With little more than four months to go before the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ kicks off on South African soil, it is a testing time for everyone hoping to appear on football’s biggest stage. Coaching teams find themselves busy scouting rival sides and keeping tabs on eligible players, while the latter group pull out all the stops to find their best form or recover from injury in time to make their nations' finals squad.

Also working hard are another elite band of footballing professionals, with the world’s finest match officials anxiously waiting to see if they have made the cut for this summer’s showpiece. On the back of a particularly intense and demanding 2009 period, the FIFA Referees’ committee will meet in Zurich on 5 February 2010 to confirm exactly who will preside over the encounters at South Africa 2010.

Three-year journey
The road to the FIFA World Cup began for match officials back in 2007, when the FIFA Executive Committee took the decision to set up a Refereeing Assistance Programme (RAP) to prepare those referees competing for a place at the 2010 finals. Fifty-four officials were initially selected and have had their performances at FIFA tournaments, RAP seminars and domestic matches assessed, with that number whittled down to 37 by 2008.

The year 2009, which was packed with FIFA events and RAP seminars, has proved decisive in terms of both the preparation and final selection of the candidates concerned. Each hopeful was appointed for at least one of the FIFA competitions during the calendar year: the FIFA Confederations Cup, the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the FIFA U-17 World Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. Their performances were evaluated by members of the FIFA Referees’ Committee, the FIFA Refereeing Department and a RAP working group – a team made up of international experts in the field of refereeing as well as in physical and mental preparation.

Our work has consisted in helping them optimise their technical, physical and mental preparation.

Jose Maria Garcia Aranda, head of FIFA's Refereeing Department,

“Each referee has had to prove his ability out on the pitch,” outlined the head of the FIFA Refereeing Department, Jose Maria Garcia Aranda. "Our work has consisted in helping them optimise their technical, physical and mental preparation. Also important in terms of their performance are the correct interpretation of the Laws of the Game, the decisions of the International Football Association Board, as well as the regulations of FIFA competitions."

Among the main innovations in referee preparation to emerge in recent years have been in the field of tactical and mental development. The ultimate aim is to improve officials’ knowledge of the game’s innermost technical and tactical details, thus helping them better understand and anticipate teams’ movements and players’ behaviour in unexpected and controversial situations. The FIFA Technical Study Group, led by Jean-Paul Brigger, has a role to play in instructing officials using exhaustive technical analyses of the teams they will be refereeing.

Given the huge pressures that match officials are subject to, as well as the level of criticism that can be directed their way, the RAP’s sports psychologists help them develop personalised strategies to cope with this pressure and prevent it affecting their work or personal lives.

Continual development
Referees’ growth and development in these various fields has been carried out at each of the FIFA events and RAP seminars the candidate officials have attended. What is more, all FIFA referees have access to a virtual platform where teaching materials are available and where they can contact their colleagues and instructors to discuss any doubts or concerns.

And the training process does not stop once the list of referees and assistants set to travel to South Africa 2010 is revealed. Indeed, it will become even more intensive, the chosen candidates heading to Zurich in late February for a medical check-up ahead of a seminar on Spanish soil. In May, a series of meetings with refereeing instructors from each Confederation will be held, where the final round of fitness tests will also take place.

The RAP instructors and FIFA Refereeing Department will maintain close contact with the officials throughout, observing their performances over the coming months and helping them stay properly prepared for life at the pinnacle of the global game: the FIFA World Cup finals.