Referees ● Sep 15, 2017
Preparation Crucial for Singaporean Referee Trio
Daily training sessions, recovery sessions, match analysis, and working as a team – it is easy to assume we are talking about the preparations that players undergo for a tournament. But just like the players on the pitch, the men in black have equally rigorous training regimens in their preparation for any tournament.
This is what the Singaporean refereeing trio of Muhammad Taqi Aljaafari bin Jahari, Edwin Lee and Ronnie Koh are going through now, after FIFA appointed them in August as the only representatives from Southeast Asia to the FIFA U17 World Cup India 2017. The trio have only two weeks till they depart for the tournament, and have intensified their training schedule since a month ago.
To be held from 6-28 October, the youth tournament will be the first FIFA tournament assignment for assistant referees Edwin and Ronnie, as well as Taqi‚Äôs first FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The trio have been officiating together at the international level since 2015, and will make history as the first referee trio from Singapore at a FIFA World Cup tournament.
Describing the appointment as a ‘rare once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’, Ronnie recounted how he received the news of his appointment the day before National Day: “It only dawned on me later that it was such a coincidence to receive the news that we had been selected to represent Singapore just before National Day.”
Edwin, who became a FIFA Assistant Referee in 2009 and an AFC Assistant Referee in 2010, echoed Ronnie’s delight at the appointment: “I am very happy to receive such a prestigious appointment as not everyone gets an opportunity like this. I’ve been refereeing since 2005 and this is my first FIFA tournament appointment.”
When asked what he thinks makes their team different from the rest, the two-time S.League Assistant Referee of the Year modestly claimed that there is “nothing special” about them as a trio, stressing their work ethic, discipline, and “100% concentration and dedication to being fair to both teams in every game” instead.
As for Taqi, speaking from his experience garnered from his appointments as Video Assistant Referee at the recent FIFA Under-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017, and as a support referee at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, he is careful to temper his excitement.
“This period of preparation is crucial for us. After the appointment in August, we had to take the fitness and medical tests, as well as ensure that we perform well in our other international assignments. Staying consistent and maintaining our fitness levels from the time we receive the appointment letter to the time we depart for the tournament is perhaps more difficult than the tournament itself,” he said.
Though this tournament will be Taqi’s third World Cup tournament, it will be his first as the main referee on the pitch and the first with Edwin and Ronnie. When asked if he feels any added responsibility since he has more experience, he quipped: “Going as a trio feels a bit like we’re a family going together. There is a sense of familiarity as we have travelled together to officiate at matches often and take turns to look after each other. I’ve shared my experience at the previous World Cup tournaments with Edwin and Ronnie so that they will be able to better anticipate and prepare for what is to come.”
He highlighted staying injury-free as a top priority for the three of them in their training regime – not just during this period, but in general. Taqi explained that after an injury, professional players are likely to be able to return to playing for their club when they are fit again, match officials have a slightly more difficult time as officiating is not their full-time career. As they are appointed to matches by a governing body, be it AFC or FIFA, they will have to prove that they are ready, taking them a longer time to return to the level they were previously at.
That said, training must still go on. The trio have been training almost daily to keep their fitness levels up, setting aside two sessions a week to train together. Teamwork is vital for a trio, and they will be working on this aspect with the support of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) Referees Department which will be assigning them to officiate at upcoming S.League matches together. The trio also most recently officiated at the World Cup Qualifier between Uzbekistan and Korea Republic on 5 September.
Edwin acknowledged the efforts of the FAS in their efforts to develop Singapore referees, citing the referees’ monthly practical and match analysis sessions as key to their growth.
The FAS Football Science and Medicine Department will also be lending a hand to the trio in their preparations, providing them with supplements to help them in their training programme and physiotherapy massages to aid in their recovery after matches and training sessions.
However, it is the support from their family members that the three of them are perhaps the most grateful for.
As Ronnie, who attained his FIFA Assistant Referee accreditation in 2012 and was entered into the AFC list of assistant referees in 2013, puts it: “My family – consisting of my mother, wife and son – remain the biggest pillars of strength behind me ever since I started refereeing. They have been most supportive of me. My wife and mother take care of the small things for me so I can focus on my job and on officiating – from waiting for me to come home after matches to looking after my son.”
Edwin, who is a father of three boys, added: “I believe the family support back home is very important. Without the help from my wife, I would not be able to leave the house to officiate at local matches, not to mention overseas assignments. That’s why I try to spend all my free time with my family as much as possible.”
As with any international tournament, the three of them will be away for at least 20 days. The trio will depart for India on Friday 29 September 2017 for the last lap of preparation for the tournament with the rest of the officials appointed for the tournament. The FAS wishes the three officials the best for the tournament, and will continue to provide them with all the support they require.