While Tina Theune-Meyer and Greg Ryan were plotting the paths to the Final of the Algarve Cup for Germany and the USA, there was an equally intense training programme taking place in the adjacent hotels and playing fields of Portugal's southern coast. And although the common denominator in both camps was football, the latter were not players, but the tournament's female referees who were gathered to review of the Laws of the Game and their application.
As part of its quest to raise the standards of refereeing, FIFA decided to take advantage of this international women's tournament to train and evaluate the 38 referees and assistant referees who would be officiating. With a view to having the best possible officials in place for the FIFA Women's World Cup in China in 2007, the FIFA Referees' Committee have initiated a long term plan that includes periodic workshops and training courses for the candidate referees as well as practical assessment of their performances at international tournaments.
During the weeklong tournament in Portugal, the 38 referees chosen from each of the six Confederations had daily training seminars with FIFA instructors on various aspects of the game. Particular emphasis was given to physical fitness with the referees subjected to a series of endurance tests. The participants were also given personalized fitness programmes to take away with them at the end of the tournament.
However, the bulk of the training focused on the theory and application of refereeing technique as dictated by the Laws of the Game. Although the 17 norms are identical in all six Confederations, occasionally they can differ slightly in their interpretation and use. Hence the need to standardise certain decision-making criteria and ensure uniform interpretation during matches by the main referee and her assistants.
While the language of football is universal, the instructors took the opportunity to perfect the signalling skills of the officials present. Given the poor state of the women's game in some of the participants' countries, the resulting lack of regular match practice meant fluency and handling skills were in need of improvement.
Perhaps the most interesting, as well as critical, exercise in the course was the post-match analysis, when officials discussed among themselves and evaluated their own decisions. These debates proved very edifying and allowed the more experienced referees to correct mistakes and offer advice on such matters as positioning, keeping up with the play and handling complicated match-day scenarios.
For the 38 "women in black", the week was about more than just physical preparation and technical revision. It was also about a group of dedicated women with a shared passion working together to achieve the highest possible standards for themselves and their profession.