Rules changes over the years: did you realize…? do you remember…?

Most participants in our sport tend to have their personal opinions of the rules of the game. But generally one just has to accept what has been decided and adapt accordingly. So it is easy to forget how things used to be and, conversely, one might not remember that some specific aspects have not always been the way they are today. Without any attempt to be scientific or systematic, here is, for your possible amusement, a collection of changes from the last 30-40 years:

Considering that it has almost become a sport in itself to come up with new colors and designs for the ball, often matching the colors of the country organizing an event, it is hard to believe that until 1985 there was an absolute requirement that the ball must be of one solid color.

Most of you will still remember the old ‘referee-throw’, used after an interruption without a foul or any other violation. But while we during 1981-2001 used a ‘jump ball’, like in basketball, only the old-timers will remember that before 1981 the method was to bounce the ball hard against the floor with all players waiting 3 meters away.

Some rules have an origin in the outdoor 11-a-side handball, with some features similar to football/soccer. So it is not so strange that we had a ‘corner-throw’ until 1981, when it was realized that one could just as well use a throw-in from the corner.

A key element in the judging of passive play is now the ‘forewarning signal,’ which was first used informally in 1981. But do you remember that before that time it was possible to give a free-throw directly without forewarning; and repeated passive play was earlier supposed to lead to 2-minute and 5-minute suspensions!

At the lower levels, it is still common to use only [u]one[/u] referee in a match. But did you realize that the 2-referee system has only existed since 1970. Before that time we used 1 referee plus 2 goal judges; and in international games we had line judges like in soccer!

It seems perfectly natural that you are allowed to dive for a ball that is rolling or stationary on the floor. But this was prohibited until 1997. Previously it was only allowed to dive if the ball was in the air.

The ‘team time-out’ was included in the rule book for the first time in 1997. But it is then more remarkable that it was already used in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, as a special exception at the request of the TV broadcasters. When this was suddenly decided, the IHF had to scramble to work out the exact procedures. You get no prize for guessing correctly who invented the ‘green card’.

Did you realize that until 1974 you had to execute the throw-in with two hands, and with both feet in contact with the floor, in football/soccer fashion? If you did it incorrectly, your team lost possession.

The 7-meter throw has for the longest time been tied to the notion of ‘destroying a clear scoring chance’. So can you imagine that before 1981 the referees could award a 7-meter throw also for a particularly ‘dirty’ foul anywhere on the defender’s half of the court and completely unrelated to a scoring chance?

In my early years as a referee I hated the rule under which directing the ball in to your goalkeeper led to a 7-meter throw. Because it meant that a very young player who got confused and clearly directed the ball (but without really being conscious of it) caused a 7-meter; by contrast, a very skilled and experienced defender could do it ‘sneakily’ so that the referee could not say for sure that it was intentional; and a 7-meter was in any case a totally excessive punishment. Finally it was changed to a free-throw in 2001.

The ‘yellow card’ was introduced in 1977, and the ‘red card’ followed in 1985, when the distinction between the (almost never used) ‘exclusion’ and the ‘direct disqualification’ was introduced. (I hope you noticed that the ‘exclusion’ was eliminated in the new rule book effective July 1 this year!)

After it had become an ‘epidemic’ practice for players who had been called for ‘steps’ or ‘offensive foul’ to bring the ball and prevent a quick restart for the opponents, it was decided in 1981 to make this punishable with a direct 2-minute suspension. The effect was immediate and every player now knows instinctively to drop the ball and move away. This is a matter of envy for our counterparts in football/soccer.

In 2005 it was concluded that it really does not make sense to give a free-throw when an attacker enters the goal-area of the opponents; if one instead simply regards it as a goalkeeper-throw, then the restart is more flexible and potentially much quicker.

Until 1981, it was important for both the referees and the players to notice and remember if a ball had been gone out over the goal-line outside the goal or if it had been caught by the goalie in the goal-area; in the first case, it was then required for the opponents to step back and wait outside the 9-meter line. Fortunately, this distinction is no longer relevant.

Finally, one of the most important changes in terms of impact on the game was introduced in two stages in 1997 and 2001. The objective was to speed up the restart after a goal had been scored, including the elimination of delays caused by the opponents. So, from 1997, the throw-off could be taken without waiting for the opponents to get back to their half; but the impact was not quite as great as had been expected.

To make the restart even more dynamic and to put more pressure on the defenders, it was then decided in 2001 to allow the teammates of the thrower to start moving on the whistle signal, instead of waiting until the ball has been played. And this (difference of up to 3 seconds) did have the desired effect, so that the now common tactics of a ‘quick throw-off’ can be very spectacular and successful.