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I always see in TV referees communicating with the players in international football matches(both club and national competitions). It seems to be universal: not only in European matches, but also in Asian matches and World Cup etc. However something I don't really get is how are they supposed to communicate at all if they don't speak the same language.

I can only suppose that in this case, there exists a default lingua franca for communication, for example English, and all players more or less understand some basics of this language. (which would not be easy for professional sports players, and it's even more amazing that they can seem able to talk incessantly). If so, is it somehow specified as a rule, or just more of a custom?

Or, as an alternative, is there actually only the captain, or the few players who share languages in common with the referee doing the talking, while others express themselves more by body expressions and translation through the captain etc.?

Are international football referees (supposed to be & in reality) multilingual?

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The main referee can talk to whoever s/he wants, but the captain is the main responsible for talking to the referee (even though noone seems to care much about that these days). Captains are usually picked based on seniority and positive influence on teammates, however, language proficiency is not the main criteria AFAIK. –  posdef May 19 at 13:48

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FIFA referees are expected to be able to speak English. So if the referee who doesn't speak the language of a team -many international referees speak multiple languages- he will be talking English to them. Also notice that players know key words in English (if already not the same in their own language) such as 'sorry', foul, offside, goal ...

Next thing you need to notice is that the referee will not just casually start a conversation with players. He will instruct players after fouls or controversial calls. So when a player commits foul, he already knows what the referee will be talking about. Or when the referee makes a call that could go either way, he has a pretty good idea why the team that he made the call against them will be talking to him.

Another important fact is body language. The referees of FIFA, just like other governing bodies of international sports, use whistles and signals. So there is a distinct signal for each foul, just so everyone understands what's going on without having to translate all orders to different languages (think about the case when players of the same country speak different languages, then without use of signals, you would need multiple translators in all games). Even on top of that, referees try to use body language as much as possible to make everything clear for the players and coaches.

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Also the chance for a referee, let's say from Austria, to get a game, let's say Madrif vs. Milan, is much bigger if he speaks in addition to English Spanish or Italian too...or in best case both. –  Phab Jul 2 at 8:17

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