Cautious reactions to the conclusions from the IHF Forum; dangers of rules deviations

I commented recently about the main conclusions from the IHF Forum regarding rules and refereeing. As I noted, it was generally felt that there is no need for major rules changes at this time, in order to make our handball more attractive. Indeed, the recommendations were more focused on trying to support the task of the referees through strengthened education and other means, something with which I agree fully.

Having scanned the handball media to look for reactions to the conclusions from the IHF Forum, I find only a modest number of comments, which may not be so surprising, considering that there were no earth-shattering proposals. However, the intention to investigate the scope for utilization of video reviews seems to gain general support, although with some words of caution. Some commentators note that we must take care to put limitations on any video review policy, so that it does not get the unintended and unwanted effect of interrupting the flow of the game through lengthy interruptions. Drawing on my experience with video review in the NBA, NHL and NFL here in USA, I can well understand and agree with those concerns.

Other comments involve the general dilemma of having different rules or regulations at different levels; clearly, video review is only feasible in games at those levels where TV broadcasting brings the availability of adequate camera coverage. So video review could never be part of the general rules for handball; it could only be part of the regulations for specific competitions. But this is a broader issue, because I have also noticed comments to the effect that one could have several ideas for changes in the rules, if one could have separate rules for the top level and for handball in general. However, as the commentators themselves note, this is generally not a good situation. We want to have clarity and consistency on the basis of uniform rules.

Of course, aspects that do not directly affect how the game is being played in a technical/practical sense could be a different matter, such as the length of the intermission, the tie-breaking procedures, the number of players used etc. But we have seen recent examples of how also such modifications can cause confusion. The IHF recently announced that, while the playing rules allow only up to 14 players in a game, the IHF would allow 16 players in World Championships and would support similar exceptions in high-level continental events. The rationale is that a World Championship may involve an intensive schedule with up to ten games in three weeks for a team, so it would then make sense to reduce the pressure by allowing all the 16 players on the squad to be used in each game. The same rationale would apply for instance in the European Championship tournament for national teams.

However, the EHF somehow also decided that the exception with 16 players should also be permitted in Champions League matches for clubs, even though this does not involve a tournament with a concentrated schedule. Apparently this created some confusion for other EHF competitions, because very quickly it happened that a team in one of the other club competitions also thought they could use 16, prompting a formal protest from the opponents. And suddenly there were also doubts about what was the situation in the upcoming qualification games for the European Championships… These games are of course not played in a tournament format, so the initial rationale does not apply, but they are in a sense a part of the Championship. In the end, the EHF had to decide to allow 16 also here. All this seems to confirm that any deviation from full uniformity can have its drawbacks and needs to be introduced more cautiously and with a clear logic.