Referee Martin Atkinson begins 1,700-mike bike ride to Russia

Martin Atkinson will ensure there is at least one British referee at the World Cup – although he is having to cycle 1,700 miles to be there.

The Premier League referee is part of the Whistle Stop Tour group who are riding from England’s training base at St George’s Park in Staffordshire to Kaliningrad – the venue for England’s final group game against Belgium on 28 June – in aid of four charities.

Fellow referee Jon Moss will also take part in the 18-day trip to Russia, which will pass through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Poland.

At the time of departure, the group had already raised almost £52,000 of their £60,000 target to be split between St David’s Hospice Care, the Yorkshire Young Achievers Foundation, the Jane Tomlinson Appeal and the University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire Charity.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge, but it’s one I think we’re all relishing,” said Atkinson. “In 2016 we cycled to all 20 Premier League grounds, which totalled around 1,000 miles, so we’re really upping the ante for this one.

“We’ve been saying it’ll be 18 days of hurt, but it’s all for some brilliant charities, so we’re ready to go through that pain barrier!”

There will be no British referee at the tournament for the first time since 1938, although New Zealand citizen Simon Lount, who lived in Leicester until he was 23, has been selected.

Mark Clattenburg was the only Briton on Fifa’s long list of officials in 2016, but he forfeited his place after leaving his job with the Premier League for a new role in Saudi Arabia.

Clattenburg refereed the finals of the 2012 Olympics, the 2015-16 Champions League and Euro 2016, while retired compatriot Howard Webb took charge of the 2010 World Cup final.

“When you look at the last eight years, what we have achieved as a group of match officials is untouchable,” added Atkinson, who refereed the 2015 Europa League final. “We have all contributed.

“Unfortunately, circumstances change and we haven’t got anyone there now. That’s not due to the ability of the referees at all.”

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