Former soccer players are receiving a unique chance to get into refereeing. The Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) have announced a new program that would fast-track these ex-players to become officials.

This plan will essentially offer a route to refereeing over a shorter-than-usual timeframe. The organizations will attempt to choose between 10 and 12 former players to sign up for the initiative. Once selected, these former professionals would then undergo a three-year refereeing program. This program is expected to give these former players a much faster route to potentially officiate Premier League matches.

According to a statement by the two organizations, 120 members of the PFA have “expressed an interest” in the program. These former players will, however, have to submit a formal application to be in the running for selection. The groups in charge of the initiative are then set to make selections later this summer.

Premier League officiating has been under constant fire in recent seasons

The move earns applause from most Premier League fans. Officiating in England has undoubtedly come under increased scrutiny in recent years. This is even though the English top flight is the top division in the entire sport.

PGMOL chief Howard Webb hinted that the program will bring in people who perhaps have a better understanding of professional soccer, while also expanding their search for quality referees.

“We’ve made no secret that we are looking to broaden our pool of officials and entice people from other areas of the game and society into refereeing who may have historically not been well represented,” stated Webb.

“Alongside our commitment to developing our current officials, we aim to create the best possible environment to support and encourage current and former players to enhance their skills, knowledge, and, ultimately, their qualities as match officials through this program.”

“It’s been fantastic to collaborate with the PFA on this program and the level of interest from their members strongly indicates they feel this is an exciting opportunity to explore an avenue which could potentially lead them to the highest levels of our game – this time as a match official.”

PGMOL officials attempting to make improvements to referees

News of the program comes just days after Premier League clubs decided against axing VAR. Only one top-flight team, Wolves, voted to scrap the technology ahead of the 2024/25 season. As a result, VAR will remain in place for at least the near future.

Despite the overwhelming vote, English officials admitted that changes need to occur to improve refereeing in the nation. Part of these upgrades involve tweaks to VAR’s implementation. For instance, semi-automated offside technology (SAOT) will start later in the year to help speed up decisions. Referees will also make in-stadium announcements after VAR calls.

Along with these improvements, the state of Premier League refereeing also has to improve as well. Top English officials regularly make key errors during games without much of a punishment. However, a program to fast-track ex-players back to the pitch as referees would potentially help. These former professionals likely have a better understanding of the sport and should improve the current officiating standards.