Malta Football Association launches Referees Academy

The Malta Football Association embarked on a new venture which is meant to attract youths to take up a career in refereeing by setting up a Referees’ Academy. This was launched during a press conference which was held at the Centenary Hall, Ta’ Qali on Friday.

The Referees Academy is being organised over a weekend between Friday 6 and Sunday 8 January 2012. A total of 29 youths, aged 14 to 17 – twenty four males and five females, twenty-five from Malta and four from Gozo.

The Academy will be an occasion of interaction with regards to refereeing followed up by comprehensive information on the work by referees on and off the field of play. There will be a Maltese as well as an international background as reference points with scenarios of football from the lower categories to the top-of-the-table BOV Premier League clash between Hibernians and Valletta.

MFA Chief Executive Officer Bjorn Vassallo explained that the association has been thinking about setting up this academy for some time. He said that after a series of reforms in the various sectors of the association, it was now the turn of the referees’ sector and said that this academy was an investment in the refereeing.

He said this was an ambitious project thanks to which the local game will benefit as referees were an important component in the game. “With this academy, the association is growing seeds in order to grow talent in a beautiful career which is however full of sacrifices,” said Vassallo.

The MFA CEO stressed that refereeing was not only a 90-minute job but the hour-and-a-half was only part of the referee’s job which included mental preparation and training. He said that educating referees from a very young age was of utmost importance and said the main objective will be to instil in them love for refereeing.

Vassallo said that by investing in referees, the association could take on the challenges in this sector. He revealed that there are currently over hundred referees but the association is aiming at increasing the amount of referees while focussing on the quality.

By introducing new referees in the various divisions, the MFA was aware that there could be problems but to move forward, it could not stop from offering them the opportunity to control matches at a higher level. Vassallo said this was a risk the association had to take in order to have better referees.

Bjorn Vassallo finally thanked all referees for their commitment, dedication, hard training and sacrifices and wished those youngsters who will be attending the Referees’ Academy.

MFA Director of Refereeing Adrian Casha explained that since his appointment six months ago, together with his colleagues, he has been working towards increasing the number of referees and improve the level of refereeing. He said the main priority was to raise the standard of refereeing.

Casha revealed that even in a small country like Malta, in a particular month, there was a total of around 1,100 referees’ appointments for 359 games. But still, no games were cancelled due to lack of referees.

He said the Referees’ Committee, led by former international referee Charles Agius and made up of former referees are all working hard. Alex Arena was identified as the person who will be in charge of recruitment and retention. Casha thanked Victor Mintoff who was previously in charge of this area but is now in charge of the programme for Talents and Mentors under the UEFA Referees Convention.

Adrian Casha argued that too much time was wasted in past years complaining that there was a lack of referees and said that he is now finding full support from the association.

The MFA Director of Refereeing said the short-term goal is to have twenty new referees by the end of the season and in the long-term – by the end of season 2016/17 – have double the number of referees the association has at its disposal now. He said that with more referees, they would have less games to control.

Casha said that following the referees’ exchange with Northern Ireland and Macedonia, another one is scheduled by the end of the season. He also said that after the women’s international friendly match between Malta and Luxembourg was controlled by a referee from Greece, Esther Azzopardi will be controlling a international friendly match in Greece in January.

Adrian Casha concluded his speech by promising the participants in the Referees Academy full support and stressed that a career in refereeing not only gives a person satisfaction but also skills such as decision-making and communication.

Alex Arena complained that he expected better response from schools in encouraging youths to attend the Referees Academy. He said that only twelve schools – nine Boys’ and three Girls’ schools – out of a total of seventy expressed interest.

Arena gave more details about the Referees Academy which will be held at The Diplomat Hotel, Sliema. He said that participants will have first-hand experience when seeing match officials before and after the games they will be attending. Lectures by instructors of the MFA Referees Committee and participation in a FIFA/UEFA interactive quiz on the Laws of the Game are also included in the programme. During the lectures, the participants will be shown the video The Referee.

After this three-day event, participants will attend weekly meetings for around three months and then start assisting referees in the Under-13 League.