How About a Little Cheese with your Whine?

The complaints in regards to World Championship refereeing has reached a crescendo, at least in France. Here is a sampling of quotes from an article in Lance Armstrong’s favorite newspaper, L’Equipe.

Francois Garcia, Former French International Referee and Chairman of French Federation Referee Commission: “The more we need to improve, the less we improve. Currently, there are only 3 International pairs who are capable of handling matches at the highest level (the German, Spanish and French refs) The roof could fall on their head and it wouldn’t bother them. There are other refs that aren’t bad, but they aren’t ready for the big games. The Swedish refs, Thursday, decided to let the teams play. They weren’t very good a calling “passive play,” but I wasn’t really upset until the end of the match. Guigou’s goal should have been awarded. No more, no less.”

Philippe Bana, French Federation Technical Director: “There is a crisis in the management of referees. The commission is pressured and influenced.”

Nonattributed (presumably the opinion of reporter, Philippe Pailhories): “The commission is led by an… American, Christer Ahl, who is neither charismatic or truly qualified.” (note the “…” is in the actual text, as if to emphasize the preposterousness that an “American” would lead such an important commission.

Now, I’ve seen all of the French matches, and I think it’s safe to say, that the officiating in the match against Germany wasn’t the best. At times I was wondering when, if ever, a German defender would get called for a two minute penalty. That being said, you’ve got to expect that a the home team is going to get the benefit of the doubt on most calls. Where the French really came up short was in their inability to push a 2 goal lead up to 3 or 4 as they could and should have done on several occasions. In failing to do so, they failed to take the crowd out of the game and let the outcome of the game turn on some referee decisions.

To simply blame the officiating or the selection of the officials is simply bogus. One would think that Norway and Sweden, with strong handball traditions could also come up with at least 1 pair of refs able to handle the pressure as well as the super-refs from Germany, Spain and France. And having known Christer Ahl for many years, I will say that he may not be overly charismatic, but I would hardly look for that quality in selecting a Chairman for the Playing Rules and Referees Commission. From my own personal experience I would certainly say that one would be hard pressed to question his integrity and sense of fair-play- two qualities that I would look for in this committee. And as American he certainly can’t be accused of a bias in referee selection. Just imagine the quotes if a German was the Head of the Commission.

The bottom line is that some evenly matched teams have played some unbelievably close games. 2 semifinal games both decided in double overtime. Logic only dictates that such games are going to hinge on a number of key plays and close calls. I daresay that even a perfectly called game would probably have gotten a lot of scrutiny.

12 thoughts on “How About a Little Cheese with your Whine?

  1. As a German, obviously, I'm bised. But I've played the game long enough to know when and where I'm biased. I remember clearly a couple of calls by the refs during the game, where I shouted out loud: "this time you can't blame the refs!".
    Reducing an 80min game to the very last call is just evidence of the passion and emotion that's in a game like that. A calm evaluation of the game will show that both teams had plenty of opportunities to decide the game on their own and that the referees only played the minor role refs are supposed to play.

    Be that as it may, France would've lost a penalty shoot-out anyway!!! :-D

  2. I am sorry to say it, but both the above comments are way out of hand.
    I am Italian, I am a neutral observer and played and coached handball for something like 29 years (so I think I know what I am talking about) and I think to the referreing in the Germany-France match (and in many ways also in the Germany-Spain match) was simply disgraceful.
    I will not go into details of the episodes (even if the not allowance of the final Guigou goal was a scandal in itself), but the way the referees handled the "passive play" situations really derermined the outcome of the match. Take a look at the tape of the match and you will see that while France had to rush all their offensive plays since the referees were very fast to call the passive play, Germany had all the time in the world to organize theirs (sometimes I thought I was back in the eighties with attcks lasting more that one minute. The above really allowed Germany to play the way they liked best and created big problems for France. Sure France was note able to profit for some situations in the game, but a match with a fair and square refereeing would have been a very, very different one(IMHO).
    May be this WC will be good for the economics of the IHF, but its outcome has not been pretty from a sporting point of view.
    Sorry, John but this time you got it all wrong. I have seen tons of international handball matches in the last few years, I've been to Olympic Games, World and European Championships, but a one sided refereeing like in Germany-France was something I never witnessed (always IMHO).

  3. Carlo- There’s no question in my mind that France would beat Germany 9 times out of 10 on a neutral floor. As I mentioned I don’t think the refs did the best job in the world, but it’s debatable as to whether it was worst performance ever. My heartburn is with the French complaining way too much when they had the talent (IMHO) to win despite the refs and home court. I mean finding a way to blame an American involved in assigning the referees is really reaching here. And yes I was biased- I was actually rooting for France against Germany. After all the complaining, I found it very easy to cheer on Denmark in the Bronze Medal game. In L’Equipe today there were no complaints about the Slovenian refs and, of course, the Finale was reffed flawlessly by the French.

  4. John, thank you for answering me. I can understand that sometimes people (the French in this case) can complain too much and perhaps with the wrong words and therefore be annoying, but I still maintain my opinion that the refereeing that I saw on Saturday was the worst and more one-sided that I've personally witnessed (live or on tv) at an high international level in the past twenty years (I've seen much, much worse at the Italian level, but that's another story). Saying the obvious (that France was a better team) cannot hide the fact that in a WC semifinal (the highest level of handball) we have seen something disgraceful for the sport and was basically ruined. And by the way, it is not very easy to play well and calm, even if you are a better team, when you see referees clearly on the other side (take it from someone who knows it first hand).
    Yes, refs were quite good in the final, but in IMHO opinion Germany's victory, though good for the publicity of handball in Germany, got a big asterisk after what happen in the quarters and in the semi.

  5. I've been watching and playing handball for 25 years in five different countries and even if I played myself knew when a referee was refereeing for me.
    So being biased does not preclude one from noticing, that one is on the receiving end, so to say.

    The reason to call "passive play" is when there is no clear drive towards the goal. The compact collective defense of Germany always did a good job at preventing a historically very indvidual French offense (in the last ten years I can't remember a French team with a good collective offense) – hence the individual players saw no opening, had to pass the ball parallel hence the passive calls. Perfectly in order.
    On the other side, the German team had no big shooters and had to rely on team-play which creates openings that the fantastic French defense closed time and time again – hence, correctly, less calls for passive play.
    It's not the time in offense which decides passive play, it's the drive towards the goal. And if you watch the tape closely, you'll see the difference in the way the German team was trying to create openings compared to the French team. Very different style, hence very different calls. You could often see the Franch players nervously looking for somewhere to pass while the German team was constantly moving and passing to a better positioned player. And a player slowing down to look for a pass will always draw more passive play than a player in full steam, even if both keep the ball for the same time.

    And to even mention the final goal raises suspicions: What else should the referee have done? The player was stumblng, almost falling, maybe even borderline to 4 steps.
    1) Should the referee call steps?
    2) Should the referee wait and see if he gets his control back? It's only a few seconds before the end of the game and he foul was at beyond the 9m. If he waits, chances are the ball would not have gotten in, as the whistle usually relaxes the goalie (I'm a goalie, I know). The call was clearly before the shot went into the goal. So you have the ref calling a 10m free-throw from the sideline with 4 seconds to go. And then you'd blame the referee for wasting precious minutes and costing France the game.
    3) He takes the third option and calls the foul fast to give the French time enough for a few passes to get a decent shot.
    Now from which of the three possibilities did the French profit most?
    It would've been a completely different thing had the call come after the goal! But the call was clearly before the goal (unless someone else was whisteling into the microphone of the German TV).

    So, while I agree that the referees made mistakes (so did the players), I utterly disagree that these mistakes prevented the French team from winning. The only thing that kept the French team from winning was the French team. The lost against Germany before and nobody complained about the referees then. If they're so much stronger than the German team, they had two chances to show it. I didn't see it.

    I agree that France on many positions usually has the better players. But that doesn't necessarily make them a better team. Case in point: why could Omeyer easily outclass team-mate Fritz in league play, but performed clearly worse than him in both games? Was that the referee, too? I've seen Omeyer block more shots on one single league game than in both of the games I've seen him play at these WC's! I'm a fan of his and he played way below his standards. Is that the referee's fault, too? And I think we all three easily agree on how many games, especially at this level, are won and lost with goalie performance. If you're alone with the goalie and miss, you can't blame the referee!

    A team is more than the players on paper (ask the Real Madrid soccer team). If that were all that's to it, we wouldn't have to play!

    Psychology is a great part of the game. And if you face 20,000 people shouting and rooting for the home team, even the most seasoned professionals are not unaffected. That's why you have the championships each year in a different place.

    To reduce an insufficient performance of the losing team to referee calling misses the complexity of the game, does a disservice to the sport and reeks of a lack of comprehension for the many physiological and psychological factors involved in team sports.

  6. It's obvious there is a home-team advantage also with the referees. It's always like that and its unavoidable as long as we have human referees. But to bitch, whine and moan about it to the extent it has gone this time is just absurd.
    It would be more justified to question Italy's soccer title (need I say Australia? Need I say Mafia scandal?) than to even talk about the referees now!!

    So quit the whining and play better next time!
    Like the Germans had to do after the last world championships here.

  7. My dear Bjoern, you are obviously an handball insider, but let me say that I do not agree with you in lot of things.
    Before everything else please be aware that:
    1) I am Italian, not French, and I was not rooting for France at all. I was just trying to enjoy the match;
    2) during the football World Cup I didn't care a lot about the Italian team and yes the penalty kick against Australia was a clear scandal, just like the penalty for Kehrmann in the quarters against Spain; 3) I think that any reference to the Mafia (how original, you talk with an Italian and you mention Mafia, what an high level of debate !) is really out of place talking about a sport. Mafia is a really serious problem in the south of Italy and you should not make a joke of it.

    Back to the game. You obviously stated the case for your team with a lot of detailed explanations, but they do not convince me at all.
    In the final "goal" case, it is true that the referees whistled right before the shot but the feeling that we neutral spectators got was immediately "here it is an intervention by the referees to avoid any risk". I can certainly could be wrong, but that was my impression. But it is not this single episode that bothered me.
    It was the "handling" of the whole match by the referees that really bothered me. You made long and specific explanations about the passive play rule and about the "differences in the style of play between France and Germany and concluded that everyting was fair. I disagree with you on both counts.
    First of all, your explanation of the passive play rule could have been accurate in the pre-2004 handball, before the guidelines of the IHF strictened a lot the way this rule should be administed by referees. Now in order to make the game faster and more attractive, the warning of a possible passive play is made by the referees quite soon, even to teams that show the will to attack (and that in fact are not really passive) but take too much time to prepare and conclude the attack and/or fail to penetrate the defense by being blocked by defenders' fouls. In sum if you do not conclude your attack in a short span of time, you are warned and called for passive play (it is not mentioned in the rules, but clearly the referees at international level always warn for a passive play about 30 seconds after the start of the offensive play).
    Please take a look of all international matches played in the last two and a half years and you will easily see: 1) warnings for passive plays are called now much more often and in shorter span of time that before 2004 and 2) that zero passive play warnings (or may be one, I do not really know, unfortunately I was seeing the match on tv) for a team (Germany) in an entire match is really something unheard and unseen of recently.
    And Germany (back to the style of play) is basically a team with a slow building offensive style (slower than France, for example) that normally tries with crossings to prepare an outside shoot ot a pivot pass. What happened on Thursday was simply that Germany could try to build their offences for as many time they wanted, when the same was not true for France (second try ? Warning for passive play, shoot please).
    I repeat, I am not French (for example I can say that Germany won fair and square with France in the main round and with Poland in the final), I just love handball and I did not like what I saw in the semifinal.
    You cannot agree with me, but please be aware that all the players in my team that saw the match (and we are a masters team, at least 30 years of handball each, I am one of youngest) talked about referees that were in favor of Germany. So May be I am not crazy after all.
    You are German, you are happy about the win but please don't came here trying to teach and insult. The Italian National teams stink in handball but this does not mean that we understand only football and that we are members of the Mafia. Some of us like and understand handball too.

  8. Carlo,
    I´m very sorry to read that the refs contributed to our win in the WC. I´m German and I watched the game here in the US. Actually I spend a lot of time replaying parts of the games that were in question. I found a lot of calls I didn't agree with – on both sides …
    What I also found were teams that were tired and depending on very few players.
    Spain tried for 15 minutes in the second half to score from the pivot position. Other players were just not able to shoot because they ran out of battery.
    France – or should I say Team Karabatic? – should have given their shooters some rest. Why was a player like Guillaume Gille parked on the bench while the starters were lacking creativity? That was simply bad, bad coaching!
    Not sure about the latest rules on passive play. But I do like the moves in the german game. Spain looked like an old boys team and France was tired. Compare it to the first game!!! Does the team with the most depth in the roster not deserve to win?
    Two final comments on the refs:
    The french goal was 4 steps. Was it a foul? Yes, and that´s what was called on the play.
    Remember just minutes before a french player tripped and fell into Roggisch? No foul, he tripped … but a call for France.
    On the economic impact: I remember when the 2005 WC was given to Tunisia and the german pivot Christian Schwarzer commented: "OK, this might be my last WC – and we'll play again in front of school kids and soldiers"
    Man – this guy deserved to win a title after that – at home!

  9. As a referee in 5 differant sports, referees do not make calls deliberately for a home team, as they do not make "make up calls" for ones that are missed. It is often said they do, but I know I never have, and no one I know does it. I have missed many calls, but not deliberately. [yes, there are execptions, note German football refing scandal, but no one has suggested it was done for money.] There are times, often too frequently, that calls are missed or made as the ref sees them, not as they really occurred. This is especially true in basketball and handball as the action is fast and many players are moving in an confined area. If the ref had the ability to see the game from the many differant angles the TV does, and could slow it down in "super slow motion", these mistakes would not occur. But the game would be very slow and booring, and no one would watch. So, as a eternal part of sports, losers cry about the call they did not get and how it kept them from winning.
    A comment on another point made by John. I know Crister and it is funny the French would make a point about him being American, and therefore suspect. Of course, they ignore mentioning the country of his origin, where he learned his handball, since it is not suspect handball-wise. Also they must not know him at all, because if he is anything, it is fair and neutral.

  10. Thanks to the last two posters for their kind replies.
    I do not agree with some of their opinions but I appreciated that they took the time to kindly reply to me.
    A few final notes to clarify. Germany is good team with some great "oldies" (in the best meaning of words) like Schwarzer and so great new timers like Kraus. They played quite well in the WC but I still maintain my opinion they got some help from the referees as an home team. You can disagree but this is my humble opinion (Houstonjupp, please also check on the tapes the way a player like Roggish played in defense all the way during the WC, it is my humble opinion that on neutral floor he would have gotten 3 two-minutes suspensions very fast).
    France and Spain did not play their best (expecially Spain) but I am not discussing their performance here.
    And Mark, thanks for your point of view but I am too old and played and coached too many matches to agree with you. At least in handball, referees unfortunately "make up calls" all the time, especially for home teams. It happens more rarely at the international level (better referees and more tv coverage) but at lower levels it is common practice. I am absolutely not saying that they are corrupted, just that in a game like handball where there are many calls to be made and many quick evaluations to do, some refs just "go with the flow" of the home team or call for the "most important" team.
    PS I will go and check again the final French goal. As far as I remember it was not four steps, but I will check. Anyway, the refs, in order to avoid any risk, stopped the play just before Guigou made the last step to shoot. So they never really called steps, they just stopped the play with no foul made by any german, always IMHO.

  11. Im from Spain, and I want to spend my first line in this message to make clear that Spain has made the worst wc since 95, and that Spain didnt deserve to go any further in this competition, and we have completed the worst performance in a defending champion team in the history of handball world championships.
    After having said this, Germany-Spain game was an scandal, I have seen the game taped 3 times and the more I see it, the more outrageous I think it was. And the last 10 minutes, with 23-23 on scoreboard, I had never seen anything not even similar.
    -2min penalty and 7m should have been called against Pascal Hens (he invades the goal area and pushes Víctor Tomás when jumping). Refs called nothing at all.
    -2 consecutive non-existent offensive faults call against Spain which they werent at all, actually in the first one they should have called 7m because the german defender was within the goal area.
    -Non-existent 7m infraction as everybody could see in the replay against Spain.
    -And 15 seconds to go, Germany winning by 1, Spain let very clearly Jansen to shoot and he refused to do it and passed the ball back to the left back, which was an automatic passive game call.
    I didnt mention that reiterative faults can derivate into 2mins penalties, which they obviously didnt apply in Roggisch and Preiss.

    The main problem, in my opinion, is that IHF or referees or whoever dont have a criteria. In just a couple of years refereeing has chenged a lot, this wasnt the same refereeing we saw at the olympics or in the last world championship. Or maybe they did have a criteria this time, the one of benefiting Germany considering all the money they had invested in this championship.

    About Guigous goal, he made 3 steps, it was fair, although I must admit that i thought he had made 4 until I saw the reply. Both 2min penalties called on Bertrand Gille were absolutely nothing, and they called 2min penalty and 7m. And they unvalided a goal by Jerome Fernández due to offensive fault, which wasnt offensive fault at all. Germany, Spain, France, they are very similar teams, the difference between them is 1 goal, 2 goals, and this calls definetely help and balance it one side or another, and "surprisingly" they all balanced the same side in this championship.

    Despite all this, I want to thank the organization of this championship, fans, sponsors, even TV coverage and media, because this has been the most spectacular world championship in the history.

  12. I am sure everyone will keep their own opinion, which is OK because that is what discussion is about, not necessarily changing someone's opinion, but bringing out all sides of an discussion.
    Carlo, I respect what you have stated, but I still lean on my experiance [I am 54]. As a player I often believed the refs were cheating me, but as a ref I know that that is not the case. How you veiwed the game may be the way it really was, but I am sure the way the refs saw the game while it was being played is reflected in how they called it. Watching a replay with differant angles and slow motion, they may agree with you now. Part of the game is responding to how the refs are calling it, whether you feel they are right or wrong at the time.
    By the way, it is great to see people with so much passion for the game of handball writing and discusssing this WC.

Comments are closed.