Champions League referees: What language do they speak in matches to players?

Click here to watch it live with fuboTVfuboTV
Neymar Niklas Sule PSG Bayern Munich Champions League Daniele Orsato RefereeGetty

The Champions League and Europa League showcase football at its most diverse, with players, officials and, of course, fans from all over the world, all speaking different languages.

The 2020 Champions League final, for example, featured players from 11 countries from Europe, Africa, plus North, South and Central America.

Such diversity helps create arguably the highest standard of football played anywhere on the planet.

It also presents challenges, particularly for the referees tasked with keeping play within the rules. While club captains should be the main figures talking to referees on the pitch, the reality is often very different, and an official could find themself having to explain a decision to players from six different continents at once.

So how do they communicate?

To officiate a Champions League or Europa League match, UEFA referees must be able to speak English. Referees will generally speak to players in English as it is the most commonly spoken language in Europe.

According to Ethnologue, English remains the most widely spoken language in the world, with more than 1.25 billion people able to speak English as a first or second language. Babbel estimates around half of Europeans between 15 and 35 years old speak good English.

At international level, FIFA has four official languages: English, Spanish, French and German. Again, international referees must be able to speak good English.

Of course, the old cliche says football is a universal language, and this is true in more ways than one.

Most players, regardless of nationality, will have picked up English words such as ‘goal’, ‘foul’, ‘offside’ and so on, even if they don't speak the language well.

More importantly, refereeing teams use signals with their hands, cards and flags which are universal and which all players should understand.

For example, if a referee holds both hands forward for an advantage, the linesman flags for offside and the referee goes back to brandish a yellow card for the earlier foul, every player and fan should understand the decisions which have been made.

Universal cues of body language are also important.

Former World Cup assistant referee Sean Hurd told Business Insider: “Most of the players do speak a little bit of English at the international level. The refereeing aspect, and the playing aspect, are universal. Body language, eye contact.”