Women’s World Cup Referee Preparation

By Sonia Denoncourt

Referees are just like players and require optimum preparation in the lead-up to any major tournament. Referees need to peak at the right moment and to reach their highest performance during the biggest women’s football competition in the world, the FIFA World Cup.

The Typical Preparation on a 4 year cycle:

February 2019 –  Course in Doha including the Al Kass International Cup which brings together some of the top U-17 teams in the world. Experimentation of VAR

February 2019 – Algarve Cup, Portugal. International matches with seminar

April 2019 – Seminar in Doha, Qatar. Further step taken to prepare for use of VAR. Ninety elite FIFA match officials, representing all six confederations

WWC 2019 France – The remaining ten per cent of preparation will be achieved in Paris during the customary pre-competition seminar.

Aspects of the game for match official’s preparation:

  • Physical training & Fitness assessment
  • Fitness preparation: Every candidate had a personal FIFA coach which monitored them and provided monthly feedback all shared on a communications platform. Example of results:  avg speeds for referees increased (avg 4 x 40 in 2016 was 6.33, then in 2018 it was 5.92). During the seminar in Doha in 2018, 22 referees passed the men’s fitness standards
  • Medical test
  • Heart rate monitoring control. Watches provided by FIFA to each referee (program started in 2007)
  • Practical trainings during seminars and every day of competitions to prepare match officials for the ever-increasing demands of the modern game.
  • Technical meetings to review all matches and crucial decisions
  • Individual and collective technical and physical fitness feedback with specific instructions
  • Observation and discussion of previous games and problematic situation. Tactical approach to reach uniformity and consistency keeping fair play and safety a priority.
  • Psychology and mental preparation (individual). For this World Cup cycle, there was no specific training used for either the FIFA men’s or women’s referee program
  • New and key is the VAR implementation and experiment in match situations

Every seminar or tournament is another chance for the referees and staff to get together and fine-tune their abilities and get closer and closer to a top performance.


There will be 15 men (no women!) VARs/AVARs in France, of which 11 are from UEFA. A total of 10 were at the World Cup Russia in 2018.

As a reminder, there are 4 types of calls that can be reviewed:

  • Goals and whether there was a violation during each episode of the attacking phase of play, such as an offside or a foul
  • Penalty decisions (other fouls are not reviewable, few exceptions)
  • Direct red card decisions (second yellow cards are not reviewable)
  • Mistaken identity in awarding a red or yellow card

The course in Doha includes training sessions on the pitch with VAR, direct feedback for the assistant referees as well as referees officiating in match conditions to also experiment using VAR for the first time.

The seminar represents a milestone, since it is women referees and assistants taking part and engaging in lively exchanges. They are eager to learn and have shown true dedication, hard work and commitment in their engagement.

More support with new committee and new FIFA chairman

Pierluigi Collina, Chairman of FIFA’s Refereeing Committee made a recommendation to the FIFA Council when they met in Miami in March, for the usage of VAR at the Women’s World Cup.

This is now synchronized with the process that is followed in the men’s game.

Pierluigi is a key person in increasing support to the next era of Football refereeing. The past years proved that a chairman and its committee must be composed of former FIFA referees as they understand the game better and better support the referees. Over the last few years we saw an increase of funds allocated for the women’s game. It took a lot of work, and pressure to get slightly closer to what the men are getting in terms of preparation and tools. The differences still exist, but the gap is closing slowly, thanks to long-term effort of changing mentality and better respect. There are now more opportunities for women referees to be involved in men’s matches.

The referees have a great responsibility in every game and must ensure the tournament is officiated with the highest standard.

We are all looking forward to watching an exciting World Cup France 2019 with an opening match between France and Korea Republic at the iconic Parc des Princes in Paris. The referees, assistant referees and VARs are sure to demonstrate and exhibit their talents and prove the hard work is paying off. Once more, referees demonstrated a great balance between family, football, work and personal commitments in their respective preparation.

I am wishing the very best to the referee’s team at this next Women’s World Cup. Good luck!

Sonia Denoncourt is a former FIFA level referee, achieving some incredible accomplishments including 3 FIFA Women’s World Cups and 2 Olympic Games. She now works with a range of referees and leagues to focus on education and development. You can follow her updates on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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