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Great expectations for World Cup referee

Just like the 32 teams that have qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, there is a similar process for the 30 referees that will officiate the games on soccer’s biggest stage. One of those officials fortunate enough to be in that elite group is Peter O’Leary, a native New Zealander who has been calling games for the better part of 16 years. O’Leary was in town as a referee for the Dallas Cup, and sat down with to discuss his thoughts on working his first World Cup later this year. How do you feel about officiating in the World Cup?

O’Leary: I’m very excited. It’s a great honor, a pleasure and a privilege really to be involved. I’m very excited. What other high-profile events have you officiated?

O’Leary: This is my first senior World Cup. Along with all the other officials, we’ve been involved with age group World Cups like the Under-17 and the Under-20. Last year, I was involved in the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria and the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt. I also went to the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi. How many games can you expect to call?

O’Leary: Every referee gets one game. Then, depending on how he does in that one game, you will progress from there. So, if you do one game and do well, then you might get another one. If you do one game and you don’t do so well, I think that’s it. It’s all on performance. If you perform well, control the game well and make the right calls, then you’ll get another game. If you don’t do very well, then that’s it basically. Discuss how long you’ve been an official.

O’Leary: I’ve been refereeing for 16 years. No (I never thought I’d be doing a World Cup), my aim was to referee at as high a level as I possibly could. I wanted to be involved in football at the highest level and be around the very best players. Now, I’m in the World Cup program and it’s great. How did you get your start?

O’Leary: I started out doing schoolboy games in New Zealand. I was doing those games on a Saturday morning and on Sunday mornings I would also do the women’s games. Talk about the whole process to become a World Cup official.

O’Leary: There were 54 referees identified in 2007. All of those referees came to a seminar. We were tested on the laws of the game. We also had psychological testing, fitness testing and tests on aspects of the game as well as medical testing. Then, we went to tournaments and were reviewed on those games. In late 2008, the list was cut down from 54 to 38. Again, we underwent more seminars, testing, etc. We were also graded on all the games we did in 2009 at the tournaments. Then, the list was put out in early February of the 30 referees that will be officiating in the World Cup. What kind of atmosphere are you expecting in South Africa?

O’Leary: It will be pretty noisy I expect. I was there for the seminar right before the Confederations Cup last year. I was watching the games at the Confederations Cup and those fans with the horns make a fair amount of noise. I think it will be very, very noisy. Do you feel like doing the U-17 and U-20 World Cups last year prepared you for what to expect in the World Cup?

O’Leary: Yes, definitely, the tournaments very much follow along similar lines. The training that we undergo, that really helps prepare us. When you’re not calling games, you teach back in New Zealand. What do your students think of you being a referee?

O’Leary: I’m always hearing about it from my students. After a game, they will tell me that I did this and I did that. They are really my toughest critics. I’m a science and biology teacher in high school. This is my 11th year of teaching.