A week before Russia 2006 was due to kick-off, the team of referees set to officiate at the event gathered in Moscow for their own pre-tournament preparations.

A week before the start of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006, the referees and assistants set to officiate at the event gathered in Moscow for their own pre-tournament preparations.

Intense physical training coupled with rigorous theory tests were the order of the day for the women referees set to officiate at Russia 2006. The twice-daily sessions were specifically designed to ensure the officials arrived in the best possible conditions for the tournament, where they will need to demonstrate their skills under intense scrutiny.

All the women are strong candidates to officiate at next year's FIFA Women's World Cup in China, and they will need no reminding that their performances at Russia 2006 will have a major bearing on the selection of the refereeing trios for this showpiece event.

There is a 16-year age gap between the youngest official, Korea's Eun Ah Hong, and the eldest, Brazil's Silvia de Oliveira, who became the first women to referee an official senior men's game, at the Copa Sudamericana in 2003. Despite the difference in age and experience, all the referees are united by their love of football and their dream of being selected for China 2007.

The atmosphere in the group is one of genuine and strong companionship. Despite their competing for the same goal, there is a noticeable lack of rivalry between the women. In fact, the predominant sound from the selection tests was that of shouts of encouragement, with session breaks characterised by impromptu gatherings where advice and support were given.

The series of tests, which measured the speed and stamina of the referees, were based on the precise movements and demands that a major championship game would make on a referee. Once the tests were concluded and the results checked, 31 referees stayed on in Moscow to continue training until the matches begin. 

Emphasis on understanding and co-ordination
The three-woman refereeing teams for this championship will not all be from the same country, although they will have as much in common as possible. Given the variations between standards of women's football in the different regions, special emphasis has been placed on ensuring co-ordination and good understanding between the refereeing teams during the course of this week's preparations.

The universal language of football and the fact that the Laws of the Game are the same the world over meant it was not difficult to perfect the various gestures needed to harmonise communication by and between officials on the pitch. With the interpretation and implementation of the regulations varying slightly in the different confederations, these sessions were important in that they enabled the criteria to be standardised ahead of the tournament.

The official headquarters of the '17th' team at this championship has been established in Moscow, where the referees and their assistants are staying and honing their skills. After each game, the group as a whole will partake in video sessions, during which match performances will be analysed with a view to improving referee positioning and hand signals and minimising errors in subsequent games.

After the quarter-finals, some of the referees will return home, and only a select few will stay on in Moscow to take part in the last four and the matches that will decide the outcome of the tournament.

The time spent on physical training and reviewing refereeing theory and practice has been an unforgettable experience for the women taking part. As well as the professional pride of participating at a world championship, they will also take home the memories of sharing the experience with a multinational group united by their love of football.