Björn Kuipers: from whining player to top class referee

Björn Kuipers was a football player every referee would hate. The 16-year-old captain of his team couldn’t stop whining at the man in black about wrong decisions. Not once, but e-ve-ry match. As a player he was the complete opposite of the referee who got appointed for the 2014 Champions League final due to his cool and calm style of refereeing. After Leo Horn (1957 and 1962), Charles Corver (1978) and Dick Jol (2001) the 41-year-old Kuipers is only the fourth Dutch referee who’ll referee the final of the biggest club competition in Europe. In 2021 he reached his pinnacle, as first ever Dutch referee in a final of a European Championship.

“I was very emotional when I heard that I’d been given this final,” he told “I hoped to get the chance to referee a EURO final, and I’ve worked hard with my team to achieve this. It’s really a milestone, a dream, an unbelievable moment and a big honour.”

2nd Europa League final and more highlights

After officiating the UCL final, Björn Kuipers officiates at the 2016 Euro’s (read how he prepares for a big tournament with his Team Kuipers), his second Europa League final and the 2018 World Cup. In the latter he’s a fourth official in the final. The Dutch referee has one big goal which is refereeing a final at a European or World Cup. He will make history on July 11th 2021, because then he whistles for the start of the Euro 2020 final between Italy and England.

But how did hye become a referee? More on that below the image.

Substitution that changed his career

At a certain moment during that short football career he got, to his surprise, substituted, he once told newspaper de Volkskrant. His dad Jan Kuipers, a referee and supermarket owner as well, who rarely watched his son’s matches, summoned the coach to get his son on the pitch. His behaviour on the pitch was no longer tolerated by his dad and he told him to face the difficulties of being a referee. That was the start of a so far very succesfull refereeing career.

In January 2014 Björn Kuipers from Dutch town Oldenzaal was told he would be one of the referees at the World Cup in Brazil and on the 7th of May he got a message from Uefa referee boss Pierluigi Collina that he’ll be the referee of the 2014 Champions League final between Atletico and Real Madrid on the 24th of May in Estádio da Luz in Lisbon. “Being on the pitch during the Champions League final is the highest achievement in football for players and also for referees”, he told after the appointment. Kuipers will be assisted by Sander van Roekel, Erwin Zeinstra, Pol van Boekel and Richard Liesveld.

Björn Kuipers and his team.
Björn Kuipers and his team.

Improvement as a referee

After his father’s advice to try refereeing Björn became an amateur referee for theDutch football association KNVB in 1990. It wasn not always a pleasant journey towards professional football. Moments of dry heaving. Matches with 14 cards. Disrespect. It took him eleven years – with a one year break because he went abroad for his master degree in Business Administation – to reach the professional football level. His first professional match was Telstar versus Eindhoven in the Jupiler League, Dutch second level. He made his debut in the Eredivisie at the age of 32. A group of young referees entered the A-list and Kuipers as one of those talents. “Referees that are good, can move up quickly”, he told NRC after his fourth match on the highest Dutch level. “I know almost all the players, but they also know me apparently. They even called my by my first name, that actually surprised me.”
That was just nine years ago. Now Björn Kuipers is the talk of the town in The Netherlands. He even give a press conference before he moves to Brazil for the World Cup, because “otherwise he wouldn’t be able to respond to all interview requests he got”.

Success factors

But wat are the success factors of Kuipers career? As manager of three supermarkets with about 260 employees and owner of a barber shop he has got the leadership skills a referee needs. “But I’ll never be bossy”, Kuipers says. His work and refereeing motto is to let people do what they are good at. Kuipers gives his assistant referees Sander van Roekel and Erwin Zeinstra much freedom on the pitch to call for fouls and he supports their decisions. It is no coincidence that the KNVB announced that “team Kuipers” will go to Brazil and “team Kuipers” will referee the Champions League final.

The career of Björn Kuipers

Bjorn Kuipers is very popular. The day he heared about his appointment for the World Cup he was in Dutch most popular tv show DWDD.
Bjorn Kuipers is very popular. The day he heared about his appointment for the World Cup he was in Dutch most popular tv show DWDD.

Björn Kuipers officiated five years on the highest national level before he became a international referee in 2006. Only three years later he became an Uefa Elite Referee. 2013 was a great year for him with the Europa League final between Chelsea FC and Benfica in the Amsterdam Arena. Later that year he officiated the Confederations Cup final between Brazil and Spain.

All these referee successes were not possible without the support of his wife, whom he married eleven years ago, and his two children. “I’m away from home a lot”, he told Helden Magazine. Kuipers even missed 6 of his daughter’s 8 birthdays because he was away from home for a football match. “But it never causes friction. I don’t know what should do without my wife.” Kuipers’ wife follows each and every match, but normally doesn’t go to the stadium. She went to the Super Cup in Monaco and the Europa League final in Amsterdam. “She and my coach Jaap Uilenberg are the first people I call after a match.”

Kuipers’ two children, his 8-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, are not old enough yet to be like their dad on the football pitch, constantly whinging at the referee. “My daughter doesn’t even care about football so much”, Kuipers once said. “But I think, although they do not show it publicly to others, that my children are very proud of their dad.”

Will he quit after Euro 2020?

“Let me think about that after the EURO,” he says to Uefa a few days before the Euro 2020 final. “We’ve seen it all – we’ve travelled across Europe and around the world, we’ve refereed great matches with great players and great coaches. It’s a dream to be a referee – it’s a dream to be refereeing a EURO final. I’ll look after the EURO about what comes next as far as refereeing is concerned.”

Björn Kuipers’ 9 finals

Source: KNVB.

2006EC u17Czech Republic – Russia
2009EC u21Germany – England
2011UEFA Super CupBarcelona – FC Porto
2013Confederations CupBrazil – Spain
2013Europa LeagueChelsea FC – Benfica
2014Champions LeagueAtletico Madrid – Real Madrid
2017WV u20 Venezuela – England
2018Europa LeagueOlympique Marseille – Atletico Madrid
2021UEFA EURO 2020Italy – England

Source: KNVB.

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.

FIFA sued over World Cup refereeing

Colombian fans who are not happy with world Cup refereeing

A Colombian lawyer sued Fifa over World Cup refereeing decisions in the quarter final match between his national team and Brazil. According to BBC he wants the world football governing body to pay him 1bn euros because of “moral damages”.

Colombian lawyer Aurelio Jiminez was quoted by the BBC about his case: “I felt very bad, I was heartbroken, my cardiac rhythm was altered and my relatives took me to the emergency room at the hospital. I was surrounded by my grandchildren who were crying a lot.”

The Guardian tried to speak to referee of that match Carlos Velasco Carballo. He refused. His only comment: “Unfortunately I cannot talk about it. I would like to but the rules do not allow it. We did a Fifa open day for the referees at the start of the tournament and we were all very open that day. I can talk to you about Manchester United or Chelsea or José Mourinho or anything else, but not this, thank you.”

Photo Creative Commons Montaplex.

Windsor Barra Referee Hotel in Rio

Windsor Barra Referee Hotel view.

The referees will stay at the Windsor Barra Hotel in Rio de Janeiro. The hotel is located beach-front with some very nice views over the water.

Most important details of the hotel at a quick glance:

  • It has 5 stars
  • It is located in front of the exuberant beach of Barra da Tijuca, in Rio de Janeiro.
  • It has a terrace with two swimming pools
  • From the Windsor Barra Referee Hotel it is just an 30 minute drive to the Centro de Futebol Zico training ground where the referees will have their training sessions during the tournament.
  • You can even make a virtual 360 degrees tour throught the Windsor Barra (Referee) Hotel.

    Image on top is the view from the Windsor Barra Referee Hotel (via Google Streetview)

Joel Aguilar always goes for the final

When a referee didn’t turn up Joel Aguilar from El Salvador had to pick up the whistle. “When I was asked to be the referee I said no at first because I liked playing and in fact had poor relations with referees because I got sent off every so often,” Aguilar said to Reuters.

Joel Aguilar - World Cup referee from El Salvador.

Joel Aguilar – World Cup referee from El Salvador. (Screenshot from interview on SNTV).

“All of us who love football wish the national team to go to the World Cup. Given the choice between the team and a referee, everyone would pick the team, but I’m proud to be able to take part representing El Salvador,” Aguilar told Reuters. He even told SNTV later that going to the World Cup would be “the ultimate fiesta”. It’s the second World Cup of the Salvodoran referee, but he hasn’t yet officiated a match at this level. In South Africa he was only a 4ht official.

Joel Aguilar, a 39-year-old teacher, almost didn’t go to the 2010 World Cup as reserve referee. Because Fifa had a dispute with the Salvadoran football association FESFUT because of “government interference” in the El Salvador’s football. “Furthermore, during the period of suspension, FESFUT will not be able to be represented in any regional or international competitions,” said the Fifa statement. “For example, the refereeing trio selected for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa will not be able to participate in this competition if FESFUT remains suspended.”

Referee of USA – Costa Rica

Another moment you could remember Aguilar from is the 2014’s World Cup qualifier between the USA and Costa Rica. Heavy snow blizzard covered the field in white. The Costa Rican Football Federation wanted the match to be replayed, but Fifa throw out their demand. See here the match conditions:

The conclusion on the website of Soccer Referees USA:
“Also, the safety of the players is crucial and of paramount importance. Somewhat surprisingly here, despite very difficult field conditions, both teams played a clean game and no serious foul play occurred. Moreover, it appeared that, after the referee stopped the game in the second half to evaluate the situation, both teams tried to persuade him to let the game continue. Still, Mr. Aguilar made a risky decision when he permitted the game to continue.” Please comment below if you’d have let play continue.

World Cup preparation

After the 2010 World Cup the carreer of Aguilar progressed rapidly. He refereed both 2011 and 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Finals. This tournament is held every two years by national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

On the day that Fifa announced the World Cup referees the boss of Salvadoran referees, Luis Iraheta, announced that “it was an honour for the country” that Joel and his team were selected. “I can also tell you that Joel is the number one referee on the ConCaCaf list right now”, he proudly told.

Joel Aguilar finished the national season with the clash between Dragón and Isidro Metapán. “We take all the responsibility to be there to enjoy the game because it is a final, but we obviously take our responsibilities. But it is not easy to maintain the trust that the authorities always give you”, Aguilar said. “But you have to earn the trust of players, officials and press, and not just the authorities.

Aguilar is happy that he could officiate the national final. “I’m very happy , he said in EDH Deportes. “As referees you always want to officiate the final round of a competition”. With that spirit the Salvadoran referee moves to Brazil on Saturday 31st of May with his assistants Juan Francisco Zumba and William Torres will go to Brazil. Aguilar, who picked up the national flag to take it to Brazil, says just before he left to his second World Cup: “we want to uphold the name of El Salvador when we are in Brazil”.

Yuichi Nishimura can bring Asian refereeing to new heights

Yuichi Nishimura is a big contestant of becoming the first Asian World Cup final referee. The 42-year-old referee from Japan has already shown his skills during the 2010 World Cup with a quarter final and the appointment as 4th official in the final officiated by Howard Webb. A report of newspaper UzDaily wrote shortly after the tournament: “I cannot predict the future but I won’t be surprised if there was an Asian, whether from Japan, Malaysia or even Bhutan, who would one day become THE referee for the World Cup final. The sky is the limit for Asian judges on field. And the dedication is there for them to reach the pinnacle.”

Update: Fifa announced on 10th of June that Nishimura will be the referee who will referee the opening match between Brazil and Croatia.

Start of Nishimura’s career

Nishimura is one of the Asian World Cup referees. But how did it all begin for him? Nishimura was the coach of a youth team and in his opinion the referee ruined the dreams of his pupils by bad judgments. This inspired him to become a referee himself with the motto of thinking of the players first. He told Fifa once that “his biggest challenge on the pitch is to maintain positive motivation amongst the players”.

Nishimura became a Fifa referee in 2004 and only two years later he already refereed an Asian Champions League final between Al Qadisiya from Kuwait and Al Karama from Syria. One year later he officiated the Fifa u17 World Cup final in Korea.


But that’s not the only foreign experience Nishimura gained. The Japanese match official was also invited to the 2008 Africa Cup in Ghana as only non-African, where he got three matches. And his most remarkable refereeing adventure maybe was in Poland. He officiated three matches in the Polish Ekstraklasa in 2008 as part of a referee exchange. After he landed they told him about match-fixing problems in the country. “But we were not there because of that affair”, Nishimura told Gazeta Wyborcza. “We are international referees, but we’ll never officiate competition matches in Europe and all experience will be usefull.” Nishimura continues the interview and tells why nobody will ever to buy him to manipulate a match. “In Japan, there is no corruption in the sport. I think it has to do with our culture and tradition. Such behavior will never be tolerated.”

Japanese courage

Integrity in sports is very important for the Japanese. Before moving to Poland he had heard about Tomasz Hajto, a player with foreign experience. “Yes, I also knew about the yellow cards he has collected”, Nishimura told. “And I also booked him today, but there was no alternative after such behavior. I had no other choice. I’m not prejudiced before the game to anyone.”

Nishimura was named best Asian referee in 2012 and as worked hard to be top fit at the 2014 World Cup. “It is an honor to be appointed for the World Cup, but it is hard to finish any World Cup match without any problems”, he keeps reservedly. “But I want to meet that challenge with courage and hope my decisions will be accepted by the teams involved in the games where I take charge.” That Japanese courage could bring Asian refereeing to new heights during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Read the interview with 2010’s Asian semi-final referee Ravshan Irmatov.


Video: referees prepare for the 2014 World Cup

Referees of three confederations (UEFA, AFC and OFC) met in Zürich for a seminar prior to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

“Seminars like this are important to reset our focus”, says Felix Brych. “We are in the middle of the season at home and in the Champions League. You can’t lose the focus on the World Cup, that’s why this seminar is important.”

For the German top class referee the exchange of thoughts with peers from other countries and continents is very important. The selected World Cup referees will also watch a lot of video’s and these meetings will help them to get a standard interpretations of the Laws of the Game.

Another thing referees do is prepare physically. Watch the photo series of the training session during the World Cup referee meeting.

Referees got a medical check at the World Cup referee meeting.

Referees got a medical check at the World Cup referee meeting.

Howard Webb says that referees should be physically ready for the job they’re asked to do: refereeing at a World Cup. But it’s not just that. The meeting was also about health and well-being. The referees also got a medical check-ups last week: is the cholesterol level right? The heart? Blood pressure?

“I’m impressed by the dedication of the referees and assistant referees during this week”, says Fifa referee boss Massimo Busacca. He also told Reuters that referees should care for the players’ safety: “The safety of the players is very important so the referees have to read the situation carefully at the beginning of the game.”

“That is the role of the referee, to try to understand and anticipate”, says Busacca. “Sometimes, the players forget because of the adrenalin. The role of the referee is to say: ‘Do you want to play today or do you want to take a shower?'”

See for yourself which tests the referees had to pass and how the referees prepare for the 2014 World Cup in June and July.

PS: referees should be alert and focus on details. Do you remember which referee gave a red card in the video?