When Mark Clattenburg blew the final whistle in Saint-Denis’ EURO 2016 Final between Portugal and France, he concluded what can be seen as the most successful tournament in terms of refereeing in recent history. Participating in such international tournaments as a referee or referee observer is only possible for FIFA match officials or international referee observers – at least that’s what you might have thought until now.
In fact, there are opportunities to join such events yourself: After the 25th team finished their job at France’s European Championship in the North of Paris, another refereeing team just gathered to take up their duties: The Paris World Cup 2016 was about to commence at the morning after the EURO final – with many young and talented match officials eagerly waiting for their opportunity to collect international experience and to apply the lessons learnt from UEFA’s top-flight officials.
Along with the famous “Ibercup”, the Paris World Cup is only one of many international refereeing opportunities organized by “Tournaments Abroad”. We talked with the organization’s director Daniele Curcio!
The 3rd Team: As the person who is in charge of coaching, appointing and assessing the referees officiating at your tournaments, you are doing a job similar to UEFA’s triumvirate “Collina-Batta-Dallas”, aren’t you?
Daniele Curcio: While this comparison honours me, we are far from that. First of all we work with referees who are very young, and still at the beginning of their referee careers. While we hope that many of them will make it to the top and will be able to work with the “big trio”, we are aware this is far from a given conclusion.
What was the idea behind “Tournaments Abroad”?
As many other things, I must admit the entire project behind “Tournaments Abroad” started almost by chance. It was 2005 and I had been a referee for the past two years when I heard the story of a friend of mine, who lived nearby, who was a football player and went to play a youth tournament in Denmark: The Dana Cup. He mentioned to me of what a great experience it’d been and that the tournament was accepting referees from all over the World. I then applied to go one year later, to the same tournament and a few others that I had read about on the internet, and off I went, as a single referee, to officiate in international tournaments. Things then started to develop, tournaments got bigger and wanted more and more foreign referees to attend, and this is where TA was born. A young Italian referee from the small city of Brescia, had become the director of a network of referees hailing from more than 20 different nations. Something that, in all honesty, I would have never expected.
As indicated, the Paris World Cup is by far not the only competition you are supervising. What other refereeing events do you organize and which referees usually participate in them?
Over the past few years we have worked with a number of different international tournaments. I could mention many, in many different countries, however I believe those we are better known for are the Ibercup tournament series and the Paris World Cup. The IberCup started in 2010 in Lisbon, Portugal (and was then named the Lisboa Cup), but has since developed into the World’s biggest network of international youth tournaments, with events in Portugal, Spain, Denmark, Poland, the USA and Japan. It is a very attractive tournament for players and referees alike, as the quality of football played there is very high, and the tournament itself sees the participation of many of Europe’s top football academies. The Paris World Cup is instead France’s biggest youth football events and, as the name suggests, takes place every summer in the French capital. It started only in 2014, and is since still developing. However, in my personal opinion, its potential is enormous.
The age, level and experience of our officials varies greatly according to whether they take part to “ordinary” or “development” tournaments. As a general rule though, the average age of our referees is quite low (around 20-21). Many federations in fact decide to send to our tournaments their “up and coming” officials, as they believe they could be the ones who benefit the most from these experiences. But we also like our more mature and experienced officials who can offer great support to the younger referees, by coaching and mentoring them during the tournaments.
In terms of nationality, over the past few years we’ve enjoyed the participation of referees from around 50 different nations, mostly European but also from the USA, Canada, Venezuela, China, Australia, Algeria, New Zealand, Pakistan and Uganda. I am proud to say that “Tournaments Abroad” has now become a really global brand and that every year many new federations and referees from all over the world express their interest in working with us. If you then ask me about the countries that are usually “the most represented” I must say England and the Netherlands. They send the bigger groups year after year, but we can count also on a number of other “regular guests”.
Obviously, there seem to be many different types, many different personalities and many different nations represented in the referee teams you are managing. Is that form of diversity a special challenge for you, e.g. with regard to establishing a uniform and predictable line of refereeing from one match to the other?
It definitely can be especially when, in most cases, you work with these officials only for a week every year. However, we do not pretend to be able to necessary establish a uniform line of refereeing, as we do not intend to interfere with the work each federation does, rather we just want to offer all officials an extra opportunity to implement what their coaches and mentors teach them back home, every week and month.
Many of these young officials don’t have the opportunity of refereeing international football in their home countries and, unless they reach FIFA, never will be able to do so; by offering them such opportunity we believe we contribute in creating “more complete” officials, and this goes to the benefit not only of the referees, but also of their federations. And what a better way to do so then offering them exposure to foreign teams, foreign colleagues and great former and current international referees and instructors?
What conditions do you offer for referees and referee observers?
This depends on the tournament they decide to attend, in most cases referees and observers are offered free accommodation, local transport and meals with the only expense they (or their federations) need to cover being the travel costs from the country of origin to the country the tournament is played in. However conditions may differ according to the event, the time of the year or the experience each referee or observer has.
How are the match officials coached and assessed, how do they get feedback on their performance?
All the tournaments we work with, which in number exceed 40 events per year, are divided into three main categories which we call Ordinary, Development and Elite. While “ordinary” tournaments are open to any referee to attend, “development” tournaments (such as the Ibercup or Paris World Cup) are reserved to young up-and-coming referees who have a particularly keen interest in developing their referee skills, and become better officials. Finally the “elite” tournaments are small, professional teams only, events whose attendance is strictly reserved to referees who excel in other tournaments.
In all “development” tournaments we offer what we call “Tournaments Abroad” assessing and coaching scheme. Every referee (and almost every match) is watched by qualified assessors and observers who offer the referees advice on how to improve their performance, while giving the referee committee information on each referee’s qualities and skills, so that only the best are appointed to the finals. All assessments are based on the internationally recognized UEFA assessment scheme, so that whatever information we are able to get, can be useful also for each referee’s home association, should they want to consider it.
You receive support from highly qualified referees and referee observers at some of your tournaments – last year, Mark Clattenburg visited your refereeing squad at IberCup in Spain…
Yes, over the last few years many current and former FIFA and UEFA officials have honoured us with their presence. Their support means a lot to us, and the feedback they can offer to our young officials is invaluable.
As you mentioned, Champions League and Euro Cup final referee Mark Clattenburg, has taken part to last year’s edition of the Ibercup Costa del Sol in Malaga, Spain. During his time there, he both refereed a few games (allowing us to make some young referees run his line, what an experience for them!), and had a Question & Answer Session with all the participating officials. We really hope he will be able to come back to our tournaments very soon, and has since expressed his interest in doing so multiple times.
Besides Clattenburg though, many other referees and observers have taken part to our tournaments. I’d like to mention in particular some of UEFA’s most experienced referee observers, who have come to assess the referees’ performances and offer them advice. Among them are former UEFA Referee Committee Vice-chairman Jozef Marko from Slovakia and UEFA referee observers Peter Fröjdfeldt (Sweden), Alan Snoddy (Northern Ireland), Konrad Plautz (Austria), Michel Vautrot (France) and Vladimir Medved (Slovakia). Other currently active referees who have taken part in the past are FIFA officials Danny Makkelie (Netherlands), Istvan Vad (Hungary) and Bobby Madley (England). Finally how not to mention current PGMOL coach Eddie Wolstenholme, the referee of the well-known English match nicknamed as the “Battle of Bramall Street”.
In future, there will be a partnership between Tournaments Abroad and The3rdTeam as part of a referee academy that is planned for 2017 or 2018. Can you tell us more about that and your general goals for the future?
In terms of our future plans, we are aiming at finding new events which are interested in implementing a referee development scheme and are currently in talks with a few of them, both in Europe and beyond. Although it is still a very broad idea, we are thinking of the possibility of creating an international inter-tournament referee academy which could be both real-life-based and web-based. This would consist in having a network of a certain number of young referees who work together year-round, mostly on-line, and get preparatory input to then meet 1-2 times every year at different tournaments where they’ll be able to experience tournament football, be assessed by qualified observers but also receive mentoring and coaching in their free time. We are currently securing deals with a number of organizations and coaches (like The3rdTeam) who would like to support that idea – in other words: Our goal is to bring together the “best” of different organizations to create some tangible refereeing project.
If you sum it up, what are the biggest benefits that young and talented referees draw from participating in these international refereeing opportunities? And how does refereeing as a whole profit?
The possibility of refereeing teams from other countries, each with its different style of playing football, contributes to creating more mature, complete officials; referees who are able to officiate any game, and any team they may find in front of them. At the same time, the possibility of working with fellow referees from other countries allows our young officials not only to make new friends in the footballing and refereeing world, but also to share experiences, improve their language skills and much more. I believe that all the refereeing world, starting from the federations each officials belong to, have to gain from such an activity.
In the past weeks, we roughly discussed the opportunity that some The 3rd Team Referee Observers including our observer Edward and myself participate in one or the other of your 2017 tournaments. If our readers are interested in joining the tournament as referees or assessors themselves, too, how can they apply?
Any referee or observer who is interested in attending is of course more than welcome to do so. Applications for our 2017 tournaments will be opening shortly (around the beginning of September) on our website, however, while applications may currently be closed while we finalize details for the coming year, “Tournaments Abroad” is open year-round. This means you can contact us anytime either by sending us an email to or by sending us a private message on our official Facebook page.
We really hope to see many of you at one or more of our tournaments next year!