The Centro Tecnico Federale di Coverciano in Florence, Italy hosted some of the world’s top referees as part of a week-long seminar for prospective match officials at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia, FIFA.com reports.

A total of 61 elite referees from across the six confederations joined Pierluigi Collina, FIFA’s Chairman of the Referees Committee and Massimo Busacca, FIFA’s Head of Refereeing, who conducted a theoretical and practical seminar which also saw the Heads of Refereeing of all six confederations – who are members of FIFA’s Referees Committee – take part. Collina, Busacca and all involved instructors aimed at preparing the referees for football’s biggest and most important competition, the World Cup.

The seminar had a number of key focuses. These included protecting players and the image of the game, consistency, and uniformity, reading the game from a technical and tactical perspective and understanding a variety of player and team mentalities. Additionally, throughout the week match officials reviewed video clips of real match situations and participated in practical training sessions with players, which were filmed to enable participants to receive instant feedback from the instructors.

“We are looking for uniformity and consistency in our performances, this is key for us,” Busacca said.

The seminar was split into focused sessions and covered physical fitness tests, theoretical sessions, video assistant refereeing and practical sessions with local players.

“During this seminar, the match officials had to show us that they deserve to be on the list of prospective candidates for the FIFA World Cup and they have still to prove, that they deserve it,” Collina said. “Their performances, especially in practical sessions on the pitch, give them an opportunity to train in different areas and have experiences which they will use on the field of play.”

The use of video assistant referees (VARs) was one of the main topics of the seminar and every theoretical session in the classroom was followed by a practical session on the pitch.

“The VAR system has been developed, to provide additional support for the referee,” Busacca said. “The message to the match officials here was clear: we want the referees prepared and making correct decisions. This was the objective of the seminar. If something clearly wrong would occur, VAR will help them. We want the essential flow of the game to be maintained and, as always, the first and the final decisions lie with the referee. This is our philosophy, and these principles as well as the practical application of the technology, have been explained and demonstrated to our match officials as part of an ongoing training programme.”

“We want to use this technology to review clear situations, not cases of doubt,” Collina added. “We want the referee to keep their personality and to have the power to take the decision first. Over time, through matches and through training sessions where we replicate match situations and use the latest technology, the understanding between referees and VARs will continue to improve.”

Even the most experienced among the group found the course useful and very important for their performance on the pitch.

“The theoretical sessions in the classroom are crucial for me and for the whole team of referees,” Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson said. “What we are learning here we bring to the field of play where we will try to implement it in the best possible way, that’s why it’s very important that these seminars are put on by FIFA. These seminars give us the opportunity to improve, to learn from the recent experiences of our colleagues at tournaments and to find uniformity across all the continents.”

Russia’s Sergey Karasev, much like the 60 other attendees, was fully focused on trying to take his refereeing to the ultimate stage – the pitches of his native country in 2018.

“This course gives us the opportunity to take one step further in our work, to try and be selected for the biggest competition in the world and hopefully to represent our nations at the FIFA World Cup,” Karasev said. “There are no words to express my emotions and feelings at the prospect of officiating at the games of the most important sports event in the world. It has been always my dream and I would be very proud to referee at the FIFA World Cup in my home country.”

Busacca believes the match officials proved to him during the week in Italy that they are ready to officiate games on a high level in upcoming FIFA competitions.

“In my opinion, these referees are definitely on track,” Busacca concluded. “The first competition, the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the Korea Republic will start in May and we have to be ready and they are ready. Every day they have been able to increase their competencies and this shows the high quality of the match officials. We want to have the best referees for our competitions. We started almost immediately after the World Cup in Brazil three years ago with the first seminar and as we approach the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia more and more of our work bears fruit. I’m happy with the work we have completed so far, but we have still a lot of work to do.”