Playing time – 2×30, 3×20, 4×15 or why not 12×5 !?

Before you start wondering: no, this is not intended as a serious analysis of a possible change in the playing time for handball. I will leave it to others to investigate whether there would be any merit in the idea of changing the playing time to, for instance, 3×20 or 4×15, following the pattern of some other sports. Indeed, when one thinks about the importance of marketing handball as an attractive ‘product’ for spectators and media, it is necessary to have an open mind and not just stick to traditions. Of course, this could also open up for opportunities to consider new points systems or other changes that could add to the basic excitement of a handball match.

But I do not believe any such study would come to the conclusion that 12 periods of 5 minutes would be a good idea as a standard, not even at the lower levels where the fitness of players and referees might leave something to be desired. Instead I will just tell you a story about a situation where I, as a referee, had to experience the 12×5 approach in an official competition, and it did [u]not[/u] happen out of concern for my fitness…

I cannot remember exactly when it happened, but it was approximately 25 years ago. The event was a South American Junior Men’s Championship. The location was the town of Maldonado in Uruguay, very close to the famous seaside resort Punta del Este.
There was no suitable indoor arena available, but it was summer, so playing outdoors was not a problem. In fact, they had come up with a very nice solution, playing on the court of a tennis stadium. Because of the heat, the starting time of the games was 10 in the evening and midnight. This meant, of course, playing under the ‘floodlights’ of the tennis stadium, as there is no midnight sun in Maldonado. It was really quite an attractive setting for a handball tournament.

But there was one thing that the organizers had not counted on. The matches did not attract many spectators but, thanks to the floodlights, they attracted an absolute invasion of big, crunchy bugs and roaches — onto the court! This was not clear during the warm-up, as the lights were not on at full strength yet, but soon after the match started, it became all too obvious. I recently offered a story about trying to play a World Championship match on ice (indoors) in Tunisia; this was not very different. The players started to skid on a layer of bugs and roaches who really enjoyed being in the ‘limelight’. But for the players it got a bit scary. So it became obvious that, to keep it safe, we had to stop the game with frequent intervals, and all the brooms and shovels that could be found were put to use to clean off the court. Because those bugs and roaches just kept coming.

I must confess that perhaps we did not stick to precise 5-minute periods; it seemed to make more sense to take the cleaning breaks when the game was already stopped for some other reason. So it may not have been [u]exactly[/u] 12×5, but it certainly was a unique experience!