Unexpected turnaround by FIFA — surely now handball must follow!?

Sometimes it is a bit frustrating to find the enthusiasm for writing about something, even if I feel strongly about it, simply because I am so sure that those who must to be convinced about the need for a change will not listen. Only two days ago, after the devastating mistakes by referees and linesmen in high-profile matches in the football World Cup, I insisted on the need for a renewed investigation of the feasibility of introducing some form of a video review system, that would enable referees to get some help in making a decision or in reviewing a preliminary decision that they had taken. If you read my article, you noticed that my focus was on getting [u]handbal[/u]l and IHF to learn from the mistakes of football and FIFA, by moving on with the investigation that has been discussed for some time (also during my years as IHF Chief Referee) and that I wrote about more in detail some months ago.

Of course, a major reason why I wrote about video review in the context of handball is that handball is the main focus of our web site, But the other reason was that it never really occurred to me that FIFA, being stubborn and arrogant and full of prestige, would suddenly change its attitude, after having publicly and firmly 'slammed the door' on any kind of use of technology. Instead, the suggestion a few months ago, when that statement of principles and policies was announced, was that the only new approach to be considered would be the experimenting with additional goal-line referees. The human factor must prevail, was the slogan repeatedly used.

So a lot of people around the world of football must have thought there was some kind of mistake, when earlier today a bulletin was issued by the FIFA president, where he essentially admitted that the FIFA's old insistence on accepting human errors as an unavoidable, or even positive(!), part of the game could no longer be defended in light of what happened in the Germany-England and Argentina-Mexico games. He even issued apologies to the disadvantaged teams. http://www.aipsmedia.com/index.php?page=news&cod=4805&tp=n

It would be nice to be able to take credit for this sudden and unexpected development; but I was obviously not alone in the last couple of days in pointing out the absurdity and demanding action. FIFA's top management may not have much appreciation for the finer points of refereeing or concern for protecting their top referees, but they do have a very strong sense for the protection of their own political and financial well-being. Getting on the wrong side of some of the top countries of the football world, and letting the entire global audience see the effect of their poor decision-making, that could become just a bit too costly also for the self-suffiicient FIFA. At the same time, FIFA also decided to show off their newly found decisiveness by also publicly making scapegoats out of a group of their World Cup referees. As only eight games remain, they clearly do not need to keep all the 29 referees around, so they sent home ten of them.

This included those five who had only served as reserves and '4th referee'. Then the search for politically suitable scapegoats was on. Of course the two referees from the fatal Sunday matches had to be sacrificed conspicuously. The others included the referee from Mali who seemingly 'stole a goal' from the U.S team. Also sent packing was the French referee who had the nerve to give a red card to an unsportsmanlike 'star' on the Brazilian team. You just do not do that. And then the Swiss referee, who was one of the favorites for the final or at least a semifinal, because it was seen as his 'fault' that the home team was eliminated early. This involved a correct interpretation of a rule that FIFA knows is untenable but decided to leave in place until after the World Cup! By contrast, several referees with performances that were clearly weaker from a technical standpoint are now allowed to stay on, because their weaknesses were not so conspicuous from a PR or political standpoint…

So when I now, one hopes, close the chapter on football/handball refereeing and video review for this time, then of course I do it with my main point: now that even FIFA has 'seen the light', surely handball and the IHF must be prepared to move ahead without delay. I am not asking for the sudden and poorly founded implementation of technological aspects, such as video review and goal-line technology, but I am urging that a serious investigation get started immediately! This should be so much easier now that it is clear that, after all, FIFA is indeed taking the lead. But please do not follow FIFA's example of making some top referees into scapegoats in the meantime, just because you are not doing everything possible to support them!