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By ESPN Staff

World Cup refs told to speak English

FRANKFURT, March 21 (Reuters) - English has become the official language of football, at least for the 44 referees hoping to officiate at the 2006 World Cup.

For the first time, referees and their assistants will have to show proficiency in written and spoken English if they are to stand a chance of making the cut for the sport's showpiece tournament, beginning on June 9.

FIFA regards English, German, Spanish and French as its official languages, providing translation services in all four at its media events.

However, for the referees only English will do, except when they are actually doing their jobs.

For the 2006 tournament, FIFA has decided to use trios of referees and two assistants from the same country, or at least the same confederation and with a common language.

There will be no communication issues on the pitch and FIFA also wants to make sure there are no embarrassed silences at the base the referees will use for the tournament, a plush hotel on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

'It's important for an international team that when the referees get together they can communicate in one language,' FIFA general secretary Urs Linsi said at a workshop for potential World Cup referees on Tuesday.

'They are a team and one language must be predominant. We've opted for English. The referees are going to have to speak and write in English. This is going to promote team spirit.'

There are candidate referees from all six of FIFA's Confederations. Asia, Africa and CONCACAF are represented by six apiece, seven refs come from South America, two from Oceania and the remaining 17 from UEFA, the European grouping.

They will work together in groups of one referee and two assistants, wherever possible from the same country.

'The trios have to speak the same language,' Linsi said. 'It's important because when they are in the fray they need to be able to talk to each other without problems.'

Apart from language, the officials will face fitness and stress tests during four gruelling days, as well as checks on how well they know and interpret the laws of the game.

'We have to be fit 365 days of the year,' German referee Markus Merk told a news conference. 'Training for me is a continuous thing. I always have to be fit.'