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   28 May, 2002 | 1125 IST


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Refereeing still a man's job

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Paul Holmes

It's a man's world at the World Cup, and that's official.

Look for women among the 72 match officials selected by soccer's world governing body FIFA for duty as referees and linesmen at the tournament in South Korea and Japan that begins on Friday and you will look in vain.

"For the moment, men are still the best," Mick Michels, a FIFA media officer who deals with inquiries about referees at the World Cup, said on Tuesday.

Women already officiate at the women's World Cup and FIFA's under-17 youth tournament.

They also run the line as assistant referees in professional soccer in England, though not in the country's premier league.

Michels said women's refereeing was still in its early days, adding there was no timetable for female match officials to serve at future World Cups.

"We are still waiting for top quality women referees and if some start to be better or as good as the men, things could change," he said. "We would probably start with assistant referees first, and later on referees."

Asked why women were considered good enough to referee at the women's World Cup and not at the higher profile male tournament, he suggested macho attitudes among players and occasional brute force were considerations.

"They (women referees) have natural authority over women (players) which they don't have over men. In some cases, it could also be necessary to show your physical strength," Michels said.

FIFA says the quality and quantity of women match officials has made "conspicuous progress" in recent years, along with the development of women's soccer, though still not to the point where they make the grade for the World Cup.

"The selection of referees and their assistants for the major events has become ever stricter, the judgment being made purely according to ability," FIFA said in a statement on the tournament organisers' website.

Of the 72 match officials at the month-long World Cup, Europe provides the largest contingent with 14 referees and 14 referee assistants, reflecting the continent's traditional dominance of international soccer.

The referee for Friday's opening match in Seoul, between holders France and Senegal, will be Ali Mohamed Bujsaim of the United Arab Emirates.

Bujsaim, 42, is the only referee at the tournament to have been at two previous World Cups, at France '98 and in the United States in 1994. Six other referees at this year's tournament were also on duty in France four years ago.

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