World Cup referees have been ordered to crack down on foul play in a bid to protect players from injury, Fifa referees chief Pierluigi Collina revealed on Friday.
Collina said that all 32 teams at the World Cup had been warned that match officials in Qatar have been instructed to take a hardline against any player endangering an opponent.
“The World Cup is the most important tournament on earth in our sport with the best players in the world,” Collina said.
“It would be a shame if some of these players wouldn’t be able to play due to an injury caused by an opponent. So the first message to our referees is to protect the players safety,” the Italian added.
Collina, widely regarded as the greatest referee of all time, said Fifa refereeing officials had visited World Cup teams in Qatar to inform them of the directive.
“We don’t want to have some challenges that may really endanger the safety of the player,” the 62-year-old said.
“Whenever there is something that may endanger the safety of players, coaches should expect the strongest disciplinary sanction which is a red card.”
Collina’s warning comes four years after the total number of red cards issued at the 2018 World Cup in Russia plummeted to just four — the lowest total at the finals since 1978.
A total of 10 red cards were shown at the 2014 finals in Brazil, 17 at the 2010 tournament in South Africa and a whopping 28 at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Collina used video footage to illustrate the kind of challenges referees would be on the lookout for in Qatar.
They included a wild studs-up challenge showing a player crashing into an opponent’s shin, while another showed a player raising his foot dangerously high.
“It is irrelevant that the player didn’t want to hit the opponent — simply by making this intervention it puts the opponent in a very, very risky position,” Collina said.
“Again this is unacceptable if we want to protect the safety of an opponent.”
Collina added that referees would also come down hard on any player swinging an elbow into an opponent’s face, describing such challenges as “absolutely unacceptable.”
Collina meanwhile said the three women referees who will make history at the tournament — France’s Stephanie Frappart, Salima Mukansanga of Rwanda and Japan’s Yamashita Yoshimi — would be treated as equals in Qatar.
Asked if cultural sensitivities would prevent them being appointed to officiate in matches involving Islamic nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or Qatar, Collina replied: “For us they are referees.
“This is the message I gave them…you are not here because you are women, you are here because you are Fifa match officials.
“They are here as Fifa World Cup 2022 officials and they are ready to officiate any kind of match.”
This year’s tournament, which kicks off on Sunday with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador, will also see semi-automated offside technology used at the finals for the first time. The system has already been deployed in the Uefa Champions League.
Collina said the system would help speed up offside decisions.