It is true that many of my memories are related to events such as Olympic Games and World Championships, including travel to places on the other side of the globe. But many of the more nostalgic stories involve people, especially referees, and the opportunities to have met so many who struggled for the progress of handball in difficult circumstances and with limited resources.
Many of those encounters have taken place here at home in the U.S. but perhaps particularly down in Latin America. Most of my travel was to Argentina, Brazil and Cuba. And it was always a particular pleasure to identify and support refereeing talents in those countries and beyond. During one period, I had been involved with the ascension of virtually the entire group of IHF referees from our continent, and I had enjoyed a whole lot of very special moments in the process.
The struggle continues, because handball remains a sport in modest circumstances in Panamerica. But the work involved in bringing referees to the top level has been taken over by others. And for me personally, it is a bit special to see that, at this point, the key people in that task are all from among the group of now former referees whom I was once involved in helping. They have finished their own careers as referees but are so ‘hooked’ that they see is as natural to support the next generation.
In connection with next week’s Men’s Junior Panamerican Championship in Argentina, referees from all parts of our continent will endeavor to qualify for, or at least take the first big step towards, the IHF Referee status. Among the participants are Lars Jedermann and Christian Posch from the U.S., which is nice to see after we have not had a strong IHF couple for a while. And as lecturers they will find Salvio Sedrez (BRA – currently PATHF Referee Chief), Patricia Malik de Tchara (ARG – the first female top level IHF referee), Eduardo Gonzalez (URU), and Thedy Adjemian (ARG), all of whom I accompanied several times to various IHF World Championships.
In fact, we have the same situation here in the U.S., where Thomas Bojsen, Tugomir Anusic, Bruce Mosberg and Tomas Kekes-Szabo keep serving in different capacities in the referee development after having finished their own careers at the Olympic and World Championship level. Indeed, we may have one of the strongest groups of referee instructors anywhere in the world, but with the unfortunate irony that they do not typically have a large group of new referee talents to work with!
Going back to the traditional scenario in a referee course down in Argentina, I think Lars and Christian will find that the hard work and the concentration on doing their utmost to impress in their games is combined with a great atmosphere from a social standpoint. The consumption of blood sausage, the beer drinking (non-alcoholic, of course…), the music and the story telling will be important part of the experience. Language barriers tend to be easily broken in such a setting.
And by strange coincidence, the participants will arrive in Argentina at a moment when the locals seem to be in a state of euphoria after having just had a compatriot elected as the new Pope. He is known to be a humble man, a man of the people, and in Argentina that includes being a soccer fan. I had had some hope to find that he would turn out to be a fan of the team that I naturally have to support, Boca Juniors, who indeed got their blue and yellow colors from the Swedish flag. But it seems that, perhaps appropriately, he instead supports the San Lorenzo team (the team of my successor as PATHF referee chief, Miguel Zaworotny). Whether the new Pope is also a fan of handball remains unknown to me!