Much of what has been released in the dueling official statements (PHF and IHF) is fairly straight forward, but some aspects are not so clear cut. Some claims, to varying degrees are a bit misleading and some aspects merit further discussion and analysis. The analysis presented here is a mix of rumor, intuition and feedback I’ve received from people in the world handball community.
Olympic Handball in Jeopardy?
In the IHF Statement a passing reference is made to the Olympics:
“The IHF President’s development plan includes many projects which shall promote the development of the sport worldwide and in Pan-America. He undertakes large endeavours in many fields to develop handball not only to maintain its position on the Olympic programme but also to pave the way for development on all levels, including World Championships and Olympic Games.”
I added the bold face, and it sure merits additional discussion. Why would the IHF even mention the need for handball to maintain its position on the Olympic Programme? Handball no longer part of the Olympics? That couldn’t possibly be? Could it? Well, apparently somebody must be occasionally discussing that possibility otherwise it’s hard to imagine the point being made. Certainly, one could hardly imagine the World Federations for Basketball, Athletics or Swimming making such a point.
I’ve heard rumors of handball’s place in the Olympics being in danger, but it was only a few days ago that I saw this rumor in print for the first time. As reported by handzone.net, the French Handball Technical Director, Philippe Bana went on record as having seen IOC reports indicating that the future of handball on the Olympic Program after 2024 is in jeopardy due to the sport being too European. And, logically what better way might there be to counteract IOC concerns then to aggressively build up handball in America, especially with the U.S. hosting in 2028. Certainly, I would assess that this IOC threat is at least a factor, if not the biggest factor, behind this initiative.
$1,000,000 from Qatar Airways
Mentioned in both statements is the accounting for $1,000,000 in sponsorship from Qatar Airways. The IHF letter claims that this sponsorship was obtained with the assistance of the IHF and that it’s not clear how this funding was used. With the nation of Qatar being closely tied to the IHF for the past several years it’s certainly logical to assume that assistance from the IHF was pretty critical to securing this sponsorship. Certainly, one might have a difficult time of rationalizing why the airline with only 3 flights to and from North and South America would seek a $1M sponsorship with a relatively minor sport if their footprint was so small in that region. But, technically the relationship is between Qatar Airways and the PHF, so one could argue that the IHF doesn’t have any say at all in how that $1M has been sent. On the other hand, having spoken with different handball people throughout North America, no one has volunteered as to how a portion of that $1M has been spent in their country.
PHF Nations are Unified Against the Process the IHF has Used; Less so Against the Concept of Splitting
The PHF in its official statement likes to point out how the PHF nations are standing together against IHF’s proposed splitting of the PHF Federation. They point to the vote tally at the PHF Extraordinary Congress (25 against, 1 abstention) and at the IHF Congress (reportedly only Mexico and Costa Rica voted in favor of letting the IHF Council decide the matter.)
However, it’s been brought to my attention that at least some of the nations were primarily voting in opposition to “the process” that the IHF was using to impose the splitting of federations. And, that to varying degrees several nations were open to “the concept” of splitting.
From my own perspective this position makes quite a bit of sense. As, I elaborated on in this earlier commentary there are a lot of good reasons for splitting a federation that almost stretches from pole to pole. Travel costs will decrease and done properly it will foster growth and development. I think most nations when they review the pros and cons would likely come to the same conclusion.
But, should such a split be imposed from above? Without constructive dialogue on how to go about in an orderly fashion? In principle, I’m not on board with that. It’s kind of like the UN telling a nation it would be better if the split in two. The natural inclination is for a federation (or nation) to say, “Thanks for the suggestion. We’ll take care of that on our own.”
Then again, it’s not clear as to whether this topic was ever proposed informally by the IHF and then summarily shot down by the PHF leadership without taking it to the PHF nations. That the idea was dead on arrival, even if some nations might warm to the idea, especially if it came with resources.
An Olympic Slot for Both the North and the South?
There are a lot of aspects to a proposed splitting of the PHF Federation, but a bottom line factor of the split that could sway nations one way or the other will be the World Championships and Olympic qualification slots that would be offered to each federation. The original proposal outlined last summer simply divvied up the slots that the PHF currently has. I bemoaned a bit the North getting shortchanged, but now I’m hearing rumors of both the North and the South getting an Olympic slot. That would certainly be a response to IOC threats to show progress with efforts de-Europeanize the sport. Further, if its own Olympic slot is part of the deal you can bet the North nations will very quickly warm up to a split even if they aren’t fans of the process that has been used.
Is There a Personality Clash with the Two Presidents?
I’ve also heard rumors from multiple sources indicating that the IHF President (Hassan Moustafa) and the PHF President (Mario Moccia) simply have had a falling out. These two articles at Super Handball (link 1, link 2) elaborate on that relationship, noting that some have speculated that Moccia is gunning for the IHF President job and that the split is a way of getting back and decreasing his influence. Indeed, as the PHF notes in their Official Statement the split has the effect of removing a VP slot from Pan America on the Executive Council. Instead the newly split federations will each have a “representative” on the Council.
Way Ahead Still Murky; Tournaments in Jeopardy
With the way ahead still murky some planned PHF tournaments are in real jeopardy. These tournaments include the PHF Beach Handball Championship (Men and Women), scheduled for March in Oceanside, CA; a Men’s North American & Caribbean Championship (location TBD), and even the Men’s Pan American Championships, scheduled for June in Greenland. It’s possible that these tournaments will still be staged under the auspices of the IHF, but that is still TBD. If I get any definitive information I will post it as soon as I hear about it.