The referee and assistant referees play a crucial role in officiating a match by ensuring that players follow the Laws of the Game; as such, no regular match would be possible without match officials. Match officials do not play the ball, but they must keep up with the pace of play in order to follow the game closely and be in the best position to make decisions. This requires a high level of physical fitness. The match officials, especially at the elite level, are on average 10-15 years older than the players under their control. It is only recently that national governing bodies have facilitated and recognised the professionalism of the referee. The Premier League in England is a good example of a league in which referees have become increasingly professional.

Watch Pierluigi Collina and Howard Webb discuss their experiences with medical screening and the medical needs of referees.

Physiological demands

Referees at the elite level are exposed to a similar match demands to those placed on a midfielder. A referee can cover up to 13km in an international match (and an assistant referee about 5-6km). Additionally, there is a significant perceptual-cognitive workload for the referee. Referees are required to make a large number of decisions rapidly during each match – up to 130 during a single match. These figures suggest the need for specific physical, medical and mental preparation to cope with the physiological and psychological demands of modern football.

An individualised structured fitness training programme is required for high-level referees and assistant referees. A key component of this programme involves high-intensity and repeated sprint protocols. FIFA and its member associations regularly subject their top officials to mandatory fitness tests. One of the most widely used and investigated tests of football-specific fitness is the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test. Both the traditional version (for referees) and an adapted version for assistant referees (ARIET) are widely used. Other tests include a 6 x 40m repeated sprint test and a 20 x 150m high-intensity running test.

View the following images to see some of the testing protocols used with the referees participating in FIFA World Cup competitions.

  • 6 x 40m sprints

  • Interval test (150m x 50m)

  • Modified interval test

Other tests used to assess the referees and assistant referees include the Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test (referees) and the ARIET (assistant referee intermittent endurance test).

Click on the following links to read more about the ‘laws of the game’ and the physiological demands of being a referee.