Esse Baharmast, the Director of Advanced & International Referee Development for U.S. Soccer, is currently serving as a FIFA instructor at the FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship Thailand 2004. He is working alongside longtime FIFA referee Sandra Hunt, who recently retired as a top flight official in the United States. Following is a report on some of their activities during the tournament and how they are contributing on a worldwide scale to the development of international soccer referees.
Greetings from the land of smiles: Thailand. I have been here as a FIFA instructor since Nov. 4. Sandra Hunt and I arrived around midnight and were taken to the Referee headquarters at a hotel in Bangkok. On Nov. 5, we did the planning for the referee's course which included topics on positioning, offside, consistency in recognition and sanctioning of fouls and misconduct with a great emphasis on dealing with blatant holding and simulation.
The referee course began Nov. 6 at 9 a.m. and lasted until 6 p.m. with 36 referees and assistant referees, as well as the members of the FIFA referee committee in attendance. On the following day (Nov. 7), the referees were taken to Rachamangala National Stadium for the fitness test. All referees passed the fitness test with no problem and were assigned to their respective matches.
Referee headquarters is in Bangkok, which means those who had to officiate matches in Phuket or Chiang Mai would leave for their venue the day before their matches and return back to Bangkok, immediately following their games or on the first flight the next morning, depending on the game time.
My job as a FIFA instructor has been to observe matches, and get the information from the referee assessors who are at each venue. Sandra Hunt, of the USA, was the assessor in Chiang Mai. After observing, we tag, or bookmark, on the computer the decisions that need to be. At the end of each match, based on the feedback from the assessors in the venues as well as our observations, we select the appropriate clips for debriefing sessions with the referees. We then conduct a debriefing session with all referees in attendance to point out the positive and negative decisions and point out the reasons as to why a call was missed and steps to take to avoid such problems in the upcoming games.
A typical day here starts at 7 a.m. with breakfast and a 7:45 a.m. departure for daily fitness and practical training on the field. The traffic in Bangkok is notorious and we end up at the Rachamangala Sports Complex, which is no more then 6 miles away, around 8:20 am.
Fitness training starts at 8:30 a.m. sharp and lasts about 90 minutes with different workouts. Workouts for referees who had a match the night before is different from those who have not had a game and will have a game coming up in 3 days. After the fitness workouts, we take the referees through practical situations on the field. These sessions last another 90 minutes and cover such areas as awareness, teamwork, offside, foul recognition, positioning, management of free kicks and penalty kicks and other such topics. Referees who have games on these days are exempt from the fitness and practical training for that day only and are to stay at the hotel to relax and focus on the game. All others attend these sessions.
We finish the sessions at around 11:30 a.m. and head back to the hotel, which gives us 45 minutes to clean up and get ready for lunch at 1p.m.
The referees get to rest and relax and the instructors go to work right after lunch to edit the video clips from the matches to prepare for the video debriefing sessions. Matches are normally at 5 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. so the referees who work the first matches leave for the stadium around 2:40 p.m. to make sure they are there at least 90 minutes before the kickoff.
Instructors arrive at the stadium one hour before kick off. When we arrive, we set up the computers and monitors to digitally capture the images from the game and tag each play as the game unfolds. Dinner is served at the stadium between the first and second games and we head back to the hotel after the 2nd match, which normally puts us back at the hotel around 10:30 p.m. for a quick staff meting to go over the problems during the day and plan the activities for the following day. After the staff meeting, I can catch up on e-mails and phone calls, which makes it very convenient as we have a 13 hour time difference with Chicago.
This is a glimpse of a typical day in the land of smiles. Thai people are the most gracious hosts, always polite and always with a smile, and are a pleasure to work with.