Handball’s (Last) ‘Minute’ Problem — A Final Clarification

I had really intended to refrain from a final comeback on this matter, partly because John’s is our Editor and should be entitled to ‘the last word’. (Who knows, he might now decide to fire me…) I was also hesitant, because John’s long statement yesterday was really nothing more than a rehashing of his weak arguments from earlier; ‘the signs of a desperate man’, as they say… (Now I really begin to suspect he will fire me…!)

However, my reason for coming forward today is that we need to think about the image of our prestigious web site; it is just not possible to let John’s main factual error stand without correction. The point is that he simply does not have his facts right when he says that the current rules do not have any effect. Let me share the real facts with you.

About 5-6 years ago, it was becoming evident that there was a trend towards too many cases of ‘sabotage’ in the final moments of a close game. As the rules were at the time, a ‘bear hug’ that prevented the execution of a throw-off or a free-throw typically would not lead to more than a meaningless 2-minute suspension, and there was certainly no basis for a post-game punishment. In the Men’s World Championship in early 2005, there were two incidents of this type. It was of course regrettable and frustrating that they happened, but at least they provided me with the evidence that I needed to convince my then colleagues in the IHF Council that a change in the 2005 rule book was urgently needed.

Under this rule, a special provision is in effect during the last minute of the game, so that the ‘sabotage’ of the type mentioned is to be punished with a ‘red card’ [u]plus a report intended to lead to a further suspension. [/u] (The IHF does not get involved in determining any rules or guidelines for the length of post-game suspensions; this is seen as the prerogative of the responsible federation in each case, on the basis of traditions, culture, and the circumstances involved).

Not long after the introduction of this rule in August 2005, feedback starting coming in, to the effect that federations were grateful for this effective tool and that a trend towards a reduction of the cases of ‘sabotage’ had already been noticed. Players were not quite as cynical anymore, when they realized that they would be kept out from subsequent games. Of course, the tougher the practices of a federation were, the stronger a deterrent they achieved. Not everyone finds it adequate to hand out a routine [u]one[/u]-game suspension as tends to be the case for instance in the EHF.

And the appreciations for the new rules continued to be expressed during the years I remained in the IHF, and I was even shown statistics over how the number of cases had continued to decline sharply. Of course, even one case is one too many, and those that do happen will always get some headlines. But no rule will ever eliminate a problem completely. In my opinion, and that of many other handball people, the rule has helped us move from a ‘last minute’ problem to a ‘minute’ problem (in a different sense of the word…). With that explanation, I hope the record has been set straight, so that we can end this debate for the time being!