The handball world reached a milestone when the 25th IHF Men’s Handball World Championship began in Paris, as not only is it a special anniversary for the competition now running for a quarter of a century – it is also the first time a female referee couple have been nominated for a major international men’s competition.
French twins Charlotte and Julie Bonaventura will be familiar to most handball fans from their history of whistling the highest-level women’s matches and championships, having been nominated for World Championship, Olympic, EHF EURO and EHF Champions League finals – and now they will be known for another reason.
IHF Playing Rules and Referees Commission (PRC) member Ramon Gallego explains that while the event in France marks an important step forward, the idea of female referees whistling men’s matches has long been in the works.
“This is the first step – the first public step – but the idea in senior and in general in the top IHF events is to select the best people, the best people in the different positions: The best technical delegates, the best doctors, and especially the referees. And why not? If we have two or three female couples that are the best referees in the world – not the best women or the best men, the best referees – why would we not select them?” says Gallego.
“This is not a lottery for them, or a special gift for them – they deserve to be here. They are the first women nominated but I am sure they will not be the last.”
“It’s a big step forward”
Given their past experience at the highest level of international women’s competitions, Charlotte and Julie knew their next step forward was whistling men’s matches, so while their nomination was very welcome, it was not unexpected.
“For us it was the next step to take,” says Julie, with Charlotte commenting: “We knew from what we did in the past that the PRC and IHF trust us, but it’s a big step forward to say: ‘We are now a female couple in a men’s competition.’ I think it was a common decision but nobody could tell us before it was official, so we were just waiting and when we got it we said: ‘Nice!’”
With such a strong track record behind them, Charlotte and Julie know what to expect as their experience at the 2017 Men’s World Championship begins.
“It’s just a normal championship – nothing ‘special’ for us. We are just waiting for the first nomination and to really start the competition,” says Charlotte, and Julie adds: “In France we have been refereeing men for almost 10 years, so it’s not a big deal for us. In France, we have something like 90% men’s matches every season, so for us it’s like a daily routine – nothing ‘special’ – but we understand that from outside, outside of France and people who don’t know that women can handle men’s matches it’s a surprise. But for us on the inside, it’s a piece of cake.”
As Gallego outlined that he does not expect the Bonaventura/Bonaventura pair to be the last nominated for an IHF men’s event, fellow PRC member and Chairman of the EHF Technical Refereeing Committee Dragan Nachevski says he expects progress to continue within the continent as well.
“We will continue this way for sure”
“In this moment I work, especially in Europe, a lot to involve female couples in the women’s competition. For the European championship in Sweden I had seven female couples, and it was maybe the highest number of female referee couples who participated in a big event like the European championship for women. We will continue this way for sure,” says Nachevski.
“If we have as many good refereeing couples as possible, it doesn’t matter female or male. I always speak about referees whether they are good or bad, nothing to do with gender. As long as I am in the position I will work in this way, and I will give a chance for everybody to participate in the women’s and men’s competition.”
So does Nachevski think there is added pressure for Julie and Charlotte refereeing men’s matches? No – but the fact that a referees’ gender plays no role in their ability to control a match must be understood by the male players:
“The men’s competition is very strong, whether IHF or EHF, world or European championship, but in this case I think we should jump one step forward like the IHF is doing at this championship for the female couples. Then the men understand also that we have very good female couples who can deal with any matches, let’s say in Europe or in the world. It is a good idea, and I really am thankful we are doing this.”
All referee nominations for the duration of the 25th IHF Men’s Handball World Championship can be found here.