The Verde Report: World Cup Referee Ismail Elfath on His Viral Handshake and More: A Q&A about the experience of a lifetime – Sports

Referee Ismail Elfath (left) congratulates Cameroonian striker Vincent Aboubakar on goal shortly before showing him a red card in the World Cup group stage. (Courtesy of Ismail Elfath)

Last month at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Ismail Elfath became the first American referee to ever be nominated for the world’s most-watched sporting event, the World Cup final. . Elfath, whose refereeing career began with the U-8 youth tournament in North Austin, spoke with “The Verde Report” for more than an hour about his entire 45-day experience overseeing matches at On the biggest stage of football. Part of that conversation is below. Some responses have been edited for clarity.

Verde Report: What stands out as the biggest draw from your World Cup experience?

Ismail Elfath: I think the number one thing is that we raised the bar and redefined the view of the American football world in terms of assignments. That our refereeing officers can reach the highest point in the sport. We broke the barrier unprecedented in three games but also on the field in the semi-finals. The final. And then even bigger is that the World Cup is the best edition ever related to what happens on the pitch but also off the field.

VR: How far behind the game in Qatar is the game?

IT. We stayed at the FIFA headquarters hotel. It is fully equipped to make a comfortable stay for 45 days. It is next to a cultural and tourist center with many activities that we can walk to, which is important to be able to break away from the competition. We also have the opportunity to go to many games as spectators and just enjoy it like other fans. And then we get a new cultural experience, and Qatar has done a great job of breaking down some of the misconceptions and providing a very new, realistic and positive perspective on the Middle East.

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VR: How did you walk out of the tunnel to referee your first World Cup?

IT. Well, you dream about that moment, and you play it in your head a thousand times, but there is nothing like it. The whole world stopped standing still and I do not remember. Any. Its! I felt it was an out-of-body experience. “But there is a moment after you line up and you take a deep breath, you take it all in and you go.”I can do it. I intend to do this. And I will enjoy it. We are here, no one can take it away from us for life.When you blow the whistle and the ball spins, it’s just like any other game.

VR: During that first match against Portugal, Ghana, you awarded a penalty to Cristiano Ronaldo, which attracted some controversy. What is the reflection of that time?

IT. We are prepared. We know how the players play, we know the FIFA guidelines and what to focus on. And remember, when you bring in 40 referees from 40 countries and teams from around the world, you have to set the standard for the game to be consistent. So what’s wrong in Brazil may not be in Germany. For that penalty, it was clearly a difficult decision because it happened so fast. For me, I have no doubt. My VAR [Video Assistant Referee] Within about 15 seconds, the penalty was confirmed and the defender never touched the ball.

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VR: All referees receive criticism from supporters when a decision is made against their team. Is that criticism clearer when the whole nation calls for your head?

IT. I mean it was the World Cup. People wait four years, and nations sometimes wait decades to qualify. It would not be the World Cup we love if it did not have that passion. For us as arbitrators, we know that. We accept it. We understand that. We are also supporters of our nation. But the important thing is to be honest with ourselves for the next analysis. If it’s a mistake we analyze it, learn from it and move on. If it’s right, it gives us confidence. It is not what we expect all fans to accept or understand, but for us it is how we work.

VR: You spread the moment that happened at the end of Brazil’s second match against Cameroon when Vincent Aboubakar scored late to beat Brazil and then tore his shirt to celebrate. Since he is already yellow, you have to show him a red card and send him away, but first you smile, shake his hand and congratulate him on the ball.

IT. For me personally, as a game fan, it was a natural moment to see a small country score at the World Cup and the player realized a dream. You can sense emotions. And for me, I see how happy he is and I want to show him that I am also human and that I respect his feelings. . And I think everyone understood.

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VR: Have you ever given your favorite red card?

IT. It’s not just my favorite red card, it’s probably my favorite time. It’s what everyone aspires to, this game is respect for the fun, humanity and beauty of the game.

VR: Did anyone from FIFA talk to you about that moment?

IT. In terms of management, they were really happy with our performance for the game. It is the highest ranking referee performance in a match. There has not been much comment on the red card chances, but you can definitely feel that FIFA really wants to be humane to the referee and the spectators of the match and it helps a little bit.

VR: Personally, it must be exciting for you to see your homeland Morocco become the Cinderella of the tournament and do it all to the semi-finals.

IT. I’m surprised I did not mention that when you ask me about long-term interests. Of course, one of the longest-running impressions is that while Argentina could win the World Cup, Morocco has won the heart of the world. So personally I can not help it. When we are going to watch the game in Morocco, even though we are a refereeing delegation and we are expected to be neutral, I can not. I was happy and I cried and I was happy to see the people of Morocco happy. Because I was a Moroccan before I was an arbitrator.


Stay tuned for Part 2 in next week’s issue where Elfath shares his insights on the immediate end of the classic World Cup.



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