Is USATH serious about refereeing?

Having spent more than 20 years in charge of refereeing in handball in our country, the last thing I would want is to get caught up in the details of how things are being run today.  But it bothers me when I see that virtually nothing is being done, despite the availability of experienced and willing people.  Handball obviously does not exist for the sake of its referees, but it also cannot develop as a sport and support its young and inexperienced athletes in the absence of access to competent refereeing.

Many major handball countries strangely suffer from a lack of former referees with a willingness or ability to take on the task of recruiting, training and supervising new generations of referees.  They would be very envious of the situation that exists in the U.S., where we have a small group of people constituting a ‘national referee committee’ and an additional group of very experienced former international referees who are not just willing but eager to be able to help out.  In these circumstances it is absurd to observe that very little is happening, either due to a lack of constructive communications or due to negative attitudes on the part of the Federation.

The reason why I would venture to imagine that the problem might go beyond communications is that the Federation in recent time managed to alienate its small group of referees through a failure to take care of the reimbursement for the services for which the referees had been contracted.  Payments were made far too late despite many reminders or, supposedly, not at all.  Even in an organization that has to cope with financial difficulties, there should be no room for such lack of respect for a key group of volunteers.  But I still want to believe that the current situation is more related to a shortcoming in managerial or administrative capacity rather than due to an inappropriate attitude.

It seems that it should be relatively simple to mesh the technical knowledge of some people about how referees should be recruited, educated and monitored with the Federation’s knowledge of its resources from a budgetary standpoint to carry out such an effort; especially as the technical experts have long-term experience with this environment.  Plans and suggestions have been submitted, initially without reaction but eventually with a response that I could only interpret through my reading as ‘having the door slammed in the face’.  Without trying to second-guess the proposals or the responses, I can only say:  surely there must be a way of achieving a meeting of minds!

While there might be some differences of opinion about what constitutes the best approaches and about how to ensure that the resources are available, undoubtedly this can be worked out if there is a genuine desire to do so.  The Federation surely does not want to dismiss people who are willing to help? Perhaps the problem is simply that e-mail exchanges and the resulting (mis?)understandings of tones and messages need to be replaced by a brainstorming face-to-face!?  After all, the issue goes beyond the individuals involved in the dialog:  the impact involves the entire USATH field of activities.

Finally, it must be kept in mind that recruitment of handball referees in our country is not like the recruitment of basketball referees here or handball referees in Germany.  There can be no expectation of a natural flow of candidates.  Realistically they can only come from those few/small groups who are already actively involved, i.e., clubs, players and others in their surroundings.  So the clubs must feel an obligation to help out with candidates, essentially for their own sake.  This should not be seen as a burden or an unreasonable imposition, least of all from the vantage point of the Federation.  Much more awkward is the short-term ‘cover-up’ of bringing in guest referees from abroad, simply because the internal efforts are being ignored or delayed.

So I hope the parties concerned will get together and work out a solution without further delay.  But it would also be very helpful to the broader handball community in our country if the USATH leadership/management would be prepared to outline publicly its philosophy and intentions specifically with regard to refereeing.