USA Men Go 1-2 in First Leg of Super Series

Alex Recker led Team USA in scoring this past weekend with 19 goals in 3 matches

The USA Men travelled to Quebec this past weekend and played 3 matches against Canadian teams from Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan/Manitoba.  The U.S. opened play Friday night with an easy 44-26 victory over Canada Central, a team composed of players from the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Alex Recker led the U.S. with 9 goals, while Ty Reed added 7.

On Saturday night, the U.S. took on hosts Quebec and fell short 38-31.  The U.S. was again led in scoring by Alex Recker with 7 while Chris Morgan and Michael King added 5 each.  Quebec was led in scoring by Christian Toth with 11 and Etienne Mercer with 10. and  Video of the first half is available on Youtube and the U.S. struggled on defense against Quebec’s 7 player alignment.  The half ended 17-14 in favor of Quebec and likely would have been worse except for some tellar play in Goal by Alden Mezick

On Sunday afternoon the U.S. finished the weekend series of games with a 27-22 loss to Alberta.  The U.S. was led in scoring by Sean Zimber with 8 and Michael King with 4.  Alberta was led by Tyrell Johnston with 6 goals

Results

Standings

Handball Quebec Facebook Page:  Link (source for results)

Handball Canada Summary: Link

Video: USA vs Quebec (1st half): Link

 

Podcast (Episode 24): College Potpourri

Luke Albu is investigating Pittsburgh as a location for another Residency Program.

Luke Albu is this episode’s guest and we discuss a wide range of topics including the length of the handball season, a summer pro league, weekend tourneys, a Collegiate Final Four packaged for TV and his investigation of Pittsburgh as a possible location for a new Residency Program.

Towards the end of the podcast we discussed some of the different plans and proposals that have been shared on the collaborative Google Drive:  Link

Michael Gordon’s USATH Growth through Colleges: Link

Ryan Peterson’s Handball Proposal: Link

Original Commentary Highlighting the need for planning: Link

 

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

IHF Congress: A Likely Pan American Split along with some Fireworks

Hassan Moustafa: Re-elected for his 5th, 4 year term; He uses some of that capital to advocate for his proposal to split Pan America into 2 federation at the 2017 IHF Congress

The International Handball Federation (IHF) held their biennial Congress in Antalya, Turkey this past weekend and suffice to say there were a bit more fireworks than normal as attendees expressed their disappointment regarding elections and proposals on multiple occasions.

The Congress was live streamed on Youtube, but even though I’m an early riser here in the U.S. the 10 hours difference between Colorado and Turkey resulted in my personally missing some key items on the agenda.  I had thought that I could simply watch the Youtube video later, even referencing times at which particular discussions took place, but for some reason the video hasn’t been made available.  And, while friendly questions regarding the availability of the livestream were promptly answered early in the day on Saturday, questions regarding the absence of a livestream on Sunday as well as the link for Saturday’s video went unanswered.  Perhaps, this is just an oversight, though, and maybe video for the 2017 proceedings will be posted alongside the 2015 Congress which are still available on the IHF Youtube channel.

While one might think reporting what happened in an open forum would be simple and straightforward, I quickly found out there were a number of contradictory assessments as to what exactly transpired on several occasions.  I would chalk this up to the nuance of “parliamentary” procedures, challenges with speakers and listeners for whom English is their 2nd or even 3rd language, and yes, of course, the biases (including my own) of those watching.  What follows is what I’ve been able to glean from a handful of attendees, news reports and in some instances my own viewing of the live feed.

The IHF Proposal to Split Pan America into Two Federations: All but Approved

When I awoke Saturday morning this agenda item had already been covered, but I was able to rewind the Youtube feed backwards 2 hours to see/hear PHF President, Mario Moccia speaking.  It was in Spanish with no translation, but it was clear that he was angry and upset.  It turns out that the Congress had taken a vote on the IHF President’s proposal to split Pan America and that it had passed 102 to 24 with 6 abstentions.  According to Spanish speakers who listened to a Handball de Primera radio podcast Moccia was protesting that a vote was taken prior to any discussion on the matter, that the vote was open (not secret ballot) and that the vote was even taken at all since all of the Pan American nations were against the proposal.

Following Moccia’s protestations, IHF President Hassan Moustafa then spoke outlining the reasons for the proposal and chastised the PHF for its failure to develop the sport.  In particular, he noted that PHF’s growth from 19 to 40 nations was directly attributable to IHF efforts and not the PHF.  Further, he noted his discussions with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Los Angeles Olympic Organization Committee and that the PHF has made no efforts to develop the sport in North America.

The IHF President then indicated that the issue would be deferred to the IHF Council for a final decision.  As the IHF Council has already recommended approval of the proposal one could assume that they will approve it again.  Still to be addressed is the timeline for the eventual splitting of the Federations and the allocation of qualification slots for the World Championships and the Olympics.  Of particular interest is a report at Handball-Planet that says a “reliable source” has indicated that North America would get its own Olympic Qualification Slot.  If true, this is a significant development and it would certainly call into question any claims to PHF unity in opposition to a split.  At least I would have a hard time understanding why any North American nation would still want to be part of a combined federation where Olympic Qualification would mean travelling to South America to beat Brazil and/or Argentina.

Elections not without Controversy

First, congratulations are in order for Canadian Handball Federation President, Racquel Pedercini who was elected Chair of the Commission for Development.  This should be beneficial to North America and its efforts to further develop the sport in this region.  This vote was interesting in that it was relatively close and that the other main candidate was Mario De La Torre from Mexico.

Other elections of note include Dr Hassan Moustafa’s unopposed re-election for yet another 4 years as the IHF President. Dr Moustafa’s tenure has not been without controversy and the fact that he had no challengers really signals that he has solid support to push through his agenda and initiatives, like the proposed Pan American Federation split.

The election for the IHF 1st VP was controversial in that sitting VP, Miguel Roca won the first round of voting over Joel Delplanque of France and Ulrich Rubeli of Switzerland.  And, then according to reports he was even congratulated on stage for his victory until it was later noted that he had not received a majority and that another round of voting was required with the 2 highest vote getters.  In that 2nd vote he lost out to Delplanque 69-63 and some have voiced concern that some supporters might have left the room and not participated in the 2nd round of voting.

The Executive Council vote provided drama in that Russian candidate, Sergey Shiskarev, was not included in the voting for failing to meet the criterion of “6 years high level involvement in handball.”  While Shiskarev has clearly been involved with sports at a high level for many years it’s certainly debatable as to whether he has 6 years of involvement with handball at a high level.  I did not personally see the drama during the during the vote itself, but I did have the opportunity to witness a very contentious and awkward exchange between Shiskarev and Moustafa during the agenda item confirming the next Congress’s host.  Normally such an agenda item is a perfunctory, almost celebratory confirmation, but in this instance it was a rebuke and withdrawal of Russia’s offer to host by Shiskarevev.  The exchange was heated as Moustafa seemed somewhat surprised by the withdrawal and chastised Shiskarev for using this agenda item to address his exclusion from the election.  Further, since the meeting Shiskarev has threatened to take court action.

Both Genders on IHF Bodies and Testing of New Rules

Norway put forth a couple of motions that were easily approved.  First, IHF bodies will now be required to have members of both genders.  This seems like it should be a given, but this new rule should serve as an impetus for greater gender equity.  Additionally, proposed new rule changes will not be first tested by at least 3 national federations prior to implementation.  This should help avoid having a major tournament like the 2016 Olympics becoming the primary testing ground for a major rule change like the open goalkeeper substitution.

New TV Contract

MP&Silva was announced as the winner of the new global TV/Media rights contract and they will be responsible for selling rights to nations world-wide.  Notably, the award was made not just for 2 cycles (2019 and 2021), but for 4 cycles (2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025) meaning the MP&Silva will be the go to agency for the next 8 years.

The previous contract had been with beIN Sports and on multiple occasions they had struggled to sign deals with other networks/channels in nations that did not carry the beIN Sports network.  This resulted in no network broadcasts of the 2017 WC in Germany.  And, even in nations (e.g. USA) where beIN Sports has a network, they often chose to not broadcast any WC matches

MP&Silva will simply broker rights to networks world-wide for the IHF.  Terms of the deal were not provided.

IHF Summary of the 2017 Congress: Link

 

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal and a High Stakes Vote in Turkey

The IHF President Proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation in two and still on the agenda for the upcoming IHF Congress.  A major vote that could change handball in Pan America for decades to come.

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal

In Part 1, I outlined the IHF’s proposal to split the Pan American Federation into two separate federations.  In Part 2, I look at the overall merits of the proposal, the curious politics behind it, and a looming high stakes vote at the IHF Congress in Turkey.

Not a Perfect Deal, but One that Makes Sense

As discussed in Part 1, there’s a lot of pros and cons to the IHF proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF) in two.  Personally, I took some offense to the lack of World Championship qualification slots.  1 slot only for Youth and Jr Championships.  And, essentially half a slot for Sr. Championships.  While it may reflect the current competitive status of North American/Caribbean Handball it’s still quite a snub.  But, once I got over the snub and weighed the cost savings and the opportunity to create truly regional competitions I started to warm to the proposal.

And, the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve warmed up to it.  The reality is that it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for all that travel back and forth across the equator.  All that money spent paying airlines will be roughly halved… forever.  Those costs are different for each nation, but make no mistake there’s some real big savings over time.  And, there are just too many Pan American events right now that are for all practical purposes simply South American events.  The recently completed Women’s Club Championships are a prime example:  8 clubs- all from South America.

I think the New York City Team Handball Club Men’s team is only side from the North that has ever participated in a club championship And, yes club handball is not very well developed in the North, but bet your bottom dollar, if this championship was ever staged in the North, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba would be far more likely to attend.  And, then maybe only one team from Argentina and Brazil would make the trip up north.

And, this is not likely to ever change in a Federation that spans from Greenland in the north to Tierra Del Fuego in the south.  Club Championships, Jr and Youth Championships will continue to have limited participation due to travel costs.  Only Sr Championships will be truly North/South affairs.

Whereas, if you split the federations there’s a real chance that the North will see legitimate growth in participation to all those events.  Ideally, it could turn into handball’s version of the FIFA CONCACAF.  Not the strongest Federation, but a competitive one with good participation in all events.  And, perhaps even the South will see growth with the 5 primary nations (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile) focusing on and encouraging growth in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Central America.  In theory, they could create a legitimate handball CONMEBOL.

And, I’m not even factoring in the contentious issues that roiled the Federation 10 years ago.  Major issues that were resolved with devastating impacts to Canada and Greenland.  Things have been more agreeable the past few years and it’s nice to see some championship events coming north for a change.  But, with a split?  Well, those issues would never rise to the fore again because the disagreeing nations would be in separate federations.

But, a Deal that’s Being Unanimously Rejected?

Well, while I may have warmed to the idea of two federations, the PHF nations soundly rejected the proposal at an Extraordinary Congress held on 7 October.  As stated on the PHF website:

  • Se trató la propuesta presentada por el Presidente de la IHF de dividir al Continente Americano en dos Federaciones (Norte y Sur) y la misma no contó con ninguna adhesión positiva.

Or, in Google Translate :  “The proposal presented by the President of the IHF to divide the American Continent in two Federations (North and South) was discussed and it did not have any positive adhesion.”

As to why it was rejected, no rationale has been provided.  Speculation on my part, but I would surmise that many nations are resistant to change or are concerned with qualification slots.  Regardless, while the proposal merited only one sentence, this proposal was the reason why a PHF Extraordinary Congress was held and it wasn’t just discussed, it was discussed at length.

It surely would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall of that meeting, but I’ve heard next to nothing (on or off the record) as to what was discussed.  Nobody’s talking and for something like this with major potential repercussions that is a bit surprising.  Yes, the PHF appears to have quite a bit more discipline then the leaky Trump White House.

The Curious History and Politics Behind the Proposal

What’s really curious about this proposal is that it was initiated by the IHF.  This in many respects would be sort of like the European Union proposing to Spain that it split into 2 countries, Spain and Catalonia.  As an organization it’s fairly easy to see it from the PHF perspective: “Mind your own business, would ya?  If we want to split the PHF, we’ll figure out that ourselves and then we will put forward a proposal to the IHF for consideration.”

And, what makes things curiouser and curiouser?  A similar proposal was submitted by the U.S. back in 2009 and it was rejected by the IHF.  Former USA Team Handball Board President, Dieter Esch, later voiced his displeasure with IHF President Moustafa’s lack of support to his proposed breakaway federation.  Indeed, it was a factor in Esch’s decision to step down and discontinue his generous financial support to USA Team Handball.  And, now Dr. Moustafa is taking up the mantle for a North American Federation?  And, USA Team Handball is rejecting the proposal?

It should have you scratching your head.  But, then again, USA Team Handball has entirely different leadership now and having known USA Team Handball CEO, Mike Cavanaugh, for around 30 years, he’s not one to prone to rock the boat unless it is absolutely necessary.

Additionally, as I discussed in my interview with Handball de Primera, it’s possible that some nations in the PHF were/are reluctant to speak out openly, out of fear of future repercussions should the proposal not come to fruition.  For sure, it would be awkward to attend future PHF meetings after having previously voiced support for leaving the PHF.  And, it would only be natural for future issues and decisions to be weighed negatively against the “traitor” in their midst.  Yes, often it is better to be quiet and tactical in such a situation.  But, to be honest I’ve got little insight as to what the nations are thinking and this is clearly speculation on my part.

The Way Ahead: Drama and High Stakes in Turkey?

Well, you might think that this issue is over.  After all, the PHF nations unanimously rejected the proposal.  The IHF wouldn’t force the PHF to split if they don’t want to? Right?

Well, apparently that’s not the case as the proposal is still on the agenda for upcoming IHF Congress in Antalya, Turkey on 11-12 November.   And, you can even read the proposal which in a rare moment of transparency is readily available on the IHF Congress website.  This wording is virtually identical to the IHF Council Meeting Minutes except for the omission of information regarding WC qualification slots (which I outlined in part 1).

So, assuming this proposal stays on the agenda, the IHF Congress will vote on the motion to split Pan America in two.  For passage, the motion will require a 2/3 majority.  This may seem like a steep hurdle, but President Moustafa who is running unopposed for his 5th term as IHF President generally knows how to count up the votes.  The IHF 2013 Congress had 163 attendees and the 2015 IHF Congress had 139, so one could assume that the 2017 Congress will have similar attendance.  Perhaps even more as additional nations have joined the IHF.  Further, the IHF has been known to pay airfare and hotel for developing nations to attend, which often endears support from those representatives on key votes.

If there are 160 voting members, the measure would need to have 107 voting in support to beat the 53 voting against.  And, one can do a whole lot of speculating as to where the votes might come from for either bloc.  Key questions to be asked and answered in Turkey:

  • How many nations will show up and how many are attending on the IHF’s dime?
  • How strongly will the IHF President push this motion? Will he be content to let the Congress decide or will he see its non-passage as an affront to his leadership?
  • How will the different continental federations discuss this proposal at their meetings prior to the IHF Congress? Michael Wiederer, the influential EHF President voiced his support for the proposal stating that he is in favor as it would help to strengthen handball in the economically important country of USA. How might other IHF Council members lobby their respective continents?
  • Can the PHF member nations effectively lobby other nations with the rationale that this proposal shouldn’t be forced upon a continental federation? (i.e. The message being that your continent could be next)
  • Are the PHF member nations truly united against this proposal or will some take the opportunity of a secret ballot to vote in favor?
  • And will some renegade PHF nations even go further? Actually lobbying for the proposal in private or with a wink and a nod in a semi-private discussion in the hotel lobby or at a coffee break?
  • What will USA Team Handball say or do? As this proposal is in part focused on U.S. development a few choice words in public and/or private could make a real difference.

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions which makes the outcome all the more interesting.  In another life, as a NATO Staff Officer I attended dozens of meetings with the flags around the table.  With very few exceptions these meetings were snoozers with little doubt as what would be decided… because anything important had already been decided before the meeting.

But, this might very well indeed be the rare case where an International Meeting takes place with the outcome to a major issue in doubt.  There might even be impassioned discussion at the Congress right before the vote takes place.  Something rarely seen or heard.  And this discussion should even be available for viewing on a live web stream on the IHF Congress web page.  An unprecedented possibility that should have every handball fan in Pan America on the edge of their seat.

Yes, mark your calendars.  11 November 2017 could be the date that seals Pan America’s fate one way or the other.

Podcast:  Buckeye Classic Tourney Review and College Game Discussion with Ohio St’s Max Littman

Ohio State Team Handball

This past weekend Ohio St defeated the Columbus Armada 20-19 to win the 4th Annual Fall Buckeye Classic Tournament.  Max Littman, an Ohio St Right Winger provides a review of the tournament and then we discuss the state of the collegiate game in the U.S.

Here are some links to more information on the topics we discussed.

Ohio State’s Twitter with a few videos from the tourney: Link

Commentaries on Collegiate Handball in the U.S.

Podcast Discussion on what collegiate team handball can learn from collegiate rugby’s success: Link

 

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 1):  The Pros and Cons

The IHF is proposing to split the PHF into 2 separate federations.

This past summer I began hearing rumors of a possible split to the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF).   A couple of postings on the PHF website have indeed confirmed that the rumors are true and I’ve now seen an outline of the actual proposal.  Surprisingly, the proposal actually came from the IHF as opposed to a PHF member nation.

For reference, here’s an overview of the current PHF nations and qualification paths:  Link

Detailed Map of PHF Handball Nations: Link

The proposed IHF split would do the following:

  • Split the PHF into two separate federations: A North America and Caribbean Federation and a South America and Central America Federation.  So, unlike soccer it would be a CONCA and not a CONCACAF.
  • For Jr and Youth World Championships the North/Caribbean would receive 1 qualification slot and the South/Central would be awarded 3 slots just like Asia, Africa and Europe. The new North/Caribbean slot for the Jr WC would come at the expense of the reigning Youth Champion and the new Youth WC slot would come at the expense 2nd best continent at the preceding Youth WC.  So, in practical terms the new North/Caribbean slots would likely mean that Europe would lose 1 of their ~12 slots for Junior WC and that Africa, Asia, or South America would lose a bonus slot for the Youth WC.
  • For Sr World Championships the IHF borrows a bit from FIFA World Qualification formats and essentially gives the North/Caribbean a ½ slot and gives South/Central America 2 ½ slots. With the ½ slots being decided by a playoff between the North/Caribbean Champion and the South/Central 3rd place team.
  • For the Olympics the IHF proposal only states that “the qualification process for the Olympic Games shall be discussed later.”

The IHF listed several rationales for this proposed split to include

  • Improved organization as each Federation would be focused on serving fewer nations
  • Cost savings particularly due to smaller travel distances
  • Greater participation from nations that currently don’t have a realistic chance of making the PHF or IHF championship events
  • Opportunities for beach handball growth in the Caribbean

Assessing the Pros and Cons

There’s certainly some positive aspects to this proposal along with some shortcomings.  Here’s an assessment of the Pros and Cons

Pros:

Cost Savings:  If this proposal were to be approved there would be some significant cost savings in travel.  Here’s some back of the envelope calculations based on a sampling of flights from Atlanta to different destinations.  In broad terms travel to cities like Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires is twice as expensive as it is to go to the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico.  Around $600/person cheaper per flight.  If a team contingent is 18 and a Federation makes an average of 1.5 North to South (or vice versa) trips a year that’s $16,200 in costs that would disappear.  Right now there are about 12 active Federations in the PHF so that would be $194,400 in total savings/year.  And, if one does a simple x10 calculation that would be $1.94 million dollars over a decade. Admittedly that’s some very rough analysis, but while we could argue about the numbers, there’s no denying this would save a lot of money over the long term.  A lot of money for resourced starved nations that could then be spent on development instead of airline travel.

Greater Participation:  Directly tied to the cost savings is the possibility that more nations would participate in more events.  Somewhat established nations like the U.S., Canada and Mexico would be more likely to participate in Jr and Youth events.  Less established nations in the Caribbean and South America might see an upsurge in participation as well.

Independence Would Eliminate Issues of Fairness:  I was really pleased with recent PHF developments to award Greenland the Men’s Sr PHF Championships and the U.S. the Beach Championships.  But, I also remember some major injustices meted out by our friends in the South.  Not trivial little things either.  Canadian Handball was on the verge of a renaissance a decade ago when they qualified and participated in the 2005 WC, but due to arcane rules they weren’t even allowed to participate in WC qualification in 2006.  And, then Greenland was demoted to Associated Membership after they went to the WC in 2007.  The U.S. might very well have qualified for the 2007 PANAM Games if the 2nd chance tournament hadn’t been moved at the last minute from Puerto Rico to Chile.  Yes, these events were a decade ago, but I’ve got a long memory.  Of course, there are bound to be conflicts within any organization, but given the distances between the North and the South I suspect key decisions in the future will continue to gravitate towards a north/south split in opinion.  I also like to think the level of disagreement won’t reach the heights that it did a decade ago, but make no mistake there will continue to be contentious issues.

No Major Change to the WC Slot Status Quo:  For all practical purposes while the North is being short changed on WC slot allotment it wouldn’t result in much change to the current status quo.  In some respects it’s even better for the North as several times we’ve failed to send any team to the World Jr or Youth Championships either because we didn’t place high enough or failed to send any team at all. And, for last 5 Sr tournaments the North for the most part has missed out on the semifinals and the opportunity to play for 3rd place and the last WC slot.  (Cuba and Puerto Rican Women in 2015 being the exception).  Under this format the North champion would be guaranteed a chance to qualify for the 3rd slot.  Further this playoff could even be a marketable event.

Cons:

The Oceania Treatment: While it’s true there’s no change to the current status quo, if one looks at this proposal from a WC slot allocation perspective, the proposed North/Caribbean Federation is pretty much being treated as another Oceania.  Nothing against our friends from the Pacific, but give us a little respect will ya?  The U.S. has been in a downward cycle for the past 20 years, but with an Olympics we will surely improve.  The Greenland men knocked off Argentina at the 2016 PHF Championship.  Cuba has several pros playing in Europe and when properly resourced they can be very competitive.  This split should come with more WC slots or at the very least there should be some clear benchmarks given to the North/Caribbean Federation as to how those slots can be increased.  And, really how many European teams do we need at the World Championships?  Yes, maybe one of the performance slots should be given to the North/Caribbean champion.

Weaker Competitions:  Splitting into 2 Federations will mean that each competition will be weaker.  In particular, the teams from the North will no longer get the experience of playing the Brazilian Women and the Brazilian and Argentine Men.  While matches against those sides have recently been blowouts it’s still very beneficial for weaker nations to get a yardstick as to where they stand against top competition.  And, even the South tourney will be degraded with sides like Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay missing out on matches against peer nations like Greenland, the U.S. and Canada.

The 8 Nation Rule: Underlying possible concerns with this split is a recent IHF competition rules requirement for federations to have at least 8 nations participating in World Championship Qualification events.  While Pan America may have around 30 full and associate members, the level of participation varies dramatically.  Perhaps around a dozen nations have fairly active programs, regularly participating in Sr events and to varying degrees Jr and Youth events.  Then there are around 6 nations that are somewhat established and sporadically play in qualifying events.  And, finally there around a dozen nations in Central America and Caribbean that are really fledgling nations.  I think for some of them the IHF Trophy tournament just this past year was their very first official competition.

So what does all of this mean?  Well right now the PHF can easily meet the 8 nation rule for Sr events, but doing so relies on participation from the established nations from both the North and the South.  The South could probably meet the 8 nation requirement independently, but it would need to coax nations like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Central America nations into participating to ensure that it’s met.  And, doing so for Jr and Youth events would be even more challenging.  The North/Caribbean Federation would have even a harder time coaxing the fledgling nations of the Caribbean to participate.  Perhaps there could be a Caribbean championship and also maybe the French Departments of Guadaloupe and Martinique could participate.  (Side note: Trinidad & Tobago is one of the fledgling nations.  Will some future USA National Team have to travel to Port of Spain to ignominiously go down in defeat in a handball WC qualifier?)

While it’s true that the shorter distances might allow greater participation both of the new Federations might find themselves short of numbers and accordingly losing their WC slots.  Perhaps the IHF will provide a grace period for growth requirements.

So there’s a rundown on the pros and cons, as I see it.  But, what about the PHF nations and the IHF as a whole.  What do they think about the proposal? In Part 2, I’ll take a closer look at the history of Pan American Handball and the politics behind this proposal.

Team USA Olympic and World Championship Qualification Odds (Part 1):  Assessing the near term 2019-2020

Sometimes when the odds are long we don’t even want to contemplate them. But we should. We really should.

With the 2028 Olympics now officially coming to Los Angeles, I’m working on a number of different commentaries that assess possible ways forward for USA Team Handball.  And, for those also inclined to dream of the future I’ve set up a Google Drive to develop documentation in a collaborative environment.  (Send me an email at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com if you’re interested in participating.)

But, while it’s inherently logical to envision a strategy that centers around the 2028 Olympics and the automatic Olympic qualification that comes with it, it’s still important to remember that it’s 11 years away.  If you spend all of your time planning to be the team of the future, you might very well never get to that future.

That being said with very limited resources and critical shortcomings in just about every phase of development I think it’s pretty important to continually assess the quality of our National Teams and what their prospects are on the world stage.  To assess how likely Olympic Qualification and to a lesser extent World Championship qualification is so that informed budgetary decisions can be made.  If there’s a decent chance at Olympic qualification it makes sense to allocate more resources to support a robust effort to improve our national teams in the near term.  To get that team over the hump.  And, on the flip side if the odds are long, perhaps it makes more sense to direct limited resources towards other needs to facilitate development and a stronger run in the future.

With that introduction explanation as to why it’s important, here’s an assessment of our Olympic and World Championship qualification over the next two years.

USA Women Odds             

The recent USA Women’s trip to S. Korea showed a bit of promise as the women were more competitive against professional and semi-pro club teams.  Still losing mind you, but way more competitive than matches against European club teams that had taken place just a few months earlier in France.

First I’ll tackle the 2019 Pan American Championships.  This event will take place probably in June and will likely include a qualification event for the North America and Caribbean region.  Here are my assessed odds for where the U.S. will finish.

Note, that the overall odds total up to 100%.  Also, keep in mind that you can add them up to determine other odds like making the semifinals (10% +10% +20% = 50% in this instance).

Rationale for the different numbers

1st(<1%):  It’s really hard to see any other PHF team beating Brazil in the next two years.  Really, only Argentina has even a remote chance of such an upset.  I know folks like to bring up the “Miracle on Ice” analogy that in one game anything can happen, but it just doesn’t apply here.  The gap is just way too large and handball has too much scoring for such a miracle to occur.  It’s the equivalent of an NCAA Div 3 team beating Kentucky or Kansas in basketball.  Of course, anything is possible, but we’re not talking about a 1 in 10 chance like the 84 Olympic hockey team.  I’m thinking somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 in 250 or so is about right.

2nd (10%): Beating Argentina in a one off game, however, is conceivable. Argentina is clearly a better team than the U.S. and the other PANAM teams, but they are not that much better.  From a historical standpoint I’m pretty certain that the USA Women’s national teams from the 80s and early 90s would probably beat the current Argentina squad.  So, in theory a residency program clicking on all cylinders should probably be able to put together a team capable of finishing 2nd at the PANAM Games.  That being said I don’t think it’s very likely that can be accomplished in 2 years time.  There are a lot of variables here, but let’s be optimistic and give the USA a 10% chance of upsetting Argentina in a semifinal or group play match and securing 2nd place at the PANAM Games.

3rd (20%) and 4th (20%):  Overall, I would assess the U.S. chances of making the semifinals as a 50-50 proposition.  Some might pooh-pooh such a number since the U.S. hasn’t even made a PHF semifinal in over 14 years.  But, if they’ve been watching the U.S. play recently they should know that they are due to play for a medal.  And, playing for 3rd means an opportunity to qualify for the World Championship.  Meaning that overall, I would assess the Women as having around a 30% chance of participating in their first World Championship since 1995.

5th to Last (40%): But, while the U.S. has shown progress, they could also falter in pool play. Certainly, that’s been the case for the past few tournaments.

Fail to Qualify (10%):  I’d like to think this number is less, but it’s still possible to think that such a melt down could occur.  And, if Cuba decides to show up at a NORCA event, a decent team like the U.S. will find itself on the outside looking in, if they have a bad tournament.

Now, let’s take a look at the 2019 PANAM Games.

You’ll notice that the numbers are the same and this is because the competition will roughly be the same.  The only significant difference is in the qualification format as the U.S. will likely play Canada in a series of qualification matches.  The Canadians have slipped a bit in recent years and I think the U.S. will be big favorites against them.  That being said, though, there’s still 1 in 10 chance the U.S. could slip up.

USA Women Olympic Qualification

So are the U.S. Women’s Olympic dreams contingent on an extremely unlikely upset of Brazil?  Essentially nonexistent?  No, not quite.  Because Brazil is that good, it’s possible they could win the 2019 World Championship and then give Pan America one more Olympic slot.  After all, Brazil were World Champions in 2013 and beat Norway, the current World and Olympic Champions, just last summer at the Olympics in Rio.  But, while they clearly are capable of doing so, more often than not Brazil hasn’t done so well when they get to the knock out stages of major tournaments.  In fact, the 2013 World Championships is the only time they’ve made it to the semifinals.  The latest odds for the WC list them at a 16/1 underdog or roughly a 6% chance of winning, but, again let’s be optimistic and give Brazil a 10% chance of being the 2019 World Championships.

So, when one puts the two requirements, Brazil winning the World Championship and beating Argentina together you get a basic probability equation

10% x 10% = 1%

Yes, a 1% chance of 2020 Olympic qualification.  And, honestly that’s being pretty optimistic.

USA Men Odds

Now let’s take a look at the Men’s chances.  Before, we do that, however, it’s important to note that there are a lot of question marks concerning the Men’s National Team roster.  Since the 2016 Pan American Championships (the U.S. placed 8th out of 12 teams) the U.S. Sr. team has played only a handful of matches.  This past summer using a roster mostly composed of athletes at the Residency Program in Auburn they split 4 matches vs Canada 2-2.  I suspect, however, that the strongest possible U.S. roster would rely mostly on players based overseas, Gary Hines, of course, and several promising younger dual citizen players who have made our Jr. team competitive.   Whether the U.S. will field such a roster, however, remains to be seen, but I’ll assume that they will.  (If for some reason they don’t, though, their odds for success will be even longer than what I’ve assessed below.)

As far as the competition in PHF, unlike the Women’s competition, there is no one team which is overwhelmingly stronger than the competition.  Instead, there are two teams (Brazil and Argentina) which are substantially better.  The gap is still pretty large, though, just not at the extreme level it is with the Women.  A notch below Brazil/Argentina are Chile and Greenland and then below them are several teams roughly on par with the U.S.

First, here’s a look at the Pan American Championships which are scheduled to take place in Greenland next summer.

1st(<1%):  While the Brazilian and Argentinian Men aren’t out of this world better like the Brazilian Women they are still quite a bit better than the U.S.  So instead of a one off miracle victory being a 1 in 250 or so proposition it’s probably around 1 in 50.  That may provide some comfort that there’s a 2% chance of an upset, but it’s tempered by the need for the U.S. to likely execute two back to back 2% upsets, beating one top side in the semifinals and then turning around and beating the other in the finals.  The math (.02*02= .0004) is ugly and puts the chances of that happening at around 1 in 2,500.  Unlike C3PO, however, I don’t think you can simply perform the math equation.  After all, if the U.S. were to pull off 1 such victory, pulling off another wouldn’t seem so hard anymore.  That being said, it’s a real stretch right now to think that the U.S. Men are capable of pulling off such a twofer.

2nd (2 %):  As discussed, a one off victory of Brazil or Argentina is very unlikely, but conceivable.  It would take the U.S. playing out of this world and one of those sides having a real off day.  A 1 in 50 occurrence, although, I’m sure some might argue that it’s even worse than that.

3rd (3%):  The assessed odds for 3rd aren’t much better than 2nd and that’s primarily due to the location of the championships in Greenland.  This is possibly the biggest sporting event ever to take place in that country.  If Greenland is in the semifinals they will be extremely difficult to beat in a 3rd place match with a World Championship bid on the line.  Chile would also be tough to beat.  Heck, Greenland even beat Argentina in 2016 so it wouldn’t be much of a shock for them to knock off Brazil or Argentina at home, meaning that one of those two sides would need to be beaten in a one off match for WC qualification.

4th (10%):  A fortunate draw could mean that the U.S. would only have to beat Uruguay or a similar team to reach the semifinals.  An unfortunate draw will mean beating Greenland and/or Chile.

5th-Last (75%):  If past history is a guide, the U.S. will likely lose 2-3 matches in group play and play for a consolation place

Fail to Qualify (10%):  In 2016, the U.S. didn’t even have to play in a North American & Caribbean qualification tournament.  That could also be the case in 2018.  Or an event could be held whereby the U.S. would need to secure a qualification slot.  I think the U.S. should be able to secure a slot against the likes of Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, but it’s not guaranteed.

As far as the PANAM Games go this tournament is actually a bit easier due to fewer teams from South America and Greenland not being allowed to participate.  The U.S. would still need to first beat Canada in qualification, but should they make the final tournament they will have better prospects of making the semifinals.  But, once there they would still need to then execute the double upset and it’s really hard to imagine the U.S. doing so.

But, while the odds for the near term are extremely long for the 2020 Olympics there’s still a fighting chance for WC qualification, particularly for the Women.  Does that possibility alone, in the near term, justify directing the Federation’s limited resources towards national teams?  And, what about the midterm and the lead up to 2028? In part 2, I’ll address those questions and more.

USA Team Handball Strategic Plan 2018-2028: Envisioning the Final Product

Envisioning what the final product might look like.

Sometimes when you start an effort like a Strategic Plan for USA Team Handball it can really help to have a conceptual idea as to what your final end product might look like.  So that one can perhaps better understand the types of questions that need to be asked and answered.

As a starting point, I’ve taken the best example and perhaps the most relevant Strategic Plan I’ve found, USA Field Hockey’s 2017-2024 Strategic Plan and re-imagined it as a USA Team Handball 2018-2028 Strategic Plan.  In many cases I simply replaced Field Hockey with Team Handball, but in other places I had to do some additional modifications. In doing so, I tried to limit my editorializing deciding to simply go with what had been envisioned by the USA Field Hockey strategy even if it didn’t necessarily fit my views or how handball is necessarily structured in the U.S.

Both the original and the Team Handball version can be found here:

USA Field Hockey 2017-2024 Strategic Plan: Link

USA Team Handball 2018-2028 Strategic Plan: Link

A quick, cursory review of the conceptual USA Team Handball Strategic Plan might result in a few top level insights.  Such as:

  • That a strategic plan is kind of a “motherhood and apple pie” document. It highlights basic foundational beliefs that can set the framework for more detailed initiatives
  • That such a plan shouldn’t be created by a handful of people in a vacuum because if that’s done it’s not likely to be reflective of the community as a whole. According to the documentation, USA Field Hockey spent months listening, discussing, reviewing individual meetings, surveys and focus groups to best understand what their members wanted.
  • That a Strategic Plan, if it’s to have any value can’t simply be a laundry list of everything that might possibly be done. I suspect that that a significant amount of blood, sweat and tears were spent identifying and selecting USA Field Hockey’s four key strategic initiatives.

From a top level perspective I think it provides a good glimpse of what a strategic plan for USA Team Handball might look like.  That being said here are a few thoughts regarding the similarities and differences between the two sports.

Team Handball and Field Hockey in the U.S. (The Similarities)

First off, I won’t claim to be an expert on field hockey, but here are some common themes/issues that I think the two sports share in the U.S.:

  • Both team sports
  • Both minor sports with low participation (Men’s field hockey is particularly relevant)
  • Both Olympic sports which garner significant interest due to their Olympic status
  • Both sports have very limited television exposure
  • Both sports have a very committed volunteer base
  • Both sports have had limited international success (Men’s field hockey is particularly relevant)

Team Handball and Field Hockey in the U.S. (Some Major Differences)

But, while there are some striking similarities there also are some major differences between the two sports.  No, simply doing a “find and replace” of field hockey and team handball clearly won’t suffice, because of these major differences:

  • Women’s Field Hockey is a sanctioned High School sport in several states and an official NCAA sport. Handball has no such status anywhere in the U.S. (Men or Women)  (Translation:  A solid grass roots foundation already exists and for the most part it’s not funded by USA Field Hockey)
  • USA Field Hockey has more members and revenue largely due to its Women’s membership base
  • The USA Field Hockey Women have pretty much always been respectable on the World Stage. They’ve only medaled once in Olympic competition (84 Olympics), but they’ve been in the 2nd tier of nations
  • Globally, Team Handball has multiple leagues and some athletes earning 7 figure salaries while field hockey has fewer professional options (Translation the pro to amateur gap is much less pronounced with Field Hockey.)
  • Team Handball has an emerging discipline, beach handball, while to the best of my knowledge there is only one type of field hockey that is being played and promoted.

A Few Peanut Section Critiques of the USA Field Hockey Plan

While I really think the Field Hockey Strategic Plan is a pretty well put together plan I thought it was lacking in a few instances.

  • There’s very little in the document regarding Men’s Field Hockey and little insight as to how the U.S. can grow the Men’s game and succeed internationally. Perhaps, this was by design and a strategic decision to avoid the far greater challenges the Men’s program has.
  • While I think they’ve identified 4 good initiatives there’s no guidance as to how resources will be allocated between those initiatives. This is the same fundamental problem USA Team Handball has in regards to development vs National Team support.

Help Still Wanted

This is an online collaborative effort.  Everyone’s welcome to look, but if you want to help identify the key questions, assess the pros and cons of different options and draft documentation contact me at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Podcast: Gary Hines, Ninja Warrior and Team USA Handballer

Gary Hines in action for his club team in Germany, HSC Bad Neustadt. I wonder why they call him Hang Time?

Gary Hines has been a mainstay of the U.S. Men’s National Team for 14 years.  More recently he’s been a fan favorite on German TV’s, Ninja Warrior Germany.

In a wide ranging interview we discuss his recent Ninja escapade as well as his journey from foster care, to discovering handball with the Atlanta Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs and Condors, to the U.S. National Team to playing professional handball in Spain and Germany.  It’s quite a story and at age 33 he’s not done yet by any means.

Here are some links to more information on the topics we discussed.

  • Gary’s final course run on this season’s Ninja Warrior Germany: Link
  • Story from 2010 on the first Ninja Handball player, Japan’s Daisuke Miyazke: Link
    (Note: the speculation concerning a future American Handball Ninja)
  • Commentary from 2010 suggesting that USA Team Handball should facilitate Gary Hines signing with a higher division club: Link
  • HSC Bad Neustadt Club website: Link
  • German Handball Federation article on Gary’s Ninja Warrior Exploits: Link
  • Gary’s profile at USA Team Handball: Link

Gary in action on Ninja Warrior Germany

Gary Hines on Social Media
Facebook: Link
Youtube: Link
Instagram: Link

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If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

Planning a Way Forward for Handball in the U.S.:  An Invitation to Contribute

Julie Andrews had it right: When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you plan, you begin with a mission and vision statement. (Sorry, that doesn’t rhyme)

Readers of this website are surely familiar with the many commentaries I’ve written over the years exploring different strategies to move Team Handball forward in the United States.

I like to think that these commentaries have served a useful purpose.  To get people thinking outside the box as to what might be possible.  Or, maybe to get people to think about the underlying objectives of what we’d like to do prior to charging forward with solutions.

All well in good, but I would suggest that the time is right now to do a bit more than “thinking”.  To turn that “thinking” into “planning”.  To start weighing different options so that informed decisions can be made on the best ways to proceed.

The impetus for this change in focus, of course, is the awarding of the 2028 Olympics to Los Angeles.  This is a significant event that can serve as the catalyst to forever change Team Handball in this country.  To build a sustainable grass roots base.  To field competitive National Teams.  To make Team Handball a sport every sports minded person in this country is aware of.  And, to turn at least some portion of that sports minded public into die-hard fans.

I firmly believe that all of this can happen.

But, I also firmly believe that it’s not going to happen by accident.   We need a plan.  A good plan that’s the product of input from multiple sources.  A plan that’s the product of a structured process that first lays out the vetted goals and objectives of the organization.  Then reviews the merits of multiple options going forward based on agreed upon metrics and how well those options match established goals.  And, then, and only then, moving forward with action plans to implement.

Make no mistake.  This is not an easy task.  Especially, if one considers the divergent views of the folks that make up somewhat nebulous American Team Handball community.  Herding cats is probably easier.

But, it can be done.  It should be done.  Sooner or later it will be done.  Five years ago the USOC paid for and organized a conference in Salt Lake City to coax USATH into taking on this task.  For reasons that have never been articulated this process was short circuited and well…  Let’s just say that we have what we have.

It’s not clear to me when the “sooner or later” will happen with USA Team Handball, but I’ve decided that simply waiting is not a good option.  2028 may seem like a long, long way away, but it’s not.

Here’s Where “You” Come in

I’m starting the process unofficially, but it’s a task that shouldn’t be the product of one person or even a few people.  It should include input from all corners.  Everyone who cares should have their voice heard.  That doesn’t mean every idea or suggestion you might propose will be implemented, but it should mean that it was considered.  And, you should be able to understand why it wasn’t implemented in the big scheme of things.  And, in theory, being a part of such a process should then give you “buy in” as to what was decided.

So to facilitate this process I’ve set up a Google Drive with a few documents that you can review and provide your input. To start out I’m looking for feedback on USA Team Handball’s currently existing Mission and Vision Statements as well as some help in identifying high level questions that should be addressed.  Not the answers to such questions (yet), just what those questions are.

For you “lurkers” out there the documents can be viewed here: Link

If you want to actively participate in the document, just send me an email at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com and I’ll give you editing privileges.

What a Waste of Time?

Alright, I get it.  This is an exercise which is not in any way shape or form sanctioned by USA Team Handball.  It has zero authority and could be simply assessed as a waste of time.  “Fan fiction” for would be handball planners.

There’s some logic to that, but not if you believe it’s only a matter of time before this very necessary step is finally taken by USA Team Handball.  Because if you start such a process one of the very first things you do is review what’s been done before both for handball and for other sports.  And, if we get decent representation from the USA handball community it will have some level of legitimacy.  Adopting parts of it would seem to be a smart thing to do for anyone concerned with “buy in” from the most dedicated devotees of the sport.

So with all that in mind, I invite each and every one of you to roll up your sleeves and get to work.  To take your bar stool pontification and put it down in words.  To help lay the groundwork to forever change handball in this country.

Beach Handball at the Olympics? (Part 1):  Understanding the Math behind a Terse IHF Memo

IOC President Thomas Bach andIHF President Dr Moustafa in 2015 at a Beach Handball demonstration near IOC HQ. Beach Handball could be a welcome addition to the Olympic, but at what cost to the traditional, indoor court game?

All of the drama was removed from the IOC meeting last week in Lima, Peru, as it had been pretty much already decided to award the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games to Paris and LA, respectively.  On social media and at the Handball-World site I was surprised and a bit puzzled, though, to see discussion regarding a decision by the IOC to add Beach Handball to the 2024 Olympic Sports Program.  Puzzled, because I could find nothing anywhere in multiple online media sites regarding a possible IOC decision for the dozens of other sports that would also like inclusion in the Olympics.

So, when the IOC did discuss the 2024 Olympic Sports Program it was with very little fanfare that they simply announced that the 28 core sports approved for 2020 were also approved for 2024 and that additional sports and sporting disciplines for 2024 would be decided in the 2019-2020 time frame.  First, the Paris Organizing Committee will propose their Sports Program and then the IOC will review and approve it.  So Beach Handball could still possibly be included, but so could a number of other sports.

Following the IOC meeting, the IHF released a short memo highlighting this, but also tersely stated the following:

“Furthermore, in case beach handball should become an Olympic sport at some point, the IHF will not tolerate any reduction of the indoor handball quota at the Olympics as was stated in the media.”

What’s behind this statement? And, what does it mean for the likelihood of Beach Handball ever being added to the Olympics?

Sports, Disciplines and Events

To answer this question it’s important to first understand the definition of sport, discipline and event when it comes to the Olympic movement as they are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably.  For context, there are “sports” like Handball, Volleyball, Aquatics and Athletics.  And, then underneath those sports are “disciplines” which are distinct sub-sports that fall under the umbrella of the “sport”.  Aquatics, for example, has swimming, synchronized swimming, diving and water polo all under its umbrella.  Some sports like athletics and field hockey have just one discipline.  But, sports can also add disciplines like volleyball, which added beach volleyball to go along with the traditional indoor court game.  Finally, there are “events” which are competitions that result in a medal.  A sport can have very few events like handball, which simply awards a medal for Women’s and Men’s team competitions or it can have a lot of events like Athletics which has 47 medal events.  For more information, see this Wikipedia article: Link

Athlete Quotas and the Challenges of Hosting an Olympics

Secondly, it’s important to understand issues related to hosting the Summer Olympics.  In particular, the sheer size of it.  28 sports and around 10,500 athletes.  Venues for all those events and housing for all those athletes can be an enormous expense that only a few cities either want to or are capable of handling.  It’s also the most marquee sporting event in the world and every sport wants in and the opportunity to showcase itself on the world’s biggest stage.  The IOC recognizes this and that’s why they’ve put a cap on the total number of athlete participating at 10,500.

On the plus side, handball is already on the program.  It hasn’t had to fight its way in like baseball and rugby have.  Further, handball already has a pretty good sized contingent of athletes.  Currently, handball has 336 athletes (168 Men, 168 Women).  Or to put it another way, 12 Men’s and Women’s teams each with 14 athletes on the roster.

If beach handball were added to the program, though, about how many athletes would that entail?  Well, it depends on how many teams and the roster size of those teams.  Currently, the most commonly sized roster for international competition is 10 athletes.  So, if the beach competition was added with 12 Men’s and 12 Women’s teams that would mean adding another 240 athletes.  Combined with the 336 athletes for court handball that would push the total handball athlete contingent to 576.  Only Athletics (1900) and Aquatics (1410) would have more athletes.  Hey, I love the sport of handball, but I don’t think the rest of the sporting world and the IOC would be on board with that, because all those athlete slots would have to come from some other sport.

Reducing the numbers of teams and/or the roster size could reduce the number of athletes added for Beach Handball.  Perhaps the bare minimum would be 8 Men’s and 8 Women’s teams with roster sizes of 8 athletes.  That would add 128 athletes and raise the overall handball total to 464 athletes.  Such a plus up, though, would still give handball the 6th largest contingent behind Athletics, Aquatics, Cycling (528), Rowing (526) and Soccer (504).  Not as glaring, but still likely problematic.

More indicative of what might be accepted by the IOC would be a comparison of what volleyball and basketball plussed up when they added beach volleyball and 3 on 3 basketball respectively.  Beach Volleyball has 96 participants and 3 on 3 basketball has 64 athletes.  Both sports also top out at relatively lower numbers over all.  Volleyball at 384 and basketball at 352 athletes.

Slicing and Dicing to Get Two Disciplines

So, how could one solve this numbers problem if the IOC is not on board with a significant increase in the total number of athletes under the Handball “sport” umbrella? Well, it can only be solved by shuffling the numbers in the 2 “disciplines” under the said umbrella.  And, this would mean reducing the number of teams and/or the roster size of those disciplines.

Such a slice and dice combination could be done a number of different ways.  One possibility would be to reduce the Men’s and Women’s court tournament to 8 teams each with rosters of 13 athletes for a total of 208 athletes.  Then beach handball could also have Men’s and Women’s court tournaments with 8 teams each and rosters of 8 athletes for a total of 128 athletes.  And, that would result in an overall handball contingent of 336 athletes, the same that is allocated currently.

Such an allocation would be a “transfer” of athletes that would not require a reduction of athletes from any other sport.  There would still be some issues with the approval for a new venue, but one could envision simply expanding upon the already existing beach volleyball venue.  Regardless, there would be no cries from another sport that they are losing athletes, which is undoubtedly the biggest hurdle to address.

Laying Down a Marker

So, that’s the math behind the IHF memo.  Loosely translated, the IHF memo essentially states,

“We like beach handball.  We’d love to see it in the Olympics.  But, only if absolutely nothing is done to change the size and structure of the currently existing court handball Olympic tournaments.”

So, the cry isn’t from another Olympic “sport”.  The cry is from the other “discipline” within the same Olympic sport.

I guess Beach Handball could be added to the Olympic Sports Program with no reduction to Court Handball.  Maybe the IOC will approve a significant plus up to the overall handball contingent at the expense of some other sport on the Olympic Program.  Or maybe the IOC will shrug off its stated overall quota and let handball and other sports add more and more events to the Olympics.  Hey, it’s a big party.  What’s another 100 athletes here and another 200 there matter when an event already has 10,500 athletes?

Regardless, the IHF has laid down a marker stating their position.  It’s not clear, though, whether that’s merely the view of the current IHF President or a position that has been vetted by the IHF Executive Committee or Congress.  Further, one might cynically ask why the IHF has been aggressively promoting the inclusion of Beach Handball in the Olympics if it hadn’t fully considered the possible repercussions doing so might have on the traditional court game.

At least one nation, Germany, is expressing its view that the IHF should perform an evaluation on the two sporting disciplines so that strategic decisions can be made going forward.  Not surprisingly, from my automatic translation of the German Federation posting, German President, Andreas Michelmann, appears to support in principle not sacrificing any court slots for beach handball, but would still like a full review of the matter.

And, for good reason.  Regardless, as to one’s own personal feelings are concerning both disciplines this is a potentially a big opportunity for the sport that deserves further review. In part 2, I’ll do my own top level review and take a look at some of the pros and cons as it relates to the possible inclusion of Beach Handball in the Olympics.

Handball Makes ESPN Sports Center Top 10:  13 Hours Later: A Million Views, 140,000 likes and 2,600 Comments; Here’s One More Commentary

Montpellier’s Diego Simonet gets over a million views for his spectacular goal vs Metalurg

Montpellier’s Diego Simonet had quite the goal yesterday vs Metalurg in their opening match of the 2017-18 EHF Champions League campaign.  The EHF posted a video highlight of the goal and it was promptly reposted by ESPN’s Sports Center Instagram account.

13 hours later the video highlight had been viewed over a million times, liked 140,000 times and had received 2,600 comments.

From time to time I’ve written a few commentaries about handball’s very limited exposure in the U.S. and how increasing that exposure via TV isn’t just something that would be kind of nice to have, but that it is very most critical need for the sport in this country. I know I’m just “some guy” with opinions, but my goodness could anything more demonstrably show how valid that opinion is?

A million views in just 13 hours! Peruse the comments and the broken record of “what is that?” and “why isn’t that played here in the U.S.?” that’s asked over and over and over.

Now sit back and reflect that this is just one highlight posted to an ESPN Instagram account.  It’s not even clear to me whether the highlight made the TV Sports Center.  At least it wasn’t in the Top Ten Plays on the broadcast I saw Saturday night.

Now just imagine if ESPN showed handball on TV or even just on their digital “Watch ESPN” platform.  As I wrote 5 years ago from that day forward just about every discussion about handball in the U.S. would be preceded with either, “Well, before handball was on ESPN” or “Well, since handball’s been on ESPN.”  I’m not kidding.  It would be a monumental game changer.  Such a development would make everything USA Team Handball might want to accomplish easier and more effective be it fundraising or youth club development or national team recruiting.

And, before you “pooh pooh” such talk as simply wishful thinking look back at this post back in 2012 when arguably ESPN’s most prominent personality, Scott Van Pelt, wore a USA Team Handball shirt (that he had to make on his own) during the Olympics.  He and others had discovered the new sport, and perhaps with the right facilitation maybe a deal could have been brokered for U.S. broadcasts on some TV network.  Maybe, I wouldn’t be having this whimsical could of, would of, should of discussion.

It took a couple of years, but handball did land on a network in the U.S.  Unfortunately, though, it was beIN Sports US, which has very limited distribution and doesn’t promote the sport effectively.  I highlighted my frustration with beIN Sports, the EHF, USA Team Handball and other entities (including myself) in this commentary in 2015.

Two years later, things are actually worse as beIN Sports now doesn’t even bother to show the EHF Champions League Match of the Week on TV.  Although, you can view it on its digital beIN Sports Connect platform.  If you can figure out what’s channel the match is on.  For yesterday’s match between Barcelona and Rhein-Neckar the online beIN Sports TV guide said Ch 8, but I eventually found it on Ch 9.  I even watched for a bit until in the 2nd half the transmission got so garbled I gave up and watched NFL football instead.  Sigh…

I always like to think that it’s always darkest before the dawn.  That this crazy situation where handball can’t even be seen in the U.S. is just a temporary situation that will pass.  That ESPN or perhaps the new NBC Olympic Channel will pick up some handball rights.  Or that the digital TV revolution will bypass TV altogether and handball will have its own Roku or Over The Top (OTT) viewing options.

With the 2028 Olympics in LA now a certainty one can only think that it’s just a matter of time before handball finds a home in the U.S. Sports scene.  That the opportunity to promote the sport effectively will be such a win-win for everyone involved with the sport that this frustrating situation will seem passé and quaint.  I’ve been saying that now for decades, but sooner or later, I’m going to be right.  Let’s hope for sooner.

Commentaries on Handball’s lack of exposure and the importance of TV broadcasts.

  • 2009 commentary on Rugby TV broadcasts in the U.S.: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary on how few people in the U.S. are fans of the sport: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary regarding the Catch 22 TV paradox: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary regarding Europe’s lack of engagement with the U.S. market: Link
  • 2012 Olympic Commentary regarding new European efforts to engage the U.S. market: Link

Side Note:  Back in 2013 I wrote an article on Diego Simonet’s debut with Montpellier and I speculated as to whether he might be the best Argentinian player ever.  I’ll go on record now that he is.  Sorry Eric Gull.  Question now, is whether he might be eventually recognized as the best player to come out of Pan America.  A much higher honor considering the number of Cubans that have made their mark.

2017-18 EHF Champions League Season: Odds and Predictions

Paris SG has the highest paid roster, but has yet to secure a Champions League Title. Is this their year?

The EHF Champions League gets underway today and without a doubt it provides the very best opportunity to watch top flight professional handball on a regular basis.  Fans in the U.S. can see most of the matches live and all the matches on a delayed basis at ehftv.com.  And, if you have beIN Sports you can catch the Match of the Week live on their digital platform beIN Sports Connect.

Last year I wrote a commentary highlighting that while the games are great to watch the format has a lot to be desired in terms of drama during the Group Phase.  This is because in Groups A and B (the top two groups) 6 of 8 teams advance to the Knockout Phase.  And, not only do too many teams advance, each of these groups also includes 2-3 clubs that are, on paper, substantially weaker.  It’s practically ordained that the top 5 clubs will advance in each group.

About the only drama, such as it is, is the jockeying for seeding position in the Round of 16.  1st place teams receive a bye to the quarterfinals while 2nd and 3rd place teams, in theory, have an easier matchup.  This leaves the 4th and 5th placed clubs with a challenging knockout pairing that could go either way.  Finally, there’s often a battle for 6th place and a shot at beating the 3rd place team in the other group.

As far as Groups C and D go, these clubs fight for the right for 2 spots in the knockout tournament where they get to take on the 2nd place clubs from Groups A and B.  For the most part they are comparable in terms of strength to the bottom clubs in Groups A and B.  But, there are exceptions and apparently some problems with the seeding formula.  In particular, the French League has gotten stronger recently and Nantes and Montpellier were both misplaced resulting in the 2nd place finishers in Groups A/B actually having tougher matchups than the 3rd place finishers.  This year Nantes has been given a slot in the upper groups, but Montpellier is still there looming as a likely tougher than deserved Round of 16 opponent.

Here’s how each of the Groups should play out based on the published odds at betbrain.com

Based on these odds, there’s a pretty big gap in quality between the top 6 and Zagreb and Kristianstad.  Zagreb recently signed Zarko Markovic, who’d been playing in Qatar, though, and might be able to crack its way into a Round of 16 slot.  At the upper end of the group, Barca and Vardar are expected to fight for the R16 bye, while R-N L will try to hold off Nantes and Szeged for 3rd.   I’m thinking Nantes is more than capable of doing so and with R-N L playing in the competitive Bundesliga they may be hard pressed to give 100% in all of the CL matches

According to these odds Paris is a heavy favorite to finish first and secure a bye.  While Veszprem, Kielce, Flensburg and Kiel will all jockey for positions 2-5.  This makes sense to me and overall Group B appears to be stronger than Group A.  This means that on paper, the top 5 sides of Group B will make the QF with the most competitive QF being their 5th place finisher being the favorite against Group A’s 4th place team (R-N L or Nantes)

Groups C and D should be pretty much a yawner with only Montpellier being seen as a serious threat to win an R16 matchup.

Round of 16 Predictions

I see no reason to buck the odds listed except in one case.  I’ll go with Zagreb over Wisla Plock in Group A.  In Group B I’ll predict the top 6 listed and for C&D I’ll go with Leon and Montpellier respectively.  I also am OK with the Group A and B favorites, Barca and Paris, winning their groups.

QF Predictions

Here the predictions are a bit fuzzier, but I’ll go with 5 teams from Group B (Paris, Veszprem, Kielce, Flensburg and Kiel) advancing and 3 teams from Group A (Barcelona, Vardar and R-N L).  Potential party crashers again will be those pesky French sides Nantes and Montpellier.

Final Four Predictions

For the Final Four it’s a real shot in the dark as it’s hard to project matchups and who’s playing well next spring.  But, I’ll pick Barcelona, Paris, Kielce and Flensburg.  And, as I’ve been saying for the past couple of years, it’s Paris’ turn.  I’m going to be right one of these years even if Omeyer’s time as an elite goalie is running short.

For the Record…

Last year my predictions about how things will materialize wasn’t exactly right.  Hungary’s Szeged surprised me and finished 3rd in Group Play ahead of Rhein-Neckar.  This gave Szeged an easier route to the QF vs Silkeborg and resulted in Rhein-Neckar losing to Kiel.  Further, Montpellier knocked out Kielce in the Round of 16.  That being said, I had said that if anyone was going to crash the party it would be Szeged and Nantes.  I should have added Montpellier to that list.

But, I will always have my 2013-14 preseason prediction where I nailed the Final Four and the eventual champion, Flensburg, Exactly.  It’s documented on youtube.  See for yourself at the 27:20 and the 30:25 mark.  I don’t care how many horrible predictions I’ve made over the years I’ll always have that.