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U.S. Soccer Presents Highest FIFA Award to U.S. Referee Assessor Fernando Alvarez

Alvarez Instrumental in Developing U.S. Soccer Referee Program;
Presented with FIFA Centennial Order of Merit at 2005 Referee National Training Camp

CHICAGO (January 21, 2005)—Every soccer player since about 1982 has been influenced by Fernando Alvarez, although very few know his name. When Alvarez was a part of the FIFA International Board of Referees around that time, he introduced the “substitution” signal for the referees, which is still used today whenever a player enters or leaves the field. U.S. Soccer Federation President Dr. S. Robert Contiguglia presented Alavarez with FIFA’s highest honor, the Centennial Order of Merit, on Thursday (Jan. 13) at U.S. Soccer’s 2005 National Referee Training Camp.

“It was awesome,” the 82-year-old Alvarez said about receiving the distinction. “Especially in my case, because I was born in the Philippines and soccer is not a very popular sport there.”

Alvarez was nominated for the honor by the Philippine Football Federation, of which he was Secretary General from 1966 to 1974. Alvarez has been instrumental in helping to build the U.S. Soccer Referee Program, including establishing referee exchanges with foreign federations and putting his reputation on the line to get U.S. Soccer referees recognized internationally.

The FIFA Centennial Order of Merit is awarded to national associations, venues and individuals who have made major contributions to soccer as players, coaches, referees and administrators. Alvarez’s is the fifth award given in the United States and the first awarded to someone from the Philippines. Other awards in the U.S. have been given to Henry Kissinger, U.S. Women’s National Team legend Michelle Akers and The Home Depot Center Stadium. Other past winners include Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Hege Riise, Jules Rimet, Carlos Valderrama and Johan Cruyff.

Currently, Alvarez is a U.S. Soccer National Assessor and the State Director of Assessment for Northern California.

“We call him the guardian angel of the U.S. Soccer Referee program,” said U.S. Soccer’s Director of Advanced and International Referee Development Esse Baharmast. “When we were not getting much credit outside of the United States, he would personally write letters and tell people that we have good referees in this country and all we have to do is give them the opportunity to showcase their skills.

“Nobody back then thought that U.S. referees were on par with the rest of the world, but he had seen us work and he knew that we could compete with the rest of the world. He put his own name and reputation on the line to give us the opportunity.”

Baharmast knows personally just how willing Alvarez is to put his name on the line. In the mid-1990s, Alvarez wrote a personal letter to then FIFA President Joao Havelange about a promising American referee—Baharmast—who he thought should be included as one of the officials at the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. According to Alvarez’s letter, it would be a travesty if Baharmast was left out. Following Alvarez’s suggestion, Baharmast was given the opportunity to participate in the 1996 Olympics. Two years later, Baharmast was on his way to France for the World Cup.

But Baharmast isn’t the only referee Alvarez has influenced, as he has mentored other world class officials. His constant-feedback approach has helped guide officials like Kari Seitz, who officiated the third-place game of the 2004 Olympics while the U.S. Women’s National Team played in the final, and Brian Hall, who refereed in a semifinal of the 2002 World Cup in Korea and Japan.

“(Alvarez) would do anything to help American referees,” said Seitz, who has been a FIFA International Referee since 1999. “He was very instrumental in having people consider me for the FIFA panel, not only in submitting my name but giving me encouragement and working with me behind the scenes.”

“To be successful, part of it is hard work and part of it is having someone in your corner,” Seitz added. “We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”

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