Ensuring integrity at the heart of handball

At the Men’s EHF EURO 2022 in January the EHF introduced the Integrity Education Programme, a project aimed at safeguarding athletes, stakeholders and competition within handball.

The Integrity Education Programme falls under the umbrella of a broader partnership with Sportradar Integrity Services, a global supplier of sports integrity solutions.

“The integrity project is about protecting the integrity of sport, in particular handball, in this instance. And what we're trying to do is educate participants – that is, all stakeholders, but in particular referees for this programme – on the dangers and risks relating to match corruption, match fixing, and making sure that people understand the consequences of failing to follow the rules of integrity,” says Head of Education, Integrity Services at Sportradar, Andrew Whittingham.

The topic was raised again in August when referees and delegates for the Women’s EHF EURO 2022 came together in Vienna for a kick-off seminar ahead of the November tournament. Integrity was a key area of focus at the seminar.

“This is a really exciting project. It's a two-year course and throughout the two years there will be multiple events. Some of those will be in person, some of those will be by video link and there will also be an e-learning tutorial at the end of it to kind of bring the whole project to a conclusion for this cycle,” says Whittingham.

“The engagement has been fantastic. Lots of people have been asking very interesting questions and that always makes for a fun and exciting programme on what is a very important topic.”

Impact from the top down

The EHF partnership with Sportradar began in 2018. In early 2021, reflecting the success of the first years and the commitment of both parties to safeguarding the sport, the partnership was extended all the way through to 2030.

“The cooperation has already been very fruitful and has had an impact on handball of different levels – and not just at the top of the sport,” says EHF Secretary General Martin Hausleitner

Looking specifically at the Integrity Education Programme, EHF referee programme coordinator George Bebetsos adds: “There are only two factors that can influence the outcome of a match: the referees and the players.

So, if we can influence and educate the referees as much as possible, that can only be beneficial for the integrity of the sport.”

The broader partnership with Sportradar features investigations into allegations of impropriety in EHF competitions. All EHF events are monitored for unusual betting activities using the Universal Fraud Detection System, with any suspicious matches reported to the EHF. More than 10,000 matches are due to be monitored over the course of the agreement. 

Whittingham said steps such as the partnership between the EHF and Sportradar and the Integrity Education Programme are vital, as every sport is at risk.

“We work on a confidential basis, so we wouldn't want to compare handball with other sports, but what we would say is that all sports are at risk of corruption and handball is no exception to that. What's really important is that all organisations are leading by example, such as with the programme that the EHF are delivering, to make sure that every measure is in place to try and prevent the problem of match fixing,” he explains.

Bebetsos underlined how the Integrity Education Programme requires active participation and completion of the course on the part of referees — it is not simply about absorbing content. The programme is mandatory for EHF referees and will include examinations and certification.

At the Men's EHF EURO 2022, all jerseys for EHF referees had an "Integrity" badge imprinted on the sleeve. This is similar to UEFA's "Respect" campaign.
For Whittingham, a key goal of the course is to build confidence and knowledge in the referees, so they can be ready to handle any potential problems related to integrity.

“We want people to feel confident that they know what they need to do if they're approached to fix matches or if they are encouraged to do something that is against the rules and regulations. So, it's about building up that knowledge, that confidence and that understanding of what to do,” concludes Whittingham.