Forensic analysis is the name of the game as every FIFA Women’s World Cup coach – including Matildas head coach Ante Milicic – finalise their tournament preparations.
But they are not the only ones whose time at France 2019 will be defined by the finest of details.
Meet experienced Westfield W-League referees Kate Jacewicz and Casey Reibelt, who alongside Video Assistant Referee Chris Beath form the Australian contingent of a 75-strong team of match officials appointed to oversee world football’s showpiece event.
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Player, coach or whistle-blower – it’s everyone’s dream to be involved in a World Cup, and Queensland-born officials Jacewicz and Reibelt have put in almost a lifetime of work to fulfil their ambition.
The long-awaited tournament began on Saturday morning, with hosts France beating Korea Republic 4-0, and the referees – who touched down in the country on Wednesday – spent the days leading up to the big kick off finalising their preparations.
And in an exclusive interview with www.matildas.com.au, Jacewicz and Reibelt gave insight into what the match day experience is like for a referee, and how they are feeling about representing Australia on the biggest stage of all.
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First of all – congratulations on heading to the World Cup. How are you feeling?
Casey Reibelt: “Thank you. To get the opportunity is pretty amazing. I don’t know that it’s quite hit, I’ve just been so focused on final preparations – keeping healthy, keeping my fitness going, making sure of the little one percenters... that’s where my focus has been.”
Referees will be employing the use of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) in France 2019 – the first time it's been used at a Women's World Cup. What are your thoughts?
Kate Jacewicz:“Like anything it is a bit different to introduce a new skill into your refereeing. I found the transition quite seamless, I enjoy it. Referees never go out there to make mistakes but obviously in real time we see things differently or might not have the complete picture. Something that might be obvious to someone from another angle, we might miss it as we could be blindsided. With these major decisions, to get a second crack and be able to see the vision that people at home get to see and being able to come out with the correct decision – that’s a real confidence booster for me."
Taking criticism is – unfortunately – something referees often have to deal with. What’s one thing you've always wished you could say to someone who is being vocally critical of your refereeing?
CR: “I would say that referees are their own harshest critics. If we get a decision wrong it can be really, really difficult. We watch the decision again, we analyse it to the finest, most minute detail, so we can try and avoid it in the future. It can be a difficult experience to get over when you’ve had what we call a ‘match-changing decision’, whether it be a goal or a penalty. It’s a tough job, that’s all I can say. I would definitely encourage anyone who thinks they can do a better job to do a referee’s course because we’re always short.”
What’s the hardest part of the job? Having to make a potentially decisive decision under pressure? Running non-stop? A combination of both at the same time?
CR: “There’s lots of different elements... concentration and also your fitness level. If you’re a referee, if you’re not fit enough to get into the correct position, it makes it impossible to get the right answer. If you’re not in the right position you can’t get the best angle and ultimately get the decision right. Fitness is one of our biggest things, and if you’re under pressure it allows you not to worry about whether you’re going to be able to make a sprint to get into the right position.”
A World Cup referee's match day
Let’s discuss what your typical match day will be like in France. First of all, what do you usually have for breakfast?
KJ:"For me, breakfast is some sort of oatmeal and one Weetbix, a piece of fruit and always a coffee.
CR: “I like toast and quite like eggs, or peanut butter on toast. I can’t go past a good old-fashioned Milo. I can tell you there is a Milo every flight I’m on, every single time.”
Do you have any morning rituals?
KJ: "A few hours before the match I like to have a coffee and a catch-up session with my refereeing team. We just grab a coffee, sit and talk, laugh and relax. It’s all very relaxed on match day. I do like to go for a morning walk with a coffee and music, just to take in that I’m in another city, take in where I am and just enjoy having a different bit of sun on me."
CR: I’ll do some stuff on my own as well, whether that be doing a bit of research on the teams, like researching how a team plays in terms of their attacking and defending style, or what they usually do from corners. We study that because it helps us get into good positions so we can see what’s happening."
What do you do when you get to the stadium?
KJ: “About two hours before the match we arrive, throw our stuff down around the dressing room and then we walk out onto the ground and check the field, check the nets and make sure everything is safe and meets the requirements. There’s a lot of stuff we have to put on, not only our match kit but our heart rate monitors, our GPS, the communication set. The flag system as well. Then we walk into the tunnel three minutes before the players. Sometimes we have to herd them up like sheep and get them out of the rooms. Once they are out we check the teams, the numbers and that’s when we get the cue to head out."
What’s the last thing you’ll say to your fellow match officials?
CR: "Mine is usually around something like 'enjoy the match', because that’s what we’re there for: we love football. So just to enjoy the match and to be there for each other.”
KJ: “Recently it’s been my focus to say ‘let's enjoy this, we have the best seat in the house’. Previously I’ve been known to sing and because we’re mic’d up some of my team have chimed in with backing vocals as well. I wouldn’t say I sing well, but it just relaxes us. A classic song I sing is ‘Oh Happy Day’ from Sister Act . It’s a good one to get you going.”
Is there anything specific you discuss with the two captains before kick-off?
CR: “I’ll often, if it's someone that I know, have a chat about the weather or something obscure. For me it’s about making that eye contact and some sort of relationship communication starting. I don’t make any promises or talk about the match or anything like that, it’s just some rapport building.”
Say you’ve lost rapport with a player during the match. How do you seek to recover it? Is it possible?
CR: “Everyone’s different. We’re all very passionate about the game, players and referees. Sometimes some players have white-line fever and once they get that sort of feeling, it can be hard to bring them back. My only thing that I try to do is that I know that if I’m calm, and I’m calm to that player, that can only serve to bring them down. And the more hyped up that they are, the angrier that they are, I tend to go the other way. I go down more.”
You’ve just made an incorrect call during the first half which has influenced the game, and you’re entering the sheds at the interval. How do you clear your head?
CR: “Sometimes you come off and you just have this feeling that maybe the decision was wrong and that might be based on strange player reactions. It could be anything, it could be just a feeling. I’m someone who doesn’t like to check on a video at half time, I’ve got the mentality that, ‘it’s happened, I can’t change it’. My focus is really on my next decision. And I don’t want one bad decision to turn into a bad match. I want that to be out of the way – I can’t change it – and just think about what can I do to get my next decision [right], and for it to be a really good one.”
What happens at half time?
KJ: “It's mainly our team talking together. If there’s a specific incident we talk about what we all saw. If there was an incident we potentially missed, we talk about what we all saw and the technical side of the decision. And then we go through and remind ourselves of the cautions we’ve given so we know who is potentially on a second caution. We wouldn’t look at any footage as that’s not available to us. And then [we] just talk about what we need to focus on in the second half. We analyse very quickly, come up with a few scenarios that we could be expecting and solutions for those scenarios."
The game’s done, and you’re back in the change rooms at full time. What now?
CR: “Usually after the match it's about refuelling. I’m drinking more milk, more Milo. If we’ve got massage available, I’m getting some sort of treatment. And then a foam roller, all the good stuff. Usually we’re doing some kind of discussion or debriefing about what’s happened in the match and that initially happens just amongst the team – any big decisions that we’ve had. Straight away, we’re starting to analyse what’s happened.”
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