11. 7. 2023 - Johan Čáp

ISBHF Technical Director Nemček: We actively discuss video referees and rule innovations

It was a truly eventful tournament for Andrej Nemček, the ISBHF Technical Director. He presided over the Disciplinary Committee and the panel responsible for selecting the All-Star teams. He also had to assess several disciplinary penalties, including the highly publicized suspension of Samuel Hrivnák. In an exclusive interview during the World Juniors, Nemček discussed the potential benefits of video referees for ball hockey and the future direction the sport could take.

How do you assess the quality of the organization and the quality of the matches at the tournament?
It is widely known that events organized by the ISBHF in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Switzerland always have a high level of organizational quality. Hats off to the organizing committee - Martin Komárek, Jiří Cícha, Jakub Černý, and all the volunteers who do tremendous work, making it easier for the sports aspect, and the work of ISBHF, allowing us to focus solely on our role. I can only praise everything that was prepared. Home Credit Arena is great, and the fans are amazing. Such a championship belongs to three stadiums - we had five categories here, and the sixth one had a development tournament. On Sunday, there were 34 teams, which is fantastic. It is essential for our sport to involve young people, which the championship is focused on.

As the head of the panel that selected the All-Star teams and the tournament's MVP, I assume you have seen the majority of the matches. Who, in your opinion, stood out as tournament stars?
I have a good overview of Slovak and Czech players. I am a member of the Sports and Technical Commission in the Slovak Ball Hockey Federation which oversees the top-level competitions. I live, work, and play ball hockey in the second league in the Czech Republic. I have had the honor of playing against some of the players who competed in Liberec because they play for the B-teams. For example, Honza Čejka or Samuel Kucharčík. The Czech and Slovak teams confirmed how great ball hockey players they are. In the U23 category, it was essentially men's ball hockey at a professional level. Three to five guys from both teams are ready for men's teams. Then there was Connor Roullete, the author of the lacrosse-style move, a player drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 4th round. All these names have shown their strength. Jordan Albright is also a great player. I didn't know many players from the younger categories, but I see them play gradually, and it's clear that they are the future stars of ball hockey.

You were also the head of the Disciplinary Committee of ISBHF at the tournament and you stood behind all the decisions. The most publicized one was the two-match suspension for Samuel Hrivnák for a kick to the head in the U20 semifinal between the Czech Republic and Slovakia. How challenging was the decision-making, and what message should it convey to the ball hockey community?
I don't like to talk about it publicly, but since you asked, I won't avoid it... There are several members in the disciplinary panel, representing almost all participating countries. The decisions were always based on testimonies from referees and individuals in the position of game officials. It was great that we also had access to video footage, which helped in making a fairer decision. Actions that were penalized during or after the game automatically became subject to disciplinary proceedings. I don't like making decisions that prevent a player from playing in the World Championship final. It is always the pinnacle of their career. But Samuel didn't give us a choice. Everyone saw it publicly. Even the viewers on TV. Unfortunately. We had to approach it in accordance with the rules. This was the most publicized decision, but we had about five or six more. We issued warnings or conditional penalties to players and coaches from almost all teams. It wasn't just about Slovakia and a one-sided decision. With Hrivnák, it was an unfortunate moment that shouldn't have happened. The player and I are both very sorry. It wasn't a pleasant decision, but it was necessary to send a clear signal that such behavior is not tolerable.

In the case of this foul, it was probably specific that the foul was seen by the spectators in the arena, both live and on replay. Are you considering changes in the rules and the introduction of video referees, similar to the 2017 Men's World Championship in Pardubice? Or perhaps something like a coach's challenge, similar to ice hockey?
That's a very good question. In 2017, there was a decision made after a wrongly awarded goal, where the ball hit only the crossbar. This time, it wouldn't be a good step, and I'll try to explain it to the readers. For video, it's not enough to have footage from an online stream. This year, we knew that the Czech Television crew would come with professional equipment, which could provide us with more angles than what the viewers see. That's why we could introduce the so-called video goal judge. The rules precisely define when they can intervene, and penalties are not involved. However, yes, based on what happened in the U20 semifinal, we started discussing expanding the possibilities similar to ice hockey. If a higher penalty than an in-game penalty is at stake for an infraction on the field, the referees should have the right to consult the video. We have it noted in the minutes, and it will be a matter of discussion. It has another side to it, though. Not every championship has such excellent coverage. Implementing such a change requires the host countries to allow for video refereeing. A YouTube live stream cannot be compared to six or eight professional cameras with editing. Because the decision has to be made immediately, you can't wait 20 minutes for a verdict. We will certainly address it, but it's not that simple, and it will depend on the organizers.

Will you also consider other rule innovations? There is a lot of talk in the community about the 3x3 and 4x4 versions of ball hockey, which are trying to expand in Europe. Are you considering similar steps that could potentially enhance the fan experience of ball hockey? In soccer and ice hockey, there has been dynamic development of rules recently, aiming to increase fan interest...
It was extensively discussed at the ISBHF conference. However, as the Technical Director, I am bound by the decisions made by the Board of Directors and the annual General Assembly of the federation. Nevertheless, active debates are taking place on the topic. There is an effort to bring ball hockey to other countries where the member base is not as wide and they don't have rinks for five-a-side ball hockey. ISBHF does not want to hinder development; this is the way to help less-developed countries. It's not just about the format but also about webinars, sending experts, such as the Hungarian training coached by George Gortsos. The players learn a lot and experience a different coaching style. This is the path. And with that, new formats can come as well.

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ISBHF Technical Director Nemček: We actively discuss video referees and rule innovations

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