Europe's referees have been urged to protect players and football's image as they set out on their assignments in the coming season, and not to be afraid to take decisions that are unpopular. Protecting players and protecting the image of the game will continue to be a particular priority for Europe’s referees as they embark on their important assignments in the 2014/15 campaign. UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying matches are on the agenda for the men’s referees this season, while leading women referees are gearing up for action in the UEFA Women's Champions League, as well as the FIFA Women's World Cup in Canada in 2015. A total of 91 men's elite and first category referees, and 15elite and first category women's referees, have travelled to Nyon for the UEFA pre-season course, to prepare for the new campaign, check their fitness, review events from the past season and receive instructions and recommendations for the new season from the UEFA Referees Committee.
The pre-season referees' course has been moved to mid-August from the start of September. "We think that it is important to meet the referees before the club competition play-offs," said UEFA chief refereeing officer, Pierluigi Collina, "because this is definitely one of the most important moments in the whole UEFA competition season." Referees were reminded that the protection of players and the game's image were crucial. Proper sanctions should be taken against players whose actions might affect opponents' safety, such as in committing serious foul play or making a reckless challenge. In addition, the referees were urged to punish players who committed offences affecting the game's image, for example by denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity. "You must act in incidents where there is unsporting behaviour, if there is simulation by a player, or if there are acts of provocation," said Collina. "You must not accept a situation where you are mobbed by players, or if there is blatant dissent. In addition to protecting players and the game, you must protect yourselves."
A reminder was issued to the referees that they should not be afraid to take unpopular decisions. "We are not interested in referees being liked," Collina told the match officials. "We want to have referees taking correct decisions when needed, even if a red card needs to be given in the fifth minute of a match.” The referees were also asked to ensure that coaches, as well as all other occupants in the technical area, behave in a responsible manner."
Issues regarding the offside law were also explained, in particular the latest clarification to the law which determines that a player who makes a clear action which affects the possibility for an opponent to play the ball must be considered as challenging the opponent for the ball.
The referees were also appraised about the use of vanishing spray, which is now being implemented from this season in the major UEFA competitions. The spray is used by the referee to mark the spot a free-kick is taken and the minimum required distance for the defensive wall.
With modern-day referees needing to be supremely fit to cope with the pace of the game, fitness tests were on the agenda in Nyon, with all the referees undergoing a fitness test that included six 40-metre sprints to measure their sprint resistance, and the intermittent recovery 'yo-yo' test to look at their endurance powers.
The review of the 2013/14 campaign was widely assessed as being very positive for UEFA referees, and proposals for improvement in areas such as teamwork in particular in offside situations, were identified to ensure that the quality of refereeing in Europe continued to reach the highest possible standards. "I have been told by senior coaching figures that the quality of refereeing last season was very good – this is something for which you are worthy of praise," Collina reflected. The referees were also encouraged to prepare thoroughly for matches by studying teams’ potential tactical formations and playing styles, and to always conduct themselves in the proper manner on their assignments as representatives of UEFA and their national associations.