Some questions about referees and assistant referees:

  • I assume there's a difference in knowledge / experience between these, correct? I.e. it's not just rolling a dice to decide which one is a referee or an assistant referee?
  • Are they able to get promoted from being assistant referees to referees, similar to e.g. how an assistant professor can become a professor?
  • Is it a different "track", analogous to e.g. doctors / nurses?

Mostly asking because I only see them in one role, so I was wondering why.

3 Answers 3


It depends on the country, I guess. In France, there are no ARs at the lowest levels, so you always start as a center referee. You can get designated for games at your level as a referee, or at some higher level games as an AR.

Depending on your ranking at the end of the season, you can get promoted or relegated, just like teams.

But, if you have a preference for being an AR (due to an advanced age or just... preference), you can choose the "AR track" and become a "specific AR". You get promoted or relegated in the AR rankings.

At the top national levels, ARs all belong to the AR track.

This is an example of how it goes in France, from the top national level (Ligue 1) to the last level (for my regional league and local league)

National Level

          referee                 AR1            AR2           4th ref.
Ligue 1 : Federal 1 Referee | Federal 1 AR | Federal 1 AR | Federal 1-3 Referee 
Ligue 2 : Federal 2 Referee | Federal 2 AR | Federal 2 AR | Federal 2-4 Referee
National: Federal 3 Referee | Federal 3 AR | Federal 3 AR
CFA (L4): Federal 4 Referee | Regional1 AR | Regional1 Referee
CFA2(L5): Federal 4 Referee | Regional1 AR | Regional2 Referee

Regional Level for my region

DH  (L6): Reg.    1 Referee | Regional2 AR | Regional2-3 Referee
DHR (L7): Reg.  1-2 Referee | Regional2 AR | Regional3 Referee
PH  (L8): Reg.  2-3 Referee | District1 AR | District1 Referee
PHR (L9): Reg.    3 Referee | District1 AR | District1-2 Referee

District Level in my district

Exc(L10): District1 Referee | District2 AR | District2-3 Referee
PEx(L11): District1 Referee | District2 AR | District3 Referee
1D-P1D(L12-13): District2 Referee, ARs are one guy from each team
2D-P2D-3D(L14-16) : District3 Referee, ARs are one guy from each team

You can see there is (theorically) one specific AR per games. This one is in charge of the benches' side. The other one replaces the referee in case of an injury. In Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, the ref is replaced (if needed) by the 4th official. But there are two specific ARs in National (Level3) and no 4th official : thus, Federal ARs must have been Regional 1 referees for 2 years before turning into specific ARs.


My answer is based just on my knowledge gained by having followed football.

  1. Yes, the main(on-field) referee is somewhat senior in terms of position to the assistant referees. He/she can overrule a decision made by one of the assistants. This is because the on-field referee does have more refereeing experience. That experience is gained by first being an assistant referee.

  2. So yes, an assistant referee is 'promoted' to on-field referee by the football association in question (Eg: FIFA, UEFA, local bodies like FA, etc.).

  3. The 'track' followed is not different. One does not train to become just an assistant referee. Referees are trained on assistant and on-field duties together (i.e., in the referee training centres/camps). They start their careers as assistant referees.

However, being a main referee in one competition does not guarantee the same position in another competition. For example, an Indian referee can be on-field for India's premier football league, I-league, but might have to settle for being an assistant referee if he/she is called up by FIFA to referee in an international tournament.

Also, many major tournaments have a fourth referee, one who takes care of substitutions and other duties in the technical area. This referee is one who holds the position of on-field referee. He/she may be called to step in for any of the referees (on-field/assistant) in case something were to happen to the latter.

Hence, a referee must know both, the on-field and assistant duties, at all times.


Well I imagine that these rules/regulations might be different for different sports. In my experience playing rugby, a European sport, at the lower levels (league games and exhibition matches) referees and assistant referees are interchangeable (I've seen guys be the head referee of a match one week, then be an assistant referee at a match the next week).

However, I have noticed that as the games get bigger (e.g., televised national tournament/championship matches) the head and assistant referees tend to be picked from the same group. Just look at international rugby - Nigel Owens is virtually always the head sir of some huge match.

But like I mentioned, this is just one sport. I'd be curious to know how this works for American sports.

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