Asian refereeing — good progress ruined by bad politics

In recent years, both some individual countries and the Asian federation finally began to realize that they had to change (some) of their old habits to avoid being left behind by the other continents in the area of refereeing. In particular, the traditional favoring of older, ‘over-the-hill’ referee couples in the continental competitions has gradually been outweighed by the IHF’s emphasis on bringing up new, talented referee couples through the IHF’s Global Referee Training Program.

Asia will now send two couples (Iran and UAE) of the new generation to the Men’s World Championship in Sweden next January. At least one other couple (KUW) is at about the same level. A handful of additional couples have shown promise in Junior and Youth World Championships. The only country not really contributing, certainly in relation to the perennial strength of their teams, is Korea. It seems they prefer to send their young talents into coaching instead of refereeing, an attitude that seems somewhat lacking in solidarity.

BUT, some other habits seem harder to change. I do not really want to go back and rehash the situation involving the Olympic qualifying in 2008, more specifically the atrociously biased refereeing in the infamous Korea-Kuwait match, where a Jordanian referee couple managed to set a record with 40 blatant errors in favor of Kuwait and 0 errors in favor of Korea. This couple was permanently barred, an action that I personally remember only too well as being criticized by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as being too soft! But the reality is that, unlike a criminal court, the IHF does not have the jurisdiction to take any other action. The IHF decision and the reaction of the CAS were duly noted by the senior representatives of the Asian Handball Federation who were present at the time.

HOWEVER, when the reports from the Asian Games were beginning to come in a couple of weeks ago, I was not the only one who noted with astonishment that one of these Jordanian referees had been nominated and brought to the Asian Games by the Asian Federation. Presumably this was seen as a good opportunity due to the absence of IHF observers… Not just was this referee present with his new partner; they were also the only couple who consistently received games of major importance. This culminated with the bronze medal game for the men. A disgraceful demonstration by the Asian federation that they do not regret what happened two years ago, and that they do not care about the authority and decisions of the IHF. Perhaps one should even assume that the invitation to the Asian Games in Guangzhou was a way of thanking the Jordanian referee for following instructions two years ago???