Michael Mertinian and Evangelos Syrepisios ended their first-ever beach handball world championships by whistling the women’s final between Spain and Brazil. They talk to IHF.info about their careers and how they manage to referee both indoor and beach handball.
IHF.info: How did you become involved with refereeing?
Evangelos Syrepisios (ES): I started as a referee in Athens about 16 years ago. I was a former volleyball player but I had some surgeries and then had to stop. I was looking for something more interesting as a sport, especially in refereeing because I like to be fair and honest in my life.
A friend of mine was a delegate in handball and he asked me; what’s your opinion of handball?’ I said it’s an interesting and spectacular sport so I decided to be part of it.
Michael Mertinian (MM): I used to play basketball but when I went to university to study physical education and science my, teacher there who was a handball coach, told me to be a referee and handball player. I then stopped basketball and started to play handball, but it was only for two days because it was very difficult for me, however, after a year, in 2000, I became a handball referee.
IHF.info: How did you two meet?
ES: We met each other 2005 in Athens and from then until now we have been a pair. It was at a training session to look for young talented referees, and the organising committee of our region decided to give us an opportunity to be together to start at 23 years-old in indoor handball.
Then we had some opportunities to be European referees and now international referees in beach.
IHF.info: Can you remember your first game together?
ES: It was 2006 and it was in the first division in Greece, an interesting match because we were so young, we had a special match and the score was 34:31.
MM: We just spoke with our eyes; our dreams and targets were exactly the same.
IHF.info: What has been your biggest game?
ES: Of course, the final in Budapest, but in indoor we had some EHF EURO qualification tournaments, and now we have nomination for the new EHF M18 Championship, in Varnar, Bulgaria, so that will be our biggest indoor nomination.
MM: This tournament is our most important one.
IHF.info: Do you remember receiving your IHF.info refereeing nomination?
ES: It’s the story of my life actually. It was Friday 15 January 2016. It was a special day as we had a connection with the beach handball working group and they said that maybe we will have an opportunity to go to a world championship; they let us know by text message.
I texted Michael straight away. He’s my other half in handball! He must know everything; we are like family. This day was the best day of my life, because as we were waiting for this my wife and I had an appointment with the doctor where they told my wife was pregnant. It was honestly the best news of my life.
MM: He texted me the same text he received immediately. I was surprised and happy at the same time. I started to call to everyone; my family, girlfriend, my best friends.
IHF.info: How did you prepare for Budapest 2016? What are the main differences for you between indoor and beach handball?
ES: We’ve been training individually every day for four months. For the Greek championships we were training five days a week anyway, plus we have many tournaments in Greece; European tournaments. Also, we went to Germany to have some training as it can be quite difficult to go from indoor handball to outdoor handball.
Between indoor and beach the main different is of course, one is indoor and one outdoor, but our philosophy is the same in all the matches of fair play.
In beach handball there is not so much contact and therefore not so many punishments.
MM: The rules of course, but it’s outside, so maybe it’s raining or maybe its 40 degrees with sunshine, so you must be ready. The rain does not affect our performance though because when you go inside the court you forget everything.
IHF.info: For your first IHF tournament how have the delegates, officials and referees been with you?
ES: As European referees we knew some pairs here before but from the very first time at the beginning it felt like our home, it really is a family.
The IHF Beach Handball Working Group have been supporting us; all of the referees are a team and we all know the most important thing is to be fair to everyone.
IHF.info: Do you feel a responsibility to promote beach handball and refereeing when you are at home?
MM: We don’t feel a responsibility, we feel a duty. It’s our duty to do that, we are the most experienced referees and there is now a possibility to grow the sport generally in our country.
ES: First of all we are representatives of the IHF and we must have respect for this, then we’re representatives for Greece in the championship.
Handball as a sport is really developing in our country, we’ve had some success at a European level: a Greek team in the EBT finals was champions of Europe and another time in women’s beach handball.
Handball in Greece is a famous sport - it’s certainly not the last sport, but handball is our life, it’s difficult to become a referee as we have families and are away from home a lot, but we support handball generally.
We are total handball fans, beach or indoor - we are really interested in both. It’s such a spectacular sport.