By Brian Homewood
ZURICH, March 27 (Reuters) - Protecting players from heavy tackles will be the priority for referees at this year's World Cup in Brazil rather than other contentious issues such as diving, handball and the triple punishment.
Football is generally considered to have become much less violent on the pitch in the last few years and the game's governing body FIFA said during a training week for World Cup referees on Thursday that it wanted to keep it that way.
"There are always things we are asked to be vigilant on, pretty much always trying to protect the players, from heavy play, from foul play and violent play and also protecting the image of the game," 2010 World Cup final referee Howard Webb told reporters.
FIFA's head of refereeing Massimo Busacca said referees attending the World Cup, which starts on June 12, would be instructed to nip any signs of rough play in the bud.
"The safety of the players is very important so the referees have to read the situation carefully at the beginning of the game," he said.
"If players start committing this type of (violent) foul, we have to take action to avoid it. We have to say: 'We do not want to see this kind of football in this competition'.
"This is the role of the referee, to try to understand and anticipate. Sometimes, the players forget because of the adrenalin. The role of the referee is to say: 'Do you want to play today or do you want to take a shower?'
"We must try to avoid these situations which can destroy football."
Although diving is considered by many observers to be the scourge of the sport, Englishman Webb said it was a relatively small headache for match officials.
"It's one of the things we are always asked to be vigilant about because when it's not accurately identified it can have quite a damaging effect on the game," he said.
"The message is being sent, loud and clear, to the competing teams about their responsibilities as well.
"If you look at the number of decisions made around simulation, they are quite low compared to the vast number of decisions we have to make," he added.
"Although it's a small problem, it has a big impact when it does happen, so of course it becomes quite serious."
Webb said the pace of the modern game made it almost unrecognisable from when he started 20 years ago and said the relationship between match officials and players was good.
"It's almost a different sport form many years ago, so we have to adapt to that and be as quick as the players are in terms of the speed of their thought and speed of their play," he said.
"In most cases, the experience I have with the players is positive, and that includes the famous players and the young players.
"You are certainly aware of the increased scrutiny to when I started 20 years ago.
"The attention on football increases all the time. It's so important to so many people in so many ways and we feel that.
"We are aware of our responsibility and aware that if we do make a mistake, there will be a big reaction.
"We care about what we do for sure, it's not so easy for us either when we make a mistake.
"The flip side is when we do a good job, and many games do go fantastically well for all of us, then it's a fantastic high and a great thing to be involved in." (Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Ken Ferris)