Being the former President of the IHF Referee Commission, it is only natural that I received a lot of spontaneous feedback on the refereeing from old handball acquaintances during the Championship. Of course, I also had my own observations from watching 27 games live and another 7 or 8 on television. The feedback I received reflects what people see as the most important aspect, especially considering some bad experiences they may have had in the past. “The referees are being completely fair and honest” is the best way of summarizing the comments I heard.
What my sources imply is that they understand that mistakes are inevitable and must be tolerated. But as long as the mistakes come out roughly 50-50, as a sign of an unbiased and evenhanded refereeing, then there is general acceptance. And clearly this matches my own observations. Yes, there may have been some games where some individual mistakes may have come at a critical stage and possibly may have had an impact on the outcome. But that is the ‘human factor’ in sports. With so many games being decided with just a margin of just a couple of goals, also a very strong referee performance may include a critical error or two.
To some extent, I would ascribe the fair and honest refereeing to the emergence of a young new generation of referees. As I intend to discuss in some future posting, their lack of experience may occasionally become apparent, and there may have been problems with some particular aspects of the rules interpretations in a game. But these referees are at the beginning of what they hope to be a long career at the international top level, so they will not risk everything by being conspicuously, or even marginally, biased in their work. They know that they have knowledgeable and alert observers keeping an eye on them, with video software available to capture and confirm any problems.
If anything, the young referees may in some instances have gone too far in instinctively deciding on the basis of their first impressions, somewhat ignoring ‘tactical’ considerations in their game management. (I will get more into this in a separate posting). In some other cases, they may have either been too eager to project toughness or, alternatively, a little bit lacking in courage in some situations. But this is something totally different from bias or favoritism.
One might say that the IHF initiated a ‘youth movement’ at the elite level a number of years ago. In part this happened out of necessity, with many older, more experienced couples retiring, and in part as a response to the increasing speed of the game requiring a stronger emphasis on fitness and agility. It may be too early to be sure, but it seems from the indications so far that the IHF can be proud of the emerging competence of the new generation of elite referees, especially their adherence to the motto of ‘honesty above all’.