CAUTION: The Laws of the Game have changed since this case study was written. Action taken by the referee may be different under the current Laws.
In a recent Round of 16 Women’s World Cup match between Colombia and USA, referee Stephanie Frappart (FRA) demonstrated why fitness and athletic form are of such paramount importance to referees.
The Columbian players had received the benefit of a lot of foul decisions in the first half, so it was important for the referee to be close to play as the second half began. This allowed her to be close to play and be in a better position not only to see fouls, but to sell a decision to give (or not give) a foul.
In this sequence, the referee is close to play as Columbia attacks in the USA defensive half. She decides (correctly, I believe) not to give a foul for contact between the Columbia attacker and USA defender. The USA defender then collected the ball, played it quickly to a midfielder, who in turn quickly played it to a sprinting striker who ran on to the ball in the Columbia penalty area.
That the Columbia goalkeeper fouled the USA attacker is not in question, and neither should be the decision for a send-off. These two decisions should be obvious to even referees of far less experience.
What is noteworthy is the distance the referee had to cover to make the decision. Recall that her run started just outside the USA penalty area and ended inside the Columbia penalty area. This sprint covered a distance of about 80 yards (73 meters). There are three observations worth noting:
- The referee kept good position where she could see the space between players, allowing her to make the correct decision
- The referee’s running form is excellent: head up, shoulders back, arms pumping
- At the end of a long sprint, as she is showing the red card, the referee doesn’t appear to be breathing hard, which demonstrates a very high level of fitness
- Fitness is crucial, even at the “lower levels” of the game where we work. 18 year old players are much faster than this 50 year-old referee, so if I want to referee 18 year old players, I have to be fit.
- Proper running form is essential (head up) so we can see what is happening
- “Finishing a run” is essential. The play in this case study could’ve easily turned out differently, i.e., the goalkeeper could’ve won the ball cleanly, but since we cannot predict the future we must be there. This decision cannot be sold when made from the centre circle.