Dhe first official appearance of Gianni Infantino at this World Cup came as a bit of a surprise. Full of enthusiasm, the president of the world football association FIFA climbed the big stage in the Qatar National Convention Center on Friday afternoon, where Pierluigi Collina, the senior referee official at the World Cup, wanted to give an outlook on the work of the referees two days before the first tournament game.
But now it was Infantino’s turn, who wore the wine-red tracksuit of the referees, whom he paid homage to as “team number one”. “It’s my team and the team that matters the most here at the World Cup,” he announced. The referees are the only team “already qualified for the final”, and Infantino himself has of course also long been established as the protagonist of the day of the final.
Collina nodded politely at this rather pompous performance, and when Infantino finally left, the former world-class referee reported on details that will be important at this World Cup.
An attempt was made to train the 123 referees and six female referees, who come from different football cultures, so that they refer the games at this tournament according to the most uniform standards possible. So for the first time there will be female referees, and when asked whether they could also be used in games by Arab nations such as Qatar, Tunisia or Iran, Collina replied: “Like everything new, it is exciting. But for us, these are just official. These women are here because they are game officials and any woman is a match for any game.”
On the pitch, the most important task of the referees is to “protect the players”, explained Collina and played a few scenes for the audience in which red cards had to be shown.
Semi-automatic offside detection
In addition, Collina prepared the world for unusually long football games: At this tournament it is “quite normal that there are seven, eight or nine minutes of added time”, because not only the minutes lost due to checks by the video referees and interruptions to injuries should be replayed, but also the many seconds that boisterous goal celebrations cost. “The aim is to offer the viewers the greatest possible spectacle,” said Collina.
Johannes Holzmüller, FIFA’s Director of Football Technology and Innovation, then explained the semi-automatic offside detection that was successfully used at the Arab Cup 2021. This technique, which involves a chip in the ball, is highly complex, intended to speed up the offside checking process and relieve the burden on video assistants, whose reputation remains poor.
However, the World Cup in Russia four years ago was a ray of hope in what was perceived as a rather gloomy story. The VARs worked much better there than in the Bundesliga, for example. The World Cup is now about “protecting the image of the game. It’s not just a word, it’s a value,” Collina said. He has big plans there.