The referees go back to school
They may well be the most experienced beach soccer officials in the world, but there is always a first time for everything. And as with any competition organised by world football's governing body, the very first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup requires its referees to attend a series of meetings, technical sessions and physical tests before the first ball is kicked. Now, with just a few hours to go before the tournament gets underway, the referees have all been put through their paces and are raring to go.
It is thanks to them, of course, that a match can be played in the best conditions possible. It is always worth repeating the crucially important role they perform, not least to the referees themselves, and a certain amount of planning often goes a long way when a tournament is as unprecedented as this summer's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup.
Indeed, the match officials have had their hands full ever since they arrived on Brazilian soil. First up on the agenda was a presentation of the tournament and everything the FIFA stamp of approval implies, and no sooner had that message been passed than it was time for the physical tests. Before the sand had settled on the first of the last European qualifiers, in fact, the referees streamed out into the magnificent stadium in Rio de Janeiro for a round of exercises.
16 referees from all over the world
Organised by Brazilian official and beach soccer pioneer Edmundo Lima Filho, these sessions have been designed to leave only the smallest possible margin for interpretation. "The rules are written in black and white and are very explicit. Our job is to apply them," he said. With that in mind, the following day's technical session was dedicated to looking at the Laws of the Game in minute detail, "to be certain that everything is clear."
The 16 men selected to officiate at the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup pored over every rule in the book - from their posture on the pitch to the ban on players wearing jewellery, from acrobatic kicks to which cards should be given for which infractions and the behaviour of players and staff on the touchlines. The only rule change they have had to get used to since FIFA took the discipline under its wing has been the scrapping of the golden goal.
Naturally, given that many of the referees present have been officiating beach soccer matches for up to ten years, respect for fair play is going to be in extremely safe hands. And with seven of them hailing from Brazil, two from Portugal and one each from Chile, Belgium, France, Uruguay, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Switzerland, they will be eager to make the most of a unique personal adventure as well. All things considered, everything looks well set for a first FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup that will live long in the memory.