In recent time I commented on the pending proposal to introduce a third team time-out per team and game, and I also discussed the perceptions about how the current allocation of team time-outs is typically being used. When doing so, I did not realize what I have now heard from well-informed sources: a decision has been taken to introduce the possibility also for the referees to request a time-out. This is indeed a surprising and interesting idea! Presumably it will be officially reported to the IHF Congress next month.
It seems that the referees in a game will be allowed to request one 1-minute time-out in each half of the game. They will only be able to do it when the ball is out of play, and they must take care not to interfere with a quick restart of the game, for instance after a goal has been scored. Similarly, it would obviously not be appropriate to use the time-out in certain other situations, e.g., precisely when a team is ready to execute a 7-meter throw.
IHF Referee Chief Manfred Prause notes that “it is only fair that the referees also are given this opportunity. There are many situations in a game where the referees, just like the teams, may need some little time to discuss tactics or regain their composure.” Prause also clarifies that while improved opportunities for communication between the referees now may exist through the use of ear phones, this is typically available only at the elite level. The time-out may be particularly welcome at the lower levels where less experienced referees are used.
Commission member Roland Buergi is a little bit concerned that the usage of a time-out may provide a signal that the referees have become worried or are somehow ‘admitting’ that they believe they have just made a mistake. “The referees need to be smart and avoid using the time-out in connection with a controversial decision or right after they have been criticized”, he suggests. One might think that the best timing is instead when there are some important changes in the flow of the game or the atmosphere on the court.
Commission member Ramon Gallego admits to some initial skepticism about the idea. “We have worked very hard to emphasize and improve the fitness of the top referees”, he says, “so it would be awkward to give the impression that the referees need these time-outs simply because they are getting tired”. I understand Gallego’s concerns but I suspect that in fact it might be the players who will appreciate the added opportunity to catch their breath.
All the details have not been determined yet, and it is likely that the IHF and the continents will do some experimenting in events prior to the 2011-12 season when the ‘black card’ will be formally introduced. Indeed, the utilization of a ‘black card’ with a white ‘T’ is one of the few specific aspects that have been decided. Red, yellow and green are colors that are already being used, so there were some voices in favor of a blue card, but the traditional referee color of black apparently won out.
It is going to be interesting to follow the implementation of this new idea. I bet there are many retired referees who will think that it is something they could have used in their own careers…