Qualifying is already well underway for teams looking to book their place at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, but it is not just players and coaches of the various countries who are looking ahead to 2010. The world's top referees also have their sights set on South Africa.
As part of a process that started at the beginning of 2007, 53 of them attended an 'Elite Referee' seminar from 22-26 September 2008 in Zurich. Assessments in the various areas (technical, physical, mental and energy performance as well as medical and physio preparation) were the order of the day at the Home of FIFA during the week, with the referees all looking to make it through to the forthcoming FIFA World Cup; the pinnacle of an official's career just as it is for players and coaches.
Just like the teams, a great deal of hard work lies in store for the potential referees. The aim of the one-week seminar in Zurich was to select the best of the best, who will then be split into groups and be meticulously prepared for the FIFA World Cup in two years time.
Among the prominent figures were some famous names, including Carlos Amarilla from Paraguay, who refereed the 2007 Copa America final between Brazil and Argentina, Italy's Roberto Rosetti who took charge of the UEFA EURO 2008 final last June between Germany and Spain, and Codjia Koffi from Benin, who in February this year refereed the CAF Africa Cup of Nations final between Egypt and Cameroon.
Not that the three above-mentioned names have an advantage over their colleagues in the race for a ticket to South Africa; they will go through the same tests and exercises which represent the first step on the way to 2010 as the other 50 participants. At the end of the training week, the referees' performances will be analysed, with the results presented to the FIFA Referees' Committee, who will whittle the list down to 38 names on 22 October.
The content of the week-long course was divided between academic and practical training. On Tuesday, the group took to the pitch in glorious sunshine at the Home of FIFA to carry out fitness training comprising various coordination, concentration and mobility exercises. Wednesday began with weight checks followed by another training session on the pitch with the focus on energy performance management. To finish off the day, the participants went into the auditorium to study videos, analysing and taking decisions on various match situations.
Thursday was devoted to fitness tests while on Friday, to round the week off, the referees were given a written test on the Laws of the Game as well as an oral English language test.
The various hopefuls will now all be eagerly awaiting the decision of the FIFA Referees' Committee in the hope that they will have taken another step along the road to South Africa 2010.