Last week I expressed my strong concerns about how the EHF and some national federations illegally set aside what is prescribed in the playing rules regarding post-game suspension following disqualifications during games. Essentially, these federations explicitly violate the rules by not respecting the formal distinction between ‘red card WITH report’ and ‘red card WITHOUT report’. They do so by instigating disciplinary proceedings in cases where the referees have used their prerogative to classify a disqualification as one that is NOT to be causing a report and any subsequent action.
Despite my own frustrations with this issue, I was very surprised by the widespread reactions I got via e-mail and telephone calls, from representatives for leagues/clubs/players, referees, media and handball fans. They gave such strong support for my views and added important comments, so I have decided to follow up with a brief summary of the key concerns:
Leagues/clubs/players are seriously concerned about the inconsistencies and the unpredictability that follows from the illegal practices. This is just the opposite of what was intended by the clear distinctions in the 2010 IHF Playing Rules. I got comments that described the practice of setting aside the Playing Rules as a state of lawlessness that we do not want in the world of sports.
People were asking why it would occur to the EHF to do something like this and, of course, how the IHF could tolerate it. It was suggested that it must reflect a desire on the part of the EHF and other federations to ‘flex their muscles’ and demonstrate their perceived power in an inappropriate way. Several persons commented that, in an asymmetric way, it amounts to punishing more harshly than the rules prescribe.
The rules were changed in 2010, and the concept of ‘exclusion’ (causing a team to play shorthanded for the rest of the game) was removed. Instead, it was decided to introduce TWO separate categories of disqualifications: the ‘routine’ form, that is specifically not intended to lead to further punishment after the game; and then the category reserved for really dangerous/reckless fouls, for grossly unsportsmanlike conduct, and for the situations involving what we could call ‘last minute sabotage’.
The latter category, based on what the REFEREES decided, is the ONLY one that gives the responsible federation the authority to consider a further punishment on the basis of the referee report. It should be noted that it is NOT automatic that there should be a further punishment; the federation may decide that the ‘rest of the game’ disqualification was sufficient. It really could not be more clear-cut, and it is hard to see how the EHF and the other federations involved could have misunderstood. And it is equally hard to see where they think they get their authority from; it is really as illegal as it would be if a federation wanted to add a punishment to a player who received a 2-minute suspension or caused a 7-meter.
It was also pointed out that the illegal practice creates problems in the existing efforts (which are embraced also by the EHF itself) to ensure that the referees have the courage and good judgment to use the red card when it is appropriate, instead of backing off and letting it suffice with a 2-minute suspension. But several people now commented to me that referees become tempted to refrain from giving a ‘red card WITHOUT report’, because they fear that the federation will take upon itself to start a disciplinary process and perhaps give out a suspension, something that the referees know is illegal and unjustified by virtue of their decision to place the event in the ‘WITHOUT report’ category. This risk that the referees will feel pressure to avoid giving red cards is totally undesirable, and this cannot possibly be what the EHF and others are seeking to achieve.
So how about it, my many sensible and competent friends at the top of the EHF: HOW WOULD IT BE IF YOU WERE TO ANNOUNCE THAT, STARTING WITH THE 2012-13 SEASON, YOU WOULD ABANDON YOUR ILLEGAL AND UNDESIRABLE PRACTICES AND INSTEAD START FOLLOWING THE UNIVERSAL PLAYING RULES!?