FIFA World Cup 2014: Canadian chosen to referee at soccer tourney

By day, he's a chartered accountant in St. Catharines, Ont., but come June, Joe Fletcher could be on the television screens of billions of people around the world. The 38-year-old has been chosen to be an assistant referee at the World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world, which takes place in Brazil between June 12 and July 13.

St. Catharines resident Joe Fletcher must keep in top physical and mental form

Chartered accountant will officiate in front of billions of viewers 2:31

By day, he's a chartered accountant in St. Catharines, Ont., but come June, Joe Fletcher could be on the television screens of billions of people around the world.

The 38-year-old has been chosen to be an assistant referee, or lineman, at the World Cup, the biggest sporting event in the world, which takes place in Brazil between June 12 and July 13.

Although he has officiated around the world, including at the 2010 Olympics in London and in Major League Soccer games, the World Cup is his dream.

Asked how he expects to feel when he walks on a field in Brazil, he says, “It’ll be just, like wow, 'I’m really at the World Cup. This is cool.'"

The only Canadian envoy at soccer's premier competition this year, Fletcher will be joined by two Americans to make up one of the 25 referee trios that will stage in Rio until they are assigned a game in one of the 12 host cities.

Joe Fletcher, who's also an accountant in St. Catharines, Ont., previously worked a match between Spain and Chile at the World Cup. (Courtesy of Joe Fletcher)

This husband and father of two is only the third referee from Canada to be selected to work the World Cup, but he will have no notice of which game he will ref until 72 hours before. FIFA, the world soccer body, does this intentionally to ensure the perception of neutrality of its officials.

Peak condition

While it's not as high-profile as actually playing in the tournament, officiating can be just as rigorous and challenging. Fletcher currently spends his evenings training and weekends refereeing, always keeping a very close tab on his physical condition.

FIFA demands that its referees be able to run a 40-metre sprint in six seconds. Fletcher does it in five, but he emphasizes that FIFA also looks for the “repeat sprint ability.”

To ensure his fitness and endurance, Fletcher wears a special digital watch that sends his heart rate and training data to FIFA.

“I think they want to make sure I just don’t randomly show up on a field, because physically, you just couldn’t keep up,” said Fletcher.

In preparation for a tournament of this magnitude, Fletcher not only stays in peak physical form, but researches the various teams and players, from playing style to individual personalities. By looking at players who have a tendency to get a lot of yellow cards, for example, he can anticipate conflicts that could arise on the field.  

“Before the tournament, before I get there, I’ll have analyzed every team playing in the World Cup. Players that could get targeted by other teams, styles of attack — things that could be of interest to referees,” he says.

One of the innovations at this year's tournament is goal line technology. Fourteen cameras will be set up at each goal, and when the ball actually crosses the line, the word "Goal" will appear on the ref’s watches.

This was created in part to avoid the disaster at the 2010 World Cup, when England scored on Germany, but the ref didn’t see the ball go in, and ruled no goal.

“After what happened in the last World Cup, I’m happy,” said Fletcher. “It doesn’t take power away from the referee.”

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