While the players and fans wait for the first game of the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004, the competition has already started for the referees. They took part in a seminar on Thursday and had a chance to rehearse their lines.

Consult the list of referees for Chinese Taipei 2004

"Some of the Futsal rules get interpreted in different ways around the world, so it was necessary to clarify a few things before the competition gets underway," says Fernando Tresaco Gracia, one of the refereeing coordinators present in Chinese Taipei 2004. His task is to ensure everything runs smoothly for the match officials, which is why he organised last Thursday's seminar, in some ways the real starting point of the FIFA Futsal World Championship Chinese Taipei 2004.

"The days before a tournament are always a bit hectic," he assures us. "There's so much to do: welcoming the referees, getting them in peak condition, and then going over technical and physical aspects of the sport." In the course of just one day, the referees went through the Laws of the Game of Futsal together and were brought up to date on certain rulings, such as what constitutes the correct equipment. They also found out about the rigorous training programme that awaits them.

This brought them face to face with the people they will be depending on for the two weeks of the competition, i.e. the physical trainer, his assistant, the masseur, the video specialist and the technical instructor. "Save for the physical tests and training, which will be intensive from now until the first matches, we will be trying to smooth some of their edges and there'll be analysis of a previous day's games every morning," Fernando Tresaco Gracia explained. And that's more than enough to keep the best 18 referees on the planet occupied. 

Among them, Senegalese official Yaya Djiba had been looking forward to the seminar for some time. "It's the start of the competition. And it allows us to look over lots of things, not least the way rules are applied differently in all our countries." Having participated in Guatemala 2000, along with five of his colleagues, Yaya knows how important the referee's role is. "You can't have a good game or a good tournament without good refereeing. If we apply the letter of the law and the players accept that, our job is made a lot easier."

Indeed, the target for the men in the middle is the same as it is for all the teams who have qualified for Chinese Taipei 2004: to spread the Futsal gospel around the world. "I remember how excited the public were during Guatemala 2000," recalls Yaya. "I'm sure the Organising Committee have been inspired by that tournament to produce even more of a festival this time around - something that will really put Futsal on the map."

With one eye firmly on the fast approaching kick-off, the referees are also keen to stress the fundamental values of the sport, whether it is with eleven or five players on a team. "'My game is fair play' is the slogan of FIFA, and that goes for every single one of us," affirms Yaya. It is something the players are sure to take to heart.