Referee Selection

By Cali Nelson

At the time of writing the referees for the 2016 Copa America Centenario have not yet been appointed, yet we can infer some details about the selection process from last year’s tournament and FIFA’s general selection rules.


FIFA Referee Crew Source: Wikimedia (Steindy)


FIFA International Referees

Since the tournament was designated as a FIFA senior competition and added to the FIFA calendar we know that the officials chosen will be FIFA international officials.  Every year FIFA’s member confederations nominate officials and assistants to become FIFA international officials for the next year. To be chosen an official must be at least 25 years old and must pass a FIFA certified medical examination and fitness test.  They also must have officiated at their member associations highest level for at least two years. Each member association ranks all of the referees they nominate based on the games they have officiated over the past year.  Those who are chosen are thus qualified to officiate FIFA international matches for that year. 1 In the US, these referees are considered to be level 1 referees, USSF’s highest level, and any assistants chosen are considered to be level 2. 2  Of the USSF’s 140,000 registered referees, 3 there are only 7 at level 1 and 8 at level 2. 4  Being on the list one year doesn’t guarantee a spot on next year’s, as every official must be renominated and re-pass the necessary tests, and officiate well enough to maintain a high place in their associations rankings of officials. 5 


Nobody runs more. This interloper, whose panting fills the ears of all twenty-two players, is obliged to run the entire match without pause. He breaks his back galloping like a horse, and in return for his pains the crowd howls for his head. From beginning to end he sweats oceans chasing the white ball that skips back and forth between the feet of everyone else.- Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow: The Referee 6

The Fitness Test

To be a top level referee, FIFA expects you to be in top shape, as you can’t referee a game well if you are halfway across the field from the ball.  In international matches players often run around 7 miles in a game, with a few breaks scattered in; FIFA officials in those matches often run 6 to 8 miles.  Thus, most FIFA referees place high importance on their personal fitness. There are even companies in the US dedicated to providing training plans and fitness services solely for referees. FIFA’s fitness test consists of six 40 meter sprints, each in under 6 seconds,  with no more than ninety seconds of rest in between. After no more than a ten minute break, they must complete 10 laps around a standard track by alternating running 150 meters in 30 seconds and then walking 50 meters in 35 seconds.This comes out to 2.5 miles at around a 5:20 pace. 7 Yet this is only the minimum, and most international referees aim for an even better fitness standard than FIFA requires, as better fitness makes it easier to keep up with the elite athletes they are tasked with officiating.

FIFA Referee Fitness Test

FIFA Referee Fitness Test Source: Morne Schaap, Graphics24

Copa America Selection

The referees who are eventually selected to officiate the tournament will mostly likely be a mix of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL FIFA certified referees and assistants. In last year’s Copa America 2015 at least one match official and two assistants were selected from the eligible referees of each competing nation, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a similar pattern this year.8 According to CONCACAF, some of the attendees at this April’s FIFA elite referee seminar in Miami will be candidates for Copa America Centenario assignments. 9 One likely selection from the US would be Mark Geiger, a two time MLS Referee of the Year, who officiated three games in the 2014 World Cup, acquitting himself well enough to move on to the knockout stages. 10 Another likely appointment is Wilmar Roldan, a Colombian official named as the 7th best official in the world by the IFFHS, 11 and who officiated the 2015 Copa America final. 12

Obtained from Wikimedia Commons

American Referee, Mark Geiger Source: Wikimedia Commons (Ben Keller)

Yet, even for the most elite and well regarded of referees, being selected to referee the Copa America Centenario isn’t a guarantee to officiate games throughout the tournament.  Referees for later games such as the quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals are usually not selected until during the tournament, right before the game. Thus a referee’s performance during the tournament itself matters hugely. A referee who makes a crucial mistake, or loses control during a group stage game will most likely not be selected to officiate any further games. Thus there is actually quite a big financial and prestige stake for the referees in these games.


How to cite this page: “Referee Selection”, Written by Cali Nelson(2016). Copa America Centenario 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on (date)). 

  1. “2016 Fifa International Refereeing Lists.” FIFA. July 31, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2016. 
  2. “USSF Referee Grades Explained.” US Youth Soccer. Accessed April 17, 2016.
  3. “Referee Program.” U.S. Soccer. Accessed April 17, 2016.
  4. “USA FIFA Referees.” FIFA. Accessed April 17, 2016.
  5. 2016 Fifa International Refereeing Lists
  6. Galeano, Eduardo. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. London: Verso, 1998.
  7. Fox, Kit. “Endurance Key For World Cup Refs.” ESPN. June 10, 2014. Accessed April 17, 2016.
  8. “The 39 Referees of the Copa América – Chile 2015.” CONMEBOL. May 23, 2015. Accessed April 17, 2016.
  9.  “FIFA Hosts Elite Referees’ Seminar in Miami.” CONCACAF. April 25, 2016. Accessed April 25, 2016.
  10. “Mark Geiger Named MLS Referee of the Year; Paul Scott Voted Assistant Referee of the Year.” November 25, 2014. Accessed April 18, 2016.
  11. “The World’s Best Referee 2015 | IFFHS.” IFFHS. January 04, 2016. Accessed April 17, 2016.
  12. Sinanan, Keeghann. “Wilmar Roldán to Referee Copa América 2015 Final.” Copa América. July 1, 2015. Accessed April 18, 2016.