FIFA Referees and the World Cup Selection Process

FIFA Referees and the World Cup Selection Process

By: Morganne Gagne


What is a FIFA referee?

While referees at all competition levels (local, national, international) are associated with FIFA, only those that have achieved the highest qualification level can officiate in international FIFA matches. All referees affiliated with FIFA have a designated grade and must advance in grade in order to referee higher level matches. Referees generally begin as Grade 8, except especially young candidates (younger than 15 years old), who begin as Grade 9. Only Grade 1 referees can serve as the head referee on formal international matches and Grade 2 referees as the linesman. 

Referee Grades Explained[1][2]

Grade Requirements and Recommended Assignments
1 International refereeMust be 25 years old. Can officiate all World Cup and international matches as the head referee.
2 International AR specialistMust be 25 years old. Assistant referees to Grade 1 referees on international matches.
3 National referee  – Must be 23 years old. Can officiate all games except formal FIFA international matches. Grade 3 indicates a referee’s readiness to be considered for international service.
4 National referee – Must be 23 years old. Can officiate all games through third division professional leagues; assistant referee for all games through second division professional.
5 State referee – Must be 19 years old. All youth games and amateur games including first division and assistant referee in professional league and international cup games.
6 State referee  – Must be 18 years old. All youth games and amateur games through second division and assistant referee in the top amateur division and Amateur cup games.
7 Local referee – Must be 17 years old. All youth games and mixed leagues, assistant referee in all amateur games below the top division
8 Local referee – No age minimum. All youth games, assistant referee in comparable games.
9 Local referee – No age minimum. Very young, “small sided” matches (usually 7 – 10 years old and six per side)


A more in depth description of referee grades and requirements from the US Soccer Federation can be found here.

Making the Cut

Grade 1 referees are the few that have survived the rigorous process. Of the 80,000 referees in the United States, there are only 7 head referees on the FIFA men’s list. [3]  FIFA referees must be older than 25, but required to retire at 45, so it is important for referees to rise through the ranks quickly in order to have a long lasting FIFA career. [4]

Success as a referee is more than just knowing the rules of the game, and for this reason, upgrading is a well-rounded process.  Referees must move up the ranks by officiating a minimum number of games, passing written and fitness tests, and earning the recommendations of assessors. A failure in any one of the requirements completely prevents a referee from advancing grades. “You can have a referee who will pass the test with 100 percent written test, pass the physical test at 99 or 100 percent and you put them in the middle of the field and they can’t find the field with their two hands and a seeing-eye dog,” says Ric Olivas, a longtime referee and member of the California State Referee Committee.[5] A referee may know all the rules, but without charisma or personality, they will be ineffective in enforcing the laws of the game.

When former FIFA assistant Thomas Bobadilla was asked what qualities make a successful referee, he responded:

Regardless of the level of officiating referees need to be good at connecting with people so they can be seen by players and coaches as a partner who will help have a safe, fair and fun game; fit to be able to keep up with play and have a good chance of influencing good behavior with presence; ability to read the game in terms of technical, physical and mental skills of the players in order to apply the appropriate level of foul recognition; and the wits to help resolve conflict before it becomes ugly to the game.”

-Thomas Bobadilla, former FIFA assistant referee [6]

His full interview with US Referee Connnection can be found here.


Importance of Fitness

As Bobadilla mentioned, fitness is a critical part of succeeding as a referee. Many think soccer players have it tough – they play for 90 minutes, without any timeouts, rare substitutions, and a short halftime break. They can run upwards of 7 miles a game. However, a referee’s job is even harder. They must anticipate the action of play and position themselves in order to make the right calls. Many times, this means outrunning players that can be half their age, and according to data from the US Soccer Federation, they run an average of 12 miles a game.

To prove their physical aptitude, FIFA referees must pass 2 intensive fitness tests that tests both speed and stamina. The first fitness test requires referees to run 40 meters 6 times. This must be completed in 6.2 seconds for a male referee. He is allowed 1 minute and 30 seconds between each sprint. The second test examines stamina in repeated high-intensity runs. He must run 150 meters in 30 seconds, and then must walk 50 meters in 35 seconds. This is repeated 20 times, which is equivalent to 10 laps around a track field.[7]

Unlike like most soccer players, though, referees don’t have professional trainers. They must make time outside their day jobs to stay in top physical condition. For example, Brian Hall, the last American referee to officiate in the World Cup, exercised 4 hours of day with interval training, weights, and jogging 2 years leading up to the World Cup. According to Hall:

“It’s not an easy task competing with the best players in the world.”

-Brian Hall, former US FIFA referee





Life as a FIFA Referee

For many FIFA officials, refereeing is not a full-time job. Although French officials are among the best paid in Europe and can earn an average of €73,000-per-season, referees in other countries do not make this much. The table below shows a breakdown of how much officials earn per domestic league game:[8]


World Cup referees make $50,000 for the tournament, which spans over 2 months. While this is a sizable sum, this is only awarded to the 10 best FIFA referees. Not all FIFA referees are granted this type of financial reward.

Many referees hold full-time or part-time in addition to refereeing international matches. Scottish official Craig Thomson worked as a full-time solicitor and FIFA referee until he could no longer balance the two. Thomson set his sights on being selected for the World Cup and decided to become only a part-time solicitor as a result.

“I was a full-time solicitor who went part-time as I knew I couldn’t balance the law and football unless I adjusted my lifestyle. My wife and family had to put up with domestic life being disrupted because of my football schedule.”

-Craig Thomson, FIFA referee and 2014 World Cup candidate

Thomson is not the only referee that has been forced to make a major decision about his career outside of soccer. Brian Hall cut back on his 8-to-7 office job as a vice president for procurement at Visa and a software director in physical preparation for the World Cup. Others, like Elias Bazakos who was named to the FIFA list of referees in 2012, sacrificed soccer. After working 1 year in the MLS, Elias took a 4-year sabbatical to finish his medical residency. He now works a neurologist in Minneapolis.[9]

FIFA’s Push for Professionalism

In August 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced that only full-time referees will be chosen for the 2014 World Cup. Blatter claims,

“We must do something for the top referees. You can’t have non-professional referees in professional football.”
-Sepp Blatter, FIFA President

This change was instigated by a series of high-profile errors by World Cup referees in South Africa, where just two of the 30 selected officials listed refereeing as their full-time job. In South Africa, the two professionals (Howard Webb of England and Yuichi Nishimura of Japan) were rewarded by being selected to officiate in the World Cup final – Webb as the head referee and Nishimura as the fourth official. Webb took an extended leave of absence from his job as a policeman because the EPL helps to fund a roster of professional match officials.

However, not all agree with Blatter on this matter. Maxwell Calloway, a contributor on the Yahoo Voices network, argues that referees have a much simpler “working day” than players and are capable of holding another job. Many referees have part-time or full-time jobs and make 50 to 100 percent more at their “real jobs” than from officiating. Calloway believes that unless FIFA can compensate for this income gap as well as provide the same health benefits, pension and retirement funds, this is an unfair demand.

World Cup Selection Process

World Cup referees are chosen under FIFA regulation. The process lasts 3 years and is managed by the FIFA Refereeing Department and FIFA Referee Assistance Program (RAP). Referees are chosen in teams of 3, with one designated head referee and two assistant referees.

The selection process for the 2014 Brazil World Cup began with the Club World Cup in Japan when referees of the tournament were examined to see if they were ready to be candidates for 2014. Based on referee performance, the FIFA Refereeing Department created a list of the 52 most elite referee teams. However, this list will be open until 2014 – if a referee does not pass fitness tests or fails in another manner, he will no longer be considered.

Massimo Busacca is a former FIFA referee and now head of the FIFA Referee’s Department. Busacca, who refereed for 22 years and officiated at more than 100 top-level international matches, will lead the committee in charge of selecting the referees for 2014. According to Busacca, important factors to consider include testing of the game’s rules and regulations and physical and mental preparedness. Busacca’s focus for 2014 is on training:

“My priority is to create this group of elite referees, and we want to work in a professional way. We want to improve them like players are improving day-by-day through training sessions.”

Busacca sees the World Cup referees as an additional national team and himself as its coach. In an interview with, he explains, “We must be like a football team, must live and breathe football every day.”[10]

RAP was first introduced in 2007 and used in preparation for the 2010 World Cup to professionalize referees at both the national and international level.[11] Fifty-four referee teams went into the inaugural program and had their performances at FIFA tournaments evaluated. The program consisted of monthly fitness monitoring, psychological analyses of game demeanor, and seminars on the laws of the game. For the 30 teams selected to officiate in the World Cup, sports psychologists helped the officials to develop a personalized strategy to with the pressures. RAP instructors also maintain close contact with referees throughout the World Cup to discuss concerns.

2014 World Cup candidates met in Zurich in September 2012 for a workshop focused on their fitness, medical information, theory, and match analysis. Watch highlights from the workshop in the video below:

The following is the list of referees that was selected for the 2014 World Cup by region. Notable was the first American referee to be selected since 2002.[12]

Asia: Ravshan Irmatov (Uzbekistan), Yuichi Nishimura (Japan), Nawaf Shukralla (Bahrain), Ben Williams (Australia)

Africa: Noumandiez Doue (Ivory Coast), Bakary Gassama (Gambia), Djamel Haimoudi (Algeria)

CONCACAF: Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Mark Geiger (United States), Marco Rodriguez Moreno (Mexico)

South America: Enrique Osses (Chile), Nestor Pitana (Argentina), Wilmar Roldan (Colombia), Sandro Ricci (Brazil), Carlos Vera Rodriguez (Ecuador)

Oceania: Peter O’Leary (New Zealand)

Europe: Felix Brych (Germany), Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey), Jonas Eriksson (Sweden), Bjorn Kuipers (Netherlands), Milorad Mazic (Serbia), Pedro Proenca (Portugal), Nicola Rizzoli (Italy), Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain), Howard Webb (England)

A video on a conference for referee preparation for the 2014 World Cup:

Return to World Cup Referees main page



[1] Referee Grades. United States Soccer Federation.

[2] USSF Referee Grades Explained. US Youth Soccer. 2012.

[4] Park, Madison. World Cup referees outrun players. CNN Health. 4 June 2010.

[5] Rosano, Nicholas. Referee Week: Road to the professional ranks a long one for aspiring referees. 15 May 2013.

[6] Interview with Thomas Babadilla. US Referee Connection. 2013.!thomas-bobadilla/c1vag

[7] Park, Madison. World Cup referees outrun players.

[8] Bairner, Robin. Revealed: How Much Referees are Paid in Each European Country. Goal. 4 March 2011.

 [9] Nelson, Kyle. Elias Bazakos Named to the FIFA List of Referees for 2012. IMSoccer News. 9 March 2012.

 [10] Busacca: We must give referees all they need. 22 December 2011.

 [11] Approval for Refereeing Assistance Programme and upper altitude limit for FIFA competitions. 15 December 2007.

13 thoughts on “FIFA Referees and the World Cup Selection Process

  1. Wayne Griffith

    I myself am trying to get into refereeing profession, this article was a great help for me. Thank You. Also I am proud to be into a profession where the game is getting to new levels everyday. The way FIFA is treating the refs with good allowance and wages is just great. I am excited to officiate a match one day.

    BTW 😛 You can check the Refs salaries:

    This is also one of the reason to get into this profession 😛

  2. Muhwezi James

    Am to get this informatio, I find it helpful to me as a junior referee. Thanks and research more .

  3. zazengo

    The common language of soccer players isn’t spoken, but a collection of hand signals and gestures. They shake their arms to signal a hand ball, tug their jerseys to convey that an opponent has been grabbing their kit, or hold up imaginary cards to insist that a caution-worthy infraction has taken place. At the World Cup, where players from 32 countries speak dozens of languages, there is often no other shared way to communicate with others or the referee.

    This year in Russia, the Video Assistant Referee system, or VAR, has joined the officiating teams. It is monitored by remotely headquartered rules officials who watch the match with dozens of camera angles and chirp into earpieces of referees when they spot potential mistakes. It is the first use of technology in the game on this scale. And it has already had a major influence on the tournament.

    In other words, whether or not we agree with VAR is secondary to the fact that the World Cup succeeded in making us more informed about its benefits and drawbacks.

    Whether or not VAR takes off in world football remains to be seen, but whatever the decision may be, its implementation in the World Cup is a step in the right direction.

  4. Siraaj

    Is it legal to have guy refereing a game from one of the playing sides or tems playing on that day?

  5. Davide Valle

    I am very much interested to know about the first woman Referees of Fifa. Can you please let me know details? Thanks.

  6. Pingback: Football Referee Requirements | Football Collection

  7. priyanka

    Referees are subject to fitness tests that few World Cup spectators would be able to pass, and some World Cup players themselves might even have a bit of trouble.

  8. Pingback: How the World Cup Doesn't Get "Lost in Translation"

  9. Pingback: How Much Do World Cup Referees Get Paid?

  10. Sanna

    The 2010 FIFA World Cup was the 19th FIFA World Cup, the world championship for men’s national association football teams. Keep posting such helpful blog.


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