Thousand-match man Sacco takes final bow in Gstaad
The 54-year-old from Naples qualified as an international referee in 2000 having worked on the Italian National Tour from 1994. He was handed his first assignment in Gstaad in 2001 and is now enjoying his third visit to the Swiss Alps having taken control of over 1000 World Tour matches.
“It was very emotional for me because it was the first time that I had refereed overseas and I really wanted to do well,” he said. “I learned how to control matches in different ways. I thought I knew how to control a match, but I saw a totally different way of being a referee then.
Back in 2001 the Gstaad tournament was an Open and didn’t become a Grand Slam until 2006, however it was still a highly popular venue with a raucous crowd.
It is a characteristic of the tournament that has continued over the 14 years since and something that Sacco values highly.
“The atmosphere and weather and the crowd,” he said when asked what he remembered most about his first visit. “I was struck by how well organised and efficient the Swiss were. Over the years whenever I have come back to Gstaad nothing has changed. It is the pursuit of perfection that meant everything worked fantastically.
“The stands were full from the start with a passionate crowd and they were very knowledgeable about the players, especially the Laciga brothers (Martin and Paul) who were very successful at the time and who I refereed.
“Gstaad is the sort of tournament that stays in your heart because it is such a beautiful place and the people are so friendly.”
For Sacco refereeing on the World Tour has allowed him to travel around Europe and meet fellow referees from around the world with whom he is able to share ideas.
He will continue to referee on the Italian Tour and is hoping to become a referee mentor for young officials in Italy, who he hopes to help follow in his footsteps onto the World Tour.
“I’ve pretty much gone all over Europe and all the tournaments in Europe are fantastically well organised,” he said.
“I have loved it. It has given me the chance to meet people from around the world and go to places in Europe that I would never have gone to.”
His high point as a referee was taking control of matches at the 2011 FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championships, which were held in Italy’s capital Rome.
It proved to be a magnificent tournament with fans packing the 10,500 capacity of the centre court at the Foro Italico Tennis Centre. The Eternal City proved an equally popular venue when it hosted Grand Slams in 2012 and 2013, but is off the World Tour calendar in 2014 after the Italian Federation organised the CEV European Championships.
“For an Italian the World Championships in Rome and seeing the stadium full was something exceptional,” he said.
“It is shame it hasn’t yet become a tournament as famous as Gstaad or Klagenfurt because Rome should be a regular tournament in the World Tour calendar. If we could continue with it, it would get better and better over the years.”