The president of the FIFA Referees Committee, Angel Maria Villar Llona, paid a visit to the match officials who have gathered at a special training camp in Gran Canaria (Spain) to prepare for the forthcoming FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. Over the next few days the candidates will be putting their physical fitness and knowledge of the Laws of the Game to the test in a bid to hone their officiating skills ahead of the showpiece event this September (10-30).
After meeting the 40 hopefuls, Villar urged them to push themselves to the maximum to ensure the level of refereeing in China meets the standards expected by the best players in the world.
At a subsequent press conference Villar declared, "One of FIFA's main goals is to develop women's refereeing around the world, particularly the standards of elite referees in preparation for the Women's World Cup. That is why we are working with female match officials in the same way as we did with their male counterparts in the run-up to the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™."
The process got under way at the 2005 Algarve Cup, one of the most important tournaments on the women's football calendar. The following year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 provided the ideal training environment, giving officials the chance to work on their theory skills and to put them to the test in official international matches. In addition to these tournaments, FIFA has also been holding regular seminars so it can closely monitor the progress made by referees.
During his visit Villar saw the candidates being put through their paces in some of the theory classes and training sessions that form part of the camp's intensive schedule. "The programme includes general monitoring of the physical condition of the candidates as well as a series of theory-based sessions designed to cement knowledge of the Laws of the Games and raise the relevant technical points," he said.
Also in attendance was Jose Maria Garcia-Aranda, the director of FIFA's Department of Referees, who said, "Representatives from the five confederations are here and the significant differences between the competitions they organise leads to variations in the way some of the Laws of the Game are interpreted and applied. The objective of FIFA and the meetings and tournaments it organises is to help standardise criteria."
A call to youngsters
The women's game has enjoyed spectacular growth in recent years, but much still needs to be done. One of the main tasks involves increasing the number of female officials by encouraging more women to go into refereeing.
Sonia Denoncourt, who is responsible for women's refereeing within FIFA's Department of Referees, issued a call for youngsters to pursue careers as match officials: "Football can teach you so much about life, and in becoming referees young people will have the opportunity to enjoy some unforgettable experiences. What's more, if they really enjoy it and make the grade, it's a pretty amazing job to have."
Villar rounded off his visit by praising the tremendous willingness of the candidates to learn and their determination to make it to China.
Over the last few months the FIFA Referees Committee has been keeping a close eye on the development of the various candidates and will make its final decision in May. The 39 successful candidates will then be brought together two weeks before the big event to ensure they are in peak condition when the whistle finally blows at China 2007.