly?

Esther Staubli: There is a lot of training and experience behind such a call. We do our games, we do practical exercises with players, a lot of analyses and discussions to be ready for this important call in a crucial situation. I think that’s what happened here. The correct decision in the final is just the result of the hard work we do before.

Former player becomes ref

Back to the start of your career. How did you become a referee?

Esther Staubli: I played in the women’s top division in Switzerland, but I knew my technical skills will never bring me to the national team. I was more a physical player. Because I love football so much I looked for something else in football and ended up as a referee. With refereeing I found a great new passion.

In a previous interview you say that you are not not proud of the number of yellow and red cards you got during your career. What kind of player were you and how does it help you as a referee?

Esther Staubli: I was a fighter on the pitch and I liked physical play. But for me fair play was also always important. Today it helps a lot that I played football. It helps to read the game. and because I was an emotional player I understand some reactions of players better. It makes it easier to find an appropriate way to communicate with players on the pitch.

Refereeing in Switzerland

In 2014 you made your debut in the Challenge League, the second level. What are your chances of reaching the Super League in Switzerland?

Esther Staubli: I never ask for something and I am happy what I get. I think as referees we should enjoy the games we do instead of thinking about games we don’t get. I still work hard to improve and I love still love refereeing so we will see what future still brings …

How is it for you to combine refereeing at a high level with a job at an agricultural school and a private life? What does a typical week for you look like? (any chances to become a professional referee? How much time do you spent on refereeing/training?)

Esther Staubli: At the moment I work 50% as a teacher. My school is very tolerant and supports me very much. I cannot make a living from refereeing and at the moment there is no possibility to become a professional referee in Switzerland.

Flexible job

Because we have a quite flexible system at my school I don’t have to teach every week the same number of lessons. I always try not to work one month before a big tournament an on the other hand I teach a lot when there are no games. I also reduce before a seminar or international matches. For example, I spent this winter 3 week in the south part of Europe in training camps. In a normal week I train about 2 hours every day. Each week I have twice a strength session with a personal coach and the rest of the time I try to do different trainings like spinning, speed, high intensity, agility or just playing squash. Furthermore, I have each week one hour of massage and often I go to the sauna after the gym.

Also football is not missed during the week. I like to watch Europa League and Champions League games. And to prepare my matches I also watch a lot of women’s games on wyscout. That’s also a great possibility to see national women’s competitions all over the world.

Looking at the future

Ata Dizdar wants to know: How long do you think it will be before we see a woman referee officiating a major derby or a major European match?

Esther Staubli: This is difficult to say. It was great that seven women had already the opportunity to participate in the u17 World Cup in India. But also every year the courses with the male elite referees are great opportunities. We can benefit a lot from these courses. So we will see what the future brings …

What are the challenges for female referees and are they different than the challenges for male referees?

Esther Staubli: In my first match in men’s professional football there were two spectators who started discussing after 60 minutes when they realized the referee was a woman (a friend sitting in the tribune told me after the match). So it doesn’t really seem to matter if you are a woman or a man. For me it’s just about performance and not about gender. Of course men are able to sprint faster but if a woman is able to read the game better she can equalize this fact.

Setting goals as referee

What are your personal goals for the future? How important is it to set goals and what do you do to reach them?

Esther Staubli: It is always important to have goals. Then you know why you are working so hard every day. But we should never lose the passion for refereeing. When the day comes where I don’t feel the passion anymore or when the day comes where I do the perfect match and can’t improve any more, I will immediately stop my career. But at the moment the fire is still burning as much as in the beginning. 2019 there will be the World Cup in France. This is of course my next goal. But you never know. I learned in the past that health is the most important and success always comes from hard work. So I keep working hard and hope to stay healthy.

Want to know more about goal-setting? Some great tips for your refereeing career.

3 tips for (young) referees

If you must give a young referee (a reader of my blog) three tips, what would you advise him/her and why?

  1. Work hard and enjoy refereeing. Then the day will to be rewarded will come.
  2. Try to reach Mount Everest and not just any hill. Of course in refereeing Mount Everest may be different for each person. Just find your personal Mount Everest and the view from there will be great.
  3. Be happy and enjoy every game you get. Don’t think about or ask for other matches.

Full-time job: making video analysis for referees

“When I watched and analysed a game of Bjorn Kuipers, I am exhausted”, says John Balvers, he is making video analysis for referees in The Netherlands. As soon Björn Kuipers got the appointment for the Europa League final he started with the preparation for that game. In the meantime Dennis Higler is officiating at the under 17 Euro’s. Busy days for the video analyst. In this interview, that I did before the Euro 2016 tournament, he tells more about how he works.

Being a video analyst is John Balvers’ full time job, almost 24-7. Competition weekends last from Friday to Monday. And if there’s no international football there are some cup games. “There is always football, so always a referee to analyse.” During the European Championships in France he has a special role: helping Bjorn Kuipers analyse his game and the matches of the teams he’s going to officiate. “My goal is to prepare Team Kuipers to the best of my ability helping him reach the final.”

John Balvers making video analysis for referees

Preparation before the games

Balvers is a full-time video analyst for referees working for the KNVB, the Dutch football association. He helps all referees at the professional levels and this period he’s totally focused on the Euro 2016. He took his holidays right before the tournament started and tries to watch as many games as possible. “What I do is unique and doesn’t happen in many other countries, definitely not with a full-time video analyst specifically for referees.” Check video in Dutch made by KNVB about John Balvers.

Every day during Euro 2016 Balvers waits for the moment new match appointments are published by Uefa. Sunday morning Uefa announced that Kuipers will officiate the clash between Spain and Croatia for next Tuesday. “Bjorn will notify me as soon as possible”, says Balvers. “The sooner I know which game he’ll officiate, the more time I have to make a video analysis for referees. I’ll arrange with Bjorn what he needs for his preparation.” When officiating the Europa League semi-final between Sevilla and Sjachtar Donetsk, Balvers analysed their latest encounters in both European and national competitions.

In the preparation of Kuipers’ games Balvers is collaborating with Jaap Uilenberg, the coach of the Dutch referee and also an Uefa referee observer. “We’ve also selected the video clips for the refereeing training camp before the Euro’s together”, he says.

John Balvers' video lab.

The video analysis for referees

The analysis of Balvers is very comprehensive. He’s in his video lab at home and will watch all games and digitally types almost every detail of the game. If there’s a challenge, which player made a foul, who suffered the foul, where free kicks are, who take them, if corner kicks are swung in our out,  which players get the ball often. “With all those stats you recognize how a team plays tactically and builds-up their attack or defence”, says Balvers. “Players often react the same way. In the game against Sevilla the Shakhtar Donetsk players took their corner kicks with short pass to a team mate. As referee you need to be aware that players that things will happen  around the corner flag.” It gives the referee an idea where his focus (also) should be.

All the data Balvers creates will be added to a video database which can be searched through by the match officials. Because there’s lots of data, Kuipers and other Dutch referees, can check attacks from a specific team, challenges from or on a certain player. All easy accessible for them. “I also have data  about who’s on the receiving end of the fouls, so referees are able to check the reactions of players. It shows who has temper, so refs can anticipate on that by calming him down immediately.”

Live analysis during the game

During games of Dutch referees Balvers will be analysing the performance and decisions in real-time. “It’s easy to do it live with all the video streams I can watch”, says Balvers. “I can even watch all replays immediately. Every situation that is possibly interesting for Team Kuipers will be send to them during the first half. Short clips about ten to twelve seconds or freezing frames for the assistant referees with offside calls. So the refereeing team can see if they made the right decisions.”

Two years ago PSV attacker Luuk de Jong scored against Feyenoord, but replays showed he hold the shirt of defender Kongolo. “Kuipers went to Feyenoord captain Clasie during half-time and admitted his mistake and said sorry to him”, Balvers explains. “I send them all clips that seem interesting to me. Right or wrong decision. Kuipers really wants to know if he made a mistake. I don’t give my interepratation, I only send them the video clips. My opinion is not important.”

In the image below you can see all tags Balvers made during a game of the Spanish team against the Czech Republic. All yellow cards (gele kaarten), challenges (duels), offsides (buitenspel) are tagged and Kuipers can check certain types of situations (only left wing attacks or so).

Coding all match situation for Team Kuipers.

Clips on the iPhone

Sometimes Kuipers will even get more than ten clips. “It’s up to him if he wants to see them. He can easily access them on his iPhone or on an iPad in the dressing room.” See image below for clips on the mobile device.

After the second half the refereeing team get some clips as well. At big tournaments the complete analysis with detailed descriptions will be made. “Most of the time the analysis will be ready by the end of the day”, says Balvers. After Kuipers’ games during the World Cup in Brazil he had to fly over 3 hours to the home base for referees. “Then I tried to get everything ready before they stepped into the plane, so they can check everything in the airplane and are briefed when they land.”

Balvers tries to work as fast as possible. He also helps referees during regular games in the national competitions, sends clips to Dutch referee boss Dick van Egmond or Uefa referee observer Jaap Uilenberg. Or to Danny Makkelie in the middle of the night during the u17 World Cup in Chile. “As soon as I hear their appointments I’ll start collecting data and clips.”

After the game it’s now even possible to add the communication of the referees via their headset to the video analysis. “With the headset info referees can improve the way they communicatie with each other.” That’s something that has improved the most in Team Kuipers during the last years together with Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra, his assistants.

Read interview with Bjorn Kuipers about progression his team made.

Video analysis on a mobile device.

Big library

All those analysed clips together form an interesting library for referees. “It’s accessible for everybody who’s involved in refereeing of professional football in The Netherlands.”

Via a new system called My Team Performance Exchange (MY TPE) it’s even possible that referees select the clips they want their team to study. “He can send them to his team members as match preparation and ask them for a comment on it.”

Watching games normally

“I can’t watch football normally anymore”, says Balvers. He is analysing everything. It was hard for Balvers watching the game between The Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In case the Dutch lost, Kuipers might officiate the Costa Ricans in a future round and Balvers was already doing his analysis on the games so it would be ready when the appointments were made. “It felt like the world collapsed”, he admits. “I am a huge fan of the Dutch national team, but I work during a big tournament for Team Kuipers. All I hoped for was them reaching the final. I’ll do everything during the European Championships to help them prepare the best way possible and I hope it helps them reaching the final.”

Read more from Euro 2016 referees