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FIFA's Referee Assistance Program Helping Development Around the World

U.S. Soccer's National Training Center at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. plays host to teams of all shapes and sizes. Nearly all of the U.S. national teams have held camps in the complex at some stage, but the "training" moniker is not restricted to only U.S. players. This past week, referee instructors from all across the U.S. underwent a training regime of their own as part of FIFA's Referee Assistance Program (RAP).

Led by former FIFA referees Peter Prendergast of Jamaica, Rodolfo Sibrian of El Salvador, and Ramesh Ramdhan of Trinidad & Tobago, the RAP is designed to help professionalize the environment in which referees work and develop by pairing referee development officers with instructors from around the world.

The main goal of the RAP is to unify the way the laws of the game are applied throughout the world, a process that all the FIFA instructors agree is crucial.

“It's helped to unify the way we do things, with uniformity of interpretation and application of the laws,  something which until this point had been elusive,” says Ramdhan.  “Before [The RAP program], it was unheard of to have referees on different continents applying the laws of the game in the same way.”

At the course in Carson, the instructors from around the country are guided by the development officers through classroom sessions as well as practical exercises out on the playing fields.  The practical sessions are crucial, contends Ramdhan, because they allow the instructors to put what they have learned into action.

“The classroom sessions have been good, but when you come out on the field, a lesson stays in your mind because you have done it. Then when you see a particular situation on the field [during a game or a lesson] it becomes easy to deal with it.”

By stressing consistency in the application of the laws, Sibrian believes they are setting a standard for all referees in the region.

“We are trying to give instruction that will make CONCACAF refereeing consistent around the region,” said the El Salvadoran who famously took charge of the “Guerra Fria” in Columbus, Ohio in 2001. “We don't want referees doing things that aren't in complete agreement with the laws of the games, and if we go to [anywhere in the region] we are trying to talk about the same things to achieve uniformity in refereeing.”

Though the program is relatively new, founded as recently as December of 2007, it has been well received throughout the various confederations. Moreover, because of the rapid expansion of the modern game, a unified development effort like this is deemed essential.

“Today the task of the referee is extremely difficult,” said Sibrian. “Everything is seen with a magnifying glass and the referee must be more accurate and more effective.”

Prendergast concurred with his colleague, adding that “the pace of the game is certainly much faster now. There is more trickery, more simulation and the referees have to be fitter. The cooperation between referees and assistants must always be at the highest level.”

In that regard, the RAP goes a long way to helping cooperation between referees on a global scale. Ramdhan believes that the initiative the program puts forth is already taking hold around the world.

“Whatever is being done in the Caribbean, has to be done in the United States, and in turn in Europe and so on,” explains Ramdhan. “FIFA is saying that referees who want to move on to international level and continue in their careers must do things the FIFA way and this program seeks to send that message forward.”

Moving the message uniformity along is a big part of the RAP, as its instructors look to have a positive effect on referees who will take charge of big international games in the future.

“This is a wonderful program and I'm sure that he referee standard is rising. In 2010 we expect to see very well officiated games in South Africa,” said Prendergast.  “Here in the United States it is special for me to be here as an instructor and I look forward to reaping the benefits of better officials coming out of the United States. There is a good crop of referees here and we expect nothing but the best from this country.”