“As a referee it is important to understand the “play behind the scenes.”

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“As a referee it is important to understand the “play behind the scenes.”

June 13, 2016

On August 11, the women’s handball tournament at the 2012 Olympic Games in London came to a close.  Norway had just won a second consecutive Olympic gold medal, defeating Montenegro 26:23.  While both teams wrote new chapters in sport history, for Charlotte and Julie Bonaventura, the two referees from Montpellier (France), the last day of the women’s competition was a special one as well.  It was the first time in the history of the Olympic Games that two female referees were officiating a handball final.

Three years later the two twin sisters were at work, at the IHF’s 2015 women’s handball World Championship, in Denmark.  And once again they received the honors of calling fair play in the last game of the tournament.

The two French referees have been ranking at the top of IHF and EHF for many years and are widely considered “best-in-class”, but recently the Norwegian duo, Guro Roen and Kjersti Arntsen have been catching up, and in May of this year, the two Scandinavian referees officiated their very first final at the EHF’s women’s FINAL4 in Budapest.

The two ambitious referees hailing from Lørenskog (G.Roen) and Trondheim (K. Arntsen) have been consistently climbing up the ranks and the last match at the FINAL4 in Hungary was only the most recent task on the international handball stage that put their skills to the test – successfully.

Stregspiller.com caught up with Guro Roen and Kjersti Arntsen and talked about the thrilling 2016 final between CSM Bucuresti and Gyor at the EHF FINAL4, memorable moments, the Olympic Games in Rio and the challenges of the new handball rules.

Q: When and why did you decide to become a referee?

A: We both took referee courses when we were around 15 years old.  At the age of 19 we found out that we had more talent and potential for officiating than playing, so we started focusing on our careers as referee. We did have different career paths until we started working together in 2012, but that is only an advantage.  Together as a team, we combine youthful vitality with experienced calmness.  And our impression that we had more talent and potential for officiating has been proven correct.  To be honest, neither one of us would have reached this level as a player.

Q: Approximately, how many days in the year do you spend on the road and in the arenas to organize fair play?

A: A lot!  If we try to count – last year we spent approximately ten weeks together in a hotel room – around the world.  Just to mention some of the travels – we were 10 days at the Pan American Championship in Cuba, 14 days at the Student-Olympics (Universiade) in South Korea and we spent 20 days at the World Championship in Denmark.  In addition, we have monthly nominations for European cups.  The ten weeks we mentioned before were international travels only; we also have some days of traveling within Norway.

Q: What was your initial reaction when you found out that you were selected as referees for the final match of the 2016 Champions League?

A: It was a fantastic message and recognition of the hard work we’ve done during previous seasons.  The Final 4 is the top event of European club handball, so we feel it’s an honor to be nominated to the event.  As we’ve been refereeing the Final 4 two years ago, we knew what was waiting for us in Budapest and we were really excited about the nomination.

Q: The last Champions League game of the 2016 season was your first final so far – did you change your pre-game routine in any form or shape?  How did you prepare for the match and did you do anything different?

A: Actually – no.  We have established a good way in how to prepare for all our matches.  No matter what kind of game it is, we prepare following the same “structure”.  This means before a match, we watch the last games of the teams involved – to prepare for their style of play (defense / offense play), key players, current fitness and flow of the team.  Then we discuss amongst ourselves, what kind of plan and strategy we want for the match.  What can we expect – from the teams, coaches, spectators, general pressure etc.  In addition, we watch our own games, to see what we need to improve on before the next match.

The only difference in getting ready for the final was that we had to prepare for all four teams, since we did not know who would be playing in the last game beforehand.

Q: Were you concerned that some of your decisions could be interpreted as “pro Gyor” since four of your compatriots (i.e. Heidi Loke, Kari Aalvik Grimsbo, Linn Jorum Sulland and Ida Alstad) were playing for the Hungarian club?

A: We prepare for all the matches in the same way.  As referees, we always try to do our very best and our aim is to lead the match in a fair and neutral way, no matter the nationality of the players.  We always talk English to all players in international matches, so everybody is treated the same way.

Q: In retrospect – how did you experience the “three acts” (i.e regulation time, extra time, penalty shootout) of the dramatic game in Budapest?

A: It was very tense.  Both teams – of course – really wanted to win.  Maybe some of the players were a bit nervous and made some mistakes they normally don’t do.  Then, we as referees have to take more decisions, and often difficult one’s.

In regulation time, two tough, but fair defense formations met and made it difficult for each other when in attack.  This led to quite a few difficult situations for us to handle.  We expected a match with a narrow result, but it’s not too often games go to penalty shootout.  However, the teams decided it by themselves and we kept the line we sat on both sides.

In extra time it’s important for the referees to show the same “line” as in regulation time and be predictable with our decisions. Every call is very important so it’s important to be focused, and in good physical shape so that we’re not tired or exhausted when the match is entering its most important stage.

During a penalty shootout, it was more “relaxing” for us referees, but we had to pay attention to the shooters and the goalkeeper, so nothing irregular would happen.

Q: Both coaches – Ambros Martin (Gyor) and Kim Rasmussen (Bucuresti) – are intense and experienced professionals that try to influence the decisions of the referees, especially in an important game as the one in Budapest on May 8.  How did you deal with the pressure from the sideline?

 A: As a referee it is important to understand the “play behind the scenes”.  When the teams and coaches enter the arena, the only thing on their mind is to win the match.  And they are, of course, willing to do whatever it takes to win, including putting pressure on the referees.  That’s part of the game that we have to prepare for and handle.  It is important to support each other’s decisions, and show good teamwork, especially when coaches put pressure on us.  Their point of view is very subjective – for obvious reasons.

Q: What was your most memorable moment of the FINAL4 weekend?

A: It is not too often we as referees have the opportunity leading such a tough and equal match as a final, surrounded by 12 000 people!  So maybe the atmosphere on the final day was the most memorable.  To participate in such a great and top event, is something we will remember for the rest of our lives.  Nevertheless, to be honest, as a referee “on duty” it’s difficult to have a “special moment” while you focus on doing your job on the court.

Q: You participated in the inaugural women’s FINAL4 competition in 2014 already – how has the tournament and women’s handball developed since then?

A: The quality of the teams has increased, this year there were no clear favorites.  The event also has a higher overall quality, with artistic shows on both days.

Q: The IHF selected you as referees for the Olympic Games 2016 – how do you prepare for this tournament considering the new rules that will go into effect in Rio?

A: The new rules definitively provide for some extra challenges for referees getting ready for the games.  We prepare ourselves by having training matches this summer with the national teams, where we play according to the new rules.  Besides practicing on court, we watch and discuss video clips that include certain situations, different scenarios and tactics, and challenges that might occur.  We visualize and anticipate ourselves in different situations, i.e. how to count passes when passive play is indicated and so on.  We need to make an extra effort so we can be fully prepared when the games begin in August.

Q: While some of the new regulation appears to be straight-forward (i.e. the Blue Card) other rules are viewed as more controversial (i.e. Passive Play, Seven-against-six). What is your take on the new rules?

A: We (the handball community) must be open to change and see how the new rules will turn out.  After some time, we should evaluate and see if we have succeeded with the intentions of introducing new regulation.  If not, we need to further develop the rules or go back.

Q: Is a major tournament such as the Olympic Games the right event to introduce new rules that many expect to fundamentally change the game of handball?

A: Well, the good thing about humans is that we are very adaptable and many are quick learners.  The new rules will be a challenge, but we expect everyone to do their very best, to make the tournament in Rio a great one, despite some new rules.  It is still handball that we play.

Q: Handball is a very fast paced sport already – assuming the new rules will stay, at what point do you expect “Goal-Line” technology and “Instant Replay” to become absolute “must-have” tools for referees, to do their job properly? Or are we past this point already?

A: Technology is always good to have as tools to help us make the correct decisions, when it makes sense.  However, we still have to focus on improving the education of referees, trust in the decisions we take and have a clear task distribution within the couple. This will continue to be the basics and fundamentals of refereeing, even in the future including technology.

Q: Brazil is not exactly a trouble-free nation (i.e. political turmoil, deep economic recession, the Zika virus) – what are your thoughts about the country off the handball court?

A: Kjersti was in Brazil for the 2011 World Championship and had the possibility to travel around a bit.  It is a fantastic country, but of course with big differences in standard of living that result in crime, political turmoil etc.  However, Rio is a extraordinary city with a lot to offer – so spending time there for three weeks, this summer will become a memory for life.  Concerning the Zika-virus – as long as we take precautions, we will be safe.  We don’t have any worries in that regard.

Q: While men frequently officiate women games, the opposite cannot be said when it comes to men’s matches.  Earlier this year you were selected as referees in the EHF Challenge Cup “Last 16” men’s match between Handball Esch and FIQAS Aalsmeer – how would you describe the experience?

A: For us, it was just a normal match, like we have in Norway every week.  The level of the two teams was maybe a bit more inferior when compared to Norwegian squads.  Acceptance was good and it showed that as long as your performance is better than good, (male) teams accept female referees.

Q: How much longer will it take until we see more female referees officiating men’s matches?  Where do you see the problems?

A: Hopefully, it won’t take too long.  We think it’s important that all top referees have equal opportunities to further develop.  As long as female referees are good enough for the level of play, we think it’s fair that female referees officiate both genders to continue to develop as referees and leaders.  We have developed a great deal as referees because we have had the chance to officiate both genders.  It has helped us to improve, develop different skills and leadership as referees.

Q: If the opportunity presents itself, would you consider giving up your day-job and become professional referees?

A: For us it’s good to have a career outside handball.  The experience, we gain in our day-jobs improve us as referees as well and vice versa.  So being fully professional is not an option for us.  However, a reduced workload could be a good option.

/ JS

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