A construction engineer by profession with a volleyball refereeing hobby, this is the dual life of the Bulgarian referee Ivaylo Ivanov.
His fascination and love for the sport made him take up volleyball in 1994-95 for the Slavia club, but due to injuries and certain professional decisions, he had to give up playing. Two to three years later, he decided to become a referee.
However, becoming a referee wasn’t easy for Ivanov as he also works as a construction engineer. “I’m an engineer; volleyball refereeing is not professional. It’s like a hobby I do during my free time,” the referee told Sportstar.
The Bulgarian, who works as a project engineer for industrial projects including production facilities, factories and warehouses, had to use his paid holidays for his refereeing ‘hobby’ at the recently concluded FIVB Men’s Volleyball Club World Championships.
This was not the first time Ivanov had to sacrifice his offs. It has been a common occurrence for him when any tournament spanning a long period takes place.
“I referee FIVB Volleyball Men’s Nations League every year and have been a part of both men’s and women’s European Championships and CEV Champions Leagues,” said the 48-year-old.
With his experience in umpiring men’s and women’s volleyball, the Bulgarian feels that the game’s length is one of the differences between the genders playing the sport.
“Men are faster and stronger in the game, leading to shorter rallies. Women tend to extend the rallies longer, but both the plays have their advantages.”
According to Ivanov, volleyball is the third most popular sport in his country Bulgaria, behind football and basketball. He, like several others in his country, is fond of football. “I passionately follow Real Madrid, but I can’t pick any favourite player from the team.”
Being a former volleyball player helps with his refereeing decisions, be it judging close calls or staying neutral. “It is part of our duty to see everything (including close calls). As I was a player before, I have a feel for the game, so I know what to expect. Which is why I know where to concentrate, how to focus my view and most of the time, I make correct decisions because of these skills.”
With the sport’s rules and regulations changing over time, the referee of over 20 years must be up to date. “Over the years, there have been a lot of changes in the regulations. I would say, how we played the sport then was different to how it’s played now.
“It helps that I was a player before, at that time. I always stood for the truth. I also had disagreements with the referees. That’s why when I decided to end my career as an athlete, I decided to venture to the other side because I wanted to be fair and always be 50-50,” he added.
Luckily for him, technology also helps the players trust his decisions, despite sometimes the result not turning in his favour. “There are instances in which we (referees) might be wrong, but we must immediately forget it, to not disturb our focus during the game,” said Ivanov.
This mathematically inclined engineer incorporates principles from his work on the court to ensure order is maintained.
“As an engineer, we rely on mathematics. For us, everything is exact and strict. This also helps in refereeing because when we make a decision, it’s the final decision. We should avoid any weakness or show that we are in doubt. It also comes with experience. Despite no relation between engineering and volleyball, the precision and attention to detail that I practice while working as an engineer helps me make exact decisions and quick decisions in volleyball.”
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