Women's referee course under way in Doha

  • Women referees in Doha preparing for the Women's World Cup

  • Officials working together in groups of three

  • Seitz: "It’s a very intensive seminar, in fact I’d go so far as to call it a super-seminar"

A whistle blows. The referee points to the penalty spot after a player in a simulated situation in a training match fouls another. On the touchline, another group of referees is warming up, while in the adjacent room, a trio is getting direct feedback about their current training session via video analysis.

There is certainly a lot going on at the FIFA Women's World Cup™ preparation course for women referees, being held in Doha up until 15 February. The 27 referees and 48 assistant referees who have been nominated for France 2019 are getting ready for the tournament in Qatar.

"It’s a very intensive seminar, in fact I’d go so far as to call it a super-seminar", says Kari Seitz, FIFA’s Senior Manager of Refereeing. "It is giving women referees the opportunity to work on their fine-tuning and as such is the ideal preparation for the World Cup in France."

The course in Doha includes not only training sessions on the pitch with VAR and others featuring direct feedback for the assistant referees, theory lessons as well as medical and fitness checks, but also a full tournament with U-17 teams from around the world, which the referees are officiating in match conditions.

"We are always looking to develop further and progress," says Lidya Tafesse Abebe, a referee from Ethiopia. "Communication with the assistants is a very important aspect, as at the end of the day, we have to work as a group of three out on the pitch."

The seminar in Doha represents a milestone, since it is women referees and assistants taking part and engaging in lively exchanges.

"Being here together gives us so many opportunities and it is a totally different form of preparation," explains Mayte Chavez, an assistant referee from Mexico.

How much the referees appreciate the seminar can been seen in how they make the most of every minute. Match situations are discussed and evaluated, but despite the fact that they are on a tight timeline, the participants never lose their good humour, and their unbridled passion for the sport can be seen in their eyes.

"We live and breathe football," says Swiss referee Esther Staubli, "and we soak up every piece of information there is about the various topics such as fouls and free-kicks, as it is all there to help us prepare for the World Cup in France."

The countdown has begun with the big event just a few months away, starting on 7 June. "It’s important that the referees understand that they will have a great responsibility when they are out on the pitch at the tournament," said Massimo Busacca, FIFA's Director of Refereeing. "After all, certain situations can tip a game one way or the other."

The whistle goes again, and the next referee and her assistants go out onto the pitch while the previous group of three head off to analyse their match situations in the video room and get feedback from the instructors. France is not far away, and the participants at the seminar in Doha have some long days still ahead of them.