The present calendar year will be a particularly intense period for women’s football, featuring as it does a host of major events sure to provide stiff challenges for players, coaches and match officials alike. Furthermore, for the latter group, each competition held over the following months will include continual evaluation of their capabilities with a view to officiating at the biggest test of all: the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™.

There are currently 579 women across the globe who have received FIFA approval to referee during 2010. “There’s been very good progress made and the number of female referees and assistant referees has increased every year since the first women's list in 1995. So much so that we now have enough female referees to cover every competition and match around  the world,” Sonia Denoncourt,  senior manager and head of women refereeing of FIFA’s Refereeing Department, told “We’ve got the numbers, so our main priority now is to continue to improve standards and quality.”

The finishing straight for those aiming to be selected for Germany 2011 began intensively just a few days ago at the 17th edition of the prestigious Algarve Cup. Forty-two female referees and assistants attended this national-team invitational tournament in Portugal and an accompanying workshop, where they were tested on their knowledge of the Laws of the Game, their level of English and their physical fitness.

“The fitness test is always very stressful because nobody wants to have to head for home early,” said Denoncourt. “For the second year in a row all the candidates passed the test comfortably, so we are very happy. What's more, the tournament was a success from a refereeing point of view and enables us to lay very good foundations for the showpiece in Germany.”

Nor is there much difference between the physical demands required from the female officials in comparison to their male counterparts. “The women have to do a series of six 40-metre sprints in less than 6.6 seconds per sprint, while the men need to do the same in 6.2 seconds,” she added. The second part of the test is 20 times 150-metres in (35 seconds for women, 30 seconds for men) with short recovery in between.

Before Germany 2011, hopefuls will need to keep their nerve at three further high-profile women’s competitions: the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup Germany 2010, the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore and the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Trinidad and Tobago 2010. Their performances at these events will be evaluated by the referee department and the referee committee members as they continue to mould the officiating team for the tournament, as well their displays during regional qualifiers for Germany 2011.

We’ve got the numbers, so our main priority now is to continue to improve standards and quality.

Sonia Denoncourt, senior manager and head of women refereeing of FIFA’s Refereeing Department.

The preparatory period for these hopefuls began back in 2008, with FIFA’s Refereeing Department working hard with the candidates on four specific areas, following a model also used for male officials.

The Technical Aspect concerns knowledge of rules and regulations, with officials’ ability to correctly apply this knowledge strengthened and tested by practical training sessions and video analysis of matches.

The Physical Aspect designs training plans for the referees, following their progress and monitoring their heart rates, all in close collaboration with medical staff who keep a watchful eye on the women’s health and help them improve their condition via information and advice.

The Mental Aspect is the newest in terms of its application to referee preparation. The women must be ready to face the pressure that their role and level of responsibility demands, which is why experts work with them to develop individual strategies designed to increase their mental strength and help them handle tension, stress and adverse situations without it affecting the professional performance or private life.

In February this year a new website tailored towards female match officials was launched, giving them a platform to keep in touch with each other as well as contacting their instructors and sharing any of their doubts, worries or experiences.

Next year the candidates will once again assemble in the Algarve for another seminar, when doubtless the stakes will be even higher given Germany 2011 will be just around the corner. For now, all this promising group of officials can do is keep up their hard work, do their best in every game and hope to stay in contention for a spot at next summer’s competition, set to take place between 26 June and 17 July 2011.