Refereeing at the highest level must develop constantly, to keep in tune with the demands of the modern-day high-pace game.
The speed and movement of today's top-level football, allied to the intense media focus on the action on the field, means that match officials must be well-prepared, highly-trained athletes who also have tactical acumen, the mental strength to withstand pressure and the ability to take split-second decisions with confidence and consistency.
UEFA's refereeing activities have kept pace with the demands placed on the men and women in the middle. In conjunction with its 55 member associations, UEFA takes great care in nurturing and promoting the European refereeing sector – fostering the elite and up-and-coming referees, and ensuring that newcomers to the UEFA list are given the proper instructions and advice for their duties.
The UEFA Referees Committee, aided by the UEFA refereeing unit at the body's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, deals with all matters concerning refereeing. The committee members are experienced former international referees themselves, who pass on a wealth of advice and experience to the next generation who are following in their path. Former Italian referee Pierluigi Collina, who took charge of major world and European finals, is UEFA's chief refereeing officer.
UEFA holds two major referee gatherings each year – the UEFA winter courses at the end of January for newcomers to the FIFA international list and the elite European match officials, and an August event to herald the new season. The courses feature, among other things, fitness tests, analysis of match situations to help referees in the constant search for improvement and consistency in decision-making, and exchanges of experiences and ideas among the refereeing fraternity. In 2013, the leading women referees were also invited to UEFA's referee courses for the first time. UEFA also holds courses and workshops for assistant referees and futsal referees to help them in their specialised role.
Fitness training and preparation are prime components of the modern referee's day-to-day programme, and a dedicated team led by Belgian expert Werner Helsen is on hand at all times to advise the referees on fitness issues and dietary matters, as well as to run and supervise the training sessions at UEFA courses.
Referee observers, all experienced former referees, travel throughout Europe to assess the referees. They attend UEFA matches at all levels to watch the match referees, mark their performance and act as crucial advisors to them after the game in discussing incidents and decisions taken.
The UEFA Convention on Referee Education and Organisation, which now has 53 associations as full members and one as a partial member, aims to enhance referee education, promoting the role of the referee and improving refereeing structures and development within Europe.
UEFA's fostering of young match officials has borne impressive fruit. Many of the top referees have risen to the summit of the profession after being given guidance through the UEFA talents and mentors programme, where a group of up-and-coming referees were fostered by experienced mentors, themselves seasoned former international referees.
From summer 2010, young European match officials have been given further invaluable support through the UEFA Centre of Refereeing Excellence (CORE). The central objective is to develop the technical skills and fitness of promising young referees and assistant referees who show the potential to become future international match officials. Promising women referees are also now part of the CORE activities.