The bald and tough look – an asset for a referee?

Collina and Webb, the best known examples in soccer; how would it work in handball?

Collina and Webb, the best known examples in soccer; how would it work in handball?

Traditionally, men have tended to see hair loss and baldness as a matter of concern and embarrassment. Lots of money has been spent on combating and concealing baldness, often with poor results. The younger the person is, the more of an issue the baldness has tended to be, if baldness is (mis)taken as an indication of aging and reduced strength and fitness. So at the same time as we are increasingly emphasizing youth, fitness and strong personality for our elite level referees, it is then a bit amusing to see the trend that baldness is used as a method or signal for conveying strength and authority.

This has become amazingly common in international football, and it seems for instance that a disproportionate number of the referees in the UEFA Champions League are sporting that bald look. Of course, when it started that way, with PierLuigi Collina, one of the very best referees in recent decades, who undoubtedly would have been an excellent referee also with a full head of hair, it was because of a medical reason and not on a voluntary or intentional basis.

But among the many followers, it is interesting to note that perhaps the favorite method is for those who still have quite a bit of hair growth, often in the male pattern where the top/middle is empty, to remove what remains to get the complete bald, razed look. Perhaps it looks younger, stronger that way? It would be interesting to get opinions from referee, players, fans about this question. Does it really work: does it give the referee a more appropriate look for his task, does it command more respect, does it avoid a sense of aging?

In just a week from now, the handball men’s World Championship is getting underway. Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to test the hypothesis that the bald look is an improvement and has advantages in term of match control and respect. Would these referees, who are already well-known and generally respected, be able to gain a further edge by changing their look? It seems that it would be worth trying! And it would seem to make it easier to do it as a group, rather than having one individual referee or couple trying it on their own. It would not be so awkward if all of them had the same look.

Moreover, I remember having used all kinds of gimmicks as IHF Referee Chief to emphasize the notion that the 16 referee couples in a World Championship must see themselves and act like a TEAM. Of course, there is only one couple on the court in each game, but it is important that they all follow the same approach, do their job with strong consistency and also support each other as a team, even if in a way they are also competing with each other for the top assignments. So just perhaps, the real way to create that team spirit would be for all of the referees to shave their heads!? Surely that would give the clear signal that they want to appear as a team! Naturally, it would require that also the members of the Referee Commission follow this example. And I am sure that Manfred, Ramon and the others would be prepared to do so!

And on a more serious note, it would also be a gesture of loyalty and support for one of the referee colleagues who is sadly missing in Spain, namely Mads Hansen. In a recent article, I wrote about Mads and his valiant struggle to recover from lymphoma. One of the effects of chemotherapy is hair loss, and Mads decided to shave his head rather than seeing his hair falling out randomly. So a show of support for Mads would be yet another reason for that bald look when the World Championship starts.