GEORGE CUMMING is Director of FIFA’s Development Division.

The 2002 FIFA World Cup™ is the world’s greatest sporting event. Thirty-two teams who have reached the finals will play for the greatest prize in sport. There is a 33rd team taking part in that tournament however, not a national team but an international team of referees and assistants – the team that cannot win.

Selection for this team is difficult – 36 referees and the same number of assistants have been selected from the six confederations. They have gained their places by performing to a consistently high level in major matches, both nationally and internationally. They have been tested in the white-hot heat of hostile environments during the qualifying matches and they have proved their ability to handle the pressure they will face in Korea and Japan.

The composition of the 33rd team will be: Europe - 14 referees and 14 assistants; Asia - five referees and seven assistants; Africa - five referees and 5 assistants; North and Central America and the Caribbean – five referees and four assistants; South America - six referees and four assistants; and Oceania – one referee and two assistants.

But what types of individuals make up this team?

Any idea that they are faceless characters devoid of personality or feeling is dispelled by being in their company for less than five minutes. Many of them know each other very well, having been together at previous FIFA tournaments. Many are close friends and humour is never far from the surface when they are together.

Alongside the humour, however, there is a professionalism among the refereeing team. Before the start of France 98 a fitness test was held. No matter how fit and how confident the referees are there is always tension in the air before the test begins. On the bus travelling to the sports centre the referees agreed among themselves that since it was only a few days before the competition began they would run together at a sensible pace. 2800metres in the 12 minute run– that was to be the target. But referees are competitive and when the whistle went for the start of the run within 10 seconds it had become a race. Still, this was an important statement about the attitude of the refereeing team. They were at the World Cup France 98 as athletes in top condition and they wanted to push themselves to the maximum.

In any team there must be a balance between youth and experience. This is particularly true of the referees in 2002 FIFA World Cup™. There are the experienced referees such as Ali Bujsaim of the United Arab Emirates, Vitor Mello Pereira of Portugal, Gamal el Ghandour of Egypt, Kim Milton Nielsen of Denmark, Italy’s Collina and Scotland’s Dallas.

The youngest referee is Mark Shield of Australia who impressed the FIFA Referees’ Committee last year during the FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina. Felipe Ramos Rizo of Mexico, Peter Prendergast of Jamaica, Lubos Michel of Slovakia and Carlos Simon of Brazil were all involved in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games while Oscar Ruiz of Colombia and Byron Moreno of Ecuador took part in last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Korea and Japan.

The referees taking part in this year’s World Cup have therefore built up their experience in various FIFA competitions. For some this will be their last World Cup before they reach the age limit of 45, but for others Germany 2006 and beyond beckon.

The FIFA Referees’ Committee has taken the same carefully considered decisions in appointing the assistant referees. The forward planning is there for all to see.

Referees and assistants for this World Cup met together in Seoul from 20 to 23 March 2002 for the Referees’ Seminar. During the seminar they were given clear instructions on how they should approach their duties. Special emphasis was placed on dealing with the increasing problem of simulation or, more accurately, cheating. Players are too often guilty of diving and it has become almost an art form – and very difficult for the referee to identify.

Referees and assistants were shown a number of incidents to prepare them for the decisions they will have to make but the easiest way of solving the problem is for the players themselves to respect not just the Laws, but their opponents and the game of football itself.

As part of FIFA’s professionalisation of refereeing, referees and assistants will undergo a specially prepared FIFA Referee Fitness Programme under the direction of Professor Werner Helsen of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, a world expert in training programmes for referees. Each official was issued with a Polar watch, a special monitor which measures heart rate. The information is downloaded to a computer and sent to Professor Helsen in Belgium where he can analyse the results and give advice on the next stage of preparation.

The keynote for the Seminar was the phrase SUMMA PETENDA - in Latin ‘Aim for the highest’. At the beginning of this article it was said that the 33rd team of international referees and assistant referees was the team that could never win. They will not win the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ but if they achieve the seminar’s aim of SUMMA PETENDA through their performances they will be winners, for the good of the game.