Video review — should it be considered in handball?

Like other similar sports, handball has rules with provisions that state that “decisions made by the referees on the basis of their observations of facts or their judgments are final”. By contrast, “appeals can be lodged only against decisions that are not in compliance with the rules”. The latter category applies to situations that, fortunately, do not occur in the great majority of matches.

Also sports (such as NBA, NHL and NFL) that for a long time have been used to a high-tech environment that goes beyond what is the case at most top level handball matches, have come to realize that the human factor must remain fundamental to the decision-making in the matches and that excessive recourse to high technology is not advantageous to the proper running of the game. In other words, these sports use “instant replay” or “video review” very [u]cautiously[/u] and only in situations (and for purposes) that are carefully specified and highly [u]regulated[/u].

Football/soccer, through its International Football Association Board (IFAB), just a few days ago took an amazing decision to remain completely conservative. IFAB decided that further experiments with goal-line cameras or balls with computer chips will not be pursued. This was not due to problems with the technology; it was simply a decision taken ‘on grounds of principle’. It was noted that the introduction of such methods would “open the door for video review, something that we absolutely do not want”.

As some IFAB members put it: “the human aspect of football is essential” and “the big moments [ed.: meaning mistakes or controversies] get the supporters talking and this is what makes the game so vibrant…” In other words, it is implied that mistakes and controversy are good for the popularity of football!!! But at the same time, IFAB left the door open for ‘other (=human) ways of helping the referees make the right decision’. This would involve an expansion of the role of the ‘4th official’ and the possible introduction of two more officials, along the lines of what is now being tested by UEFA.

One might hope that the strange preference for the ‘excitement of serious and import mistakes’ is not shared by handball. Presumably, also in handball we all want a match to run smoothly, without excessive interruptions. But handball is different from football, as there are more stoppages and as we use time-outs, even though it does not go as far as in basketball. Moreover, video review could only exist in handball at those levels where there is adequate availability of cameras and other equipment. Nevertheless, for that elite level, [u]it behooves us at least to consider whether video review is desirable on grounds of principle and, if so, feasible in a practical sense[/u]. To make such determinations, one needs to have an idea of what methods and what procedures would be involved. The text below is intended to provide some ‘food for thought,’ and not as a way of prejudging the whole matter.

[u]Possible situations[/u]

1. As valid protests can be lodged against decisions that “are not in compliance with the rules”, it follows that it would be important to use available replays to avoid suspected non-compliance immediately when it occurs (so that if possible it could be corrected before the game is continued) or at least to determine the reality after the fact. In the latter case, it could be done in response to a protest lodged.

(For illustrative purposes, some examples of decisions “not in compliance with the rules” are: (i) giving possession of the ball to the wrong team, after the game has been interrupted due to a faulty substitution; (ii) not giving time-out in a situation where it is obligatory; (iii) allowing a suspended player to remain on the court. By contrast, subjective referee judgments regarding offensive fouls or 7-meters, or observations of facts such as ‘stepping on the line or not’, ‘goal or no goal’ or faulty substitutions etc, basically must not be subject to review).

2. While ‘goal or no goal’ was just mentioned as an example of decisions that, on grounds of principle, must not be subject to review, there is one specific situation that fully warrants an exception. This is the situation where the real issue is not whether the ball entered the goal or not, but as to whether it did so before the end of a half, or before a whistle signal (for some other reason) from the time/scorekeeping table. In such a case it is conceivable that the referees may not have a clear opinion, and it would be legitimate to resort to video review.

3. A similar exception would also be prudent, for the sake of the image of our sport, in cases where serious violations occur “behind the back” of the referees, and would go unpunished unless the relevant managers of the competition could act on the basis of video evidence. It would only involve very serious forms of fouls or misconduct, i.e., those types that according to the playing rules require reporting for further action.


It is important to note that it is not enough, from the standpoint of adequate legal safeguards and practical reliability of the video review approach, to determine exactly [u]when[/u] such review may be used. It is equally important to ensure that solid [u]procedures[/u] exist for [u]how[/u] it should be used.

This obviously involves reliable access to a video monitor, staffed by a neutral and competent person under the control of the match supervisor, and equipped to handle the retrieval and playback with the sophistication needed, for instance slow-motion and comparison of image and sound. Quickness is also a major consideration in making a review viable, particularly one that involves situations where the game cannot be restarted until a result is available.

Moreover, it has to be absolutely clear who is responsible for the decisions to use the video replay and who has the final word on the evaluation of the replay. The rule book is clear about the normal authority of the referees, but it seems that in connection with a video review all authority essentially must pass to the senior official who is supervising the match. This person would also have to decide whether the video really is conclusive.

While bureaucracy must be kept to a minimum, these issues about [u]how[/u] video review is to be used must be regulated in detail. However, there is little point in getting further into the details for such procedures until, hypothetically, it is agreed that the implementation of video review is being seriously considered.

With my review of the issue, I am just hoping to provide a basis for a further debate about the desirability and the feasibility of video review at the higher levels in handball, and perhaps it could give the IHF and other interested parties an impetus for moving ahead with a serious discussion.