Bundesliga: how to ensure high quality referees

In ‘handball-world.com’ there was an article on December 3, which was at the same time worrisome and almost amusing. On the surface, it was primarily a statement from the referee chief Peter Rauchfuss in the German Federation (DHB), apropos a pronouncement from the German Bundesliga (HBL) boss Frank Bohman regarding the need for professional referees. http://www.handball-world.com/news-index.php?LID=1&GID=1&auswahl=28751

As I would have expected from Peter Rauchfuss, who is very experienced and always seems to demonstrate common sense, he points out how impossible or undesirable it would be to try to make a sudden switch to professional (= full-time employed) referees. He notes, among other things, that the demands of the refereeing function at the elite level require individuals with strong personal talents and important career experience, ideally with some managerial competence. Handball in Germany or elsewhere does not have a situation like in the NBA or NHL, where young referees with demonstrated talent can be recruited and built up for a solid long-term career situation, in a setting where the financial circumstances make it realistic to give up on an alternative professional career.

Regrettably, the HBL representatives seem to understand too little about the world of refereeing to help carry on a constructive debate. Statements which imply that the Bundesliga referees do not spend more time on refereeing and preparations than the time they spend on the court actually refereeing the HBL games show a totally unrealistic understanding and constitute an insult. But it is also clear from other statements that the issue of professional referees is really a ‘bogus’ issue. What really seems to be at stake is just one more aspect of the battle for power and prestige between HBL and DHB.

What HBL should appreciate is that they enjoy the benefits of strong traditions and a situation where DHB is one of the absolute top organizations in providing high-quality education and management of handball referees. Peter Rauchfuss and many of his colleagues are really first rate. What HBL instead might ask is if they contribute sufficiently to a situation where DHB, in its responsibility for refereeing from the HBL at the top down to the very bottom of the ‘pyramid’ in Germany, really needs solid resources to handle the specialized training and monitoring at the elite level, not just in terms of manpower but also for instance in terms of technology. But this is a very different matter from HBL suddenly wanting to seize control over an area where they do not have any particular expertise.

Not just HBL, DHB and German handball want high-quality refereeing in the Bundesliga. What goes on there is a major issue of propaganda for our sport globally. So, although I speak without knowing exactly what resources Peter Rauchfuss currently has at his disposal and how advanced his operations are in a scientific and technological sense, I am sure that there must be room for improvements. So clearly HBL could and should assume a responsibility for contributing, rather than focusing on power and prestige.

But the training of the existing referees is not the only consideration. The Bundesliga has become the strongest league in the world by having the resources, through its clubs, to recruit the very best players and coaches in the world. In a similar way, it would seem natural to reinforce the resources available to DHB and HBL by also utilizing top referees from outside Germany. Surely they are many IHF referee couples within easy reach who could surpass the quality of the bottom half of the group currently used by the HBL. It would be quite realistic for a dozen such couples to handle one or two games per month in the Bundesliga. Moreover, this would be logical, in the sense that the exodus of players from many countries to HBL has lowered the quality of the national leagues in those countries, to the point that it is detrimental to a number of top IHF/EHF referees who do not get enough real top quality matches in their own countries.