Wireless Communication for the Referees — Speed up the Introduction!

If you have watched top-level football matches, FIFA or UEFA events and the top leagues of Europe, you have become used to seeing the referees and their assistants communicating via wireless equipment.

This type of equipment was demonstrated to the IHF Referee Commission not so long ago, and I am happy that I had the opportunity to push for it to become introduced also in handball. There was initially some skepticism: “Do we really need such a method for just 2 persons and on such a small court? Surely they can continue to handle it with sign language and by getting close to each other occasionally?!”

But it was tested, both at elite events and for training purposes in courses for IHF referee candidates, and it really became clear very quickly that here we had a new important resource for the referees. So approval was obtained to acquire enough equipment to use the system during the men’s World Championship in Croatia earlier this year. And again it was a great success, even though there had been some worries about the fact that the idea was completely new to most of the referees. They were really enthusiastic!

Every method that can be used to improve the teamwork between the referees is obviously positive. For the most part, each individual decision is of course taken by ONE referee, the one who has the main responsibility for a situation on the court. But there are still many reasons to collaborate and communicate. Generally speaking it is a psychological advantage to know that it is possible to communicate instantly and in an ‘invisible’ way whenever it seems helpful. And it strengthens the sense of teamwork, something that can be positive in situations where it is important to remain strong and resist the pressure from teams and spectators.

But there are also many specific situations where it is good to be able to compare impressions and to warn or support each other: observations of struggles between players on the 6-meter line can often benefit from two different perspectives; quick agreement on what happened first – offensive foul or defense in the goal area – is another situation; comparing the impression that a defense may have escalated the methods too far and deserves a punishment is yet another situation, and a clear agreement prior to a drastic decision such as a ‘red card’ is also advisable. The examples are numerous!

[b]So, all in all, there are many good reasons why the wireless communication should really penetrate the top levels of handball very quickly.[/b] It should be standard in all IHF and EHF events, and most top leagues would benefit from it. Indeed, it is not going to be so effective if the IHF and EHF referees use it only in their international games and then go back to old-fashioned methods at home. The IHF and EHF need to resort to some form of cost-sharing to make this work, as the IHF referees would mostly use the method outside IHF events, such as in the Champions League. And the IHF would need to ensure that non-European IHF referees get to use it in their respective home continents. Then the national leagues will need to follow. I believe France has already started.
But there are two sides to the feasibility of a speedy introduction of this system: it does not just depend on the willingness of the IHF to spend considerably more money and its continental and national federations to follow the example! It is also a question of reasonable pricing. I do not have inside information about the margins the main producer, ADEUNIS, is operating under. But it is clear that prices that present no problems to FIFA, UEFA, and top football leagues, may well be quite unrealistic if one wants rapid penetration in handball. Increased volume should in itself make it possible to keep prices down, but a strategic and PR-related decision may also be needed to achieve a reasonable level. Nevertheless, the first thing is that the eyes of the decision-makers in the IHF, EHF, other continental and national federations must be opened to the great advantages of using this new technology.

Finally, a parenthesis apropos some comments that were heard in connection with the World Championship in Croatia: while a supervisor on the side-line may be connected with the referees, it must be remembered that the handball rules do NOT allow the intervention of a ‘super referee’ from the outside, regarding the [u]observation[/u] of facts. Only the referees can decide if ‘the foot was on the line’, ‘who touched the ball last’ etc. And this is something that one definitely would not want to change, as it would easily lead to chaos. The role of the supervisor is limited to ensuring that the referees do not inadvertently commit any [u]rules[/u] mistake of the nature that it could lead to a formal protest.