Why handball is the hardest sport to officiate


8:00 a.m., January 13, 2022

A 51-page document, published by the French Handball Federation (FFHB), details the rules of the game which brings together millions of viewers on the days of the international finals. Yet it is widely accepted that officiating in the sport often relies on interpretation. « The rugby colleagues with whom I spoke agree: no other collective discipline is so complicated to judge », assures Olivier Buy, one of the best tricolor whistles of the last thirty years.

At its beginnings in 1992, the task was complicated by strong personalities like Laurent Munier or Frédéric Volle, Barjots who « knew how to put the pressure ». And the TV had not yet deployed the cameras that capture the slightest shot.

At the Men’s Euro, from Thursday in Hungary and Slovakia, the complexity of the arbitration will still be obvious. “The same gesture can be accepted once, sanctioned the next time, underlines Luka Karabatic, vice-captain of the France team but forfeit this competition. It is the most difficult sport to read in the world. is always at the limit of the rule.  » Three or four steps with the ball in hand (walking), shooting in suspension or in support (zone), pulling the shirt legal or not… « Catching the opponent is tolerated, but if you go too hard, it whistles » , part of the pivot of PSG, which knows all the tricks since it evolves in defense as in attack.

Ragpickers battle

When he stands 2.03 meters in front of Vincent Gérard, his goalkeeper in club as in Blue, Nikola’s brother first thinks of « protecting a perimeter » in front of him: « I am not trying to neutralize the opponent. Him, on the contrary, will want to test myself in close combat to cause a foul.  » The danger arises as soon as the attacker reduces the distance and overtakes his opposite in speed. The most cunning in this exercise is the little Dutch leader Luc Steins, his teammate at PSG.

Read also – Alexandre Letellier, third goalkeeper of PSG: the most beautiful job in the world

Its very rapid changes of support throw off the defenses. « By intervening too late, you can be excluded for two minutes », plague Karabatic. At the third exclusion, it is the final exit. A more or less finely analyzed sequence is enough for a match to tip over. « The NFL [football américain] puts seven referees per match but that does not eliminate all the errors, « notes Karabatic, for whom the addition of a third justice of the peace on the Taraflex could at least limit the number of disputes.

Until then, to discourage an enterprising rival, the best defender of the Champions Leagues 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 has a few tips, « not necessarily written in the rules ». For example, pushing with the elbow to remove the opponent’s pivot from its position. In the middle, the vicious ones who « defend with the knees or finish one on one with the hand in your face » are identified. Others are literally impossible to move, rooted at the entrance to the zone, like the Hungarian Bence Bánhidi, 2.06 meters and 120 kilos of « meat », as the handball players say. The defense of the cage then turns to the battle of ragpickers. Luka Karabatic no longer counts « the scratches and bruises », the marks on his « lacerated » neck for sixty minutes.

Last month, Olivier Buy was a delegate to the women’s world championship. « It’s not quite the same game, » he observes. « There is less speed and less contact. In dodging, there are fewer problematic fouls. » The public understands better what is in front of them and returns to it all the more willingly.

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