In recent years, the game of handball has developed tremendously in speed, tactics and technique. The new features have charmed more and more fans, who flock to see their favourite teams and players with every opportunity.
However, this development has also meant that working in the current environment is much more challenging than it was in the past.
The summer of 2016 saw the Rules of the Game adjusted, with new life injected and matches becoming faster during the period since implementation.
“The rule changes, the latest ones, which were introduced in the last years, clearly supported this trend. Let’s take, for example, the substitution of the goalkeeper with an outfield player, which is not a complete change of the previous rule, but rather an improvement,” says EHF President Michael Wiederer.
“Many teams are using it now in various situations, and it totally changed the perspective of the game. This means that we, the EHF, as an institution, have to develop measures to ensure that the decisions that are taken over the course of a game are the right decisions.”
“This must be done in a balanced way”
The Men’s EHF EURO is one of the highlights of the handball calendar, with the stars of the game and the 16 best national teams in the continent fighting for the gold medal every two years – much to the joy of fans, who pack the arenas or watch the competition from home.
Therefore, it follows that the game should be straightforward for all parties included: players, delegates, referees and fans.
“We need to take the fans with us on our journey, because handball is growing and everybody needs to make sure that these things are completely understandable for each fan. This should be a target for all, and these rules must be seen in connection with the outcome of the situation, because none of these laws of the game are without the backside of the coin,” says Wiederer.
“On one hand, the new rules wanted to ensure that no brutal and no professional fouls are made in order to prevent a goal, but now players are searching for such a situation to take advantage and maximise their chance. So, we need to make sure that this is done in a balanced way.”
An evaluation of the Rules
Video technology has been in use for a few years and is providing referees with unique insight, as the sheer speed of play could lead to inaccuracies in their decisions. As of the end of the Group I matches on 20 January, the technology had already been used 15 times at the EHF EURO 2018, with several red cards shown based on decisions made after watching video replays.
“We also see that the referees are using the new technology, the instant replay and the goal-line technology. We will continue to develop these new features, not only for the referees, but for the spectators. It is of the utmost importance that the public understands how and why the match is stopped,” says the EHF President.
Wiederer believes the next step should be an evaluation of the Rules, which are subject to the decisions of the International Handball Federation (IHF). As handball games are often decided by the slightest of margins, both at the EHF EURO, in the EHF Champions League and at other major competitions, there are consequences deriving from the way the Rules are written and how they are enforced.
“The game opposing Germany and Slovenia was a good example for why the Rules must be clear – we cannot leave room for interpretation. This is a challenge for both the referees and for the public, who, logically, are enthusiastic for their own team,” says Wiederer.
“Everybody should understand why and when the Rules of the Game are enforced, and how they are interpreted by the referees.”
“Handball has become a very complex sport”
The EHF president urges a proactive approach regarding the Rules and Regulations that are in place. Fans should be considered, as an annual rule overhaul could cause confusion. Therefore, Wiederer insists that evaluation and adaptation measures need to be put in place, rather than rushed changes.
“Another rule that was amended in the last years was the passive play, the purpose of which was to enable the referees to take a more neutral position. But, at the same time, the time when they signal the passive play for the first time is still debatable – it is a subjective decision, it depends on the environment of the situation,” says Wiederer.
“When the passive play is first signalled, there is a maximum of six passes you can make until you lose the ball. However, the rule is not clear, because the language states maximum six passes, but the referees can stop the match earlier than six passes. The rule is still a subjective one and we must see if we can find an adaptation that could neutralise things.”
There is emphasis on data and a modern approach to handball, as every team attempts to gain an edge to become the best. As Wiederer puts it: “handball has become a very complex sport, with the best players the ones who are taking the best decisions, on the fly, in a difficult environment.
“Technology is fit for handball, though it has to be introduced in a way that it does not intrude much, but helps lift the handball experience for the fans. We are not a kind of ‘e-sport’. We should keep the natural element of human decision, but we should have the possibility to optimise,” concludes the EHF President.