IHF Council Splits Pan America into Two Federations; Tells PHF to Cease Operations

The PHF and IHF fire off dueling Official Statements in an escalating war of words.

The International Handball Federation (IHF) has gone forward with plans to split the Pan-American Handball Federation (PHF).  According to official statements released by both the PHF and IHF, the IHF Council meeting in Zagreb this past Sunday (January 14) voted to split the Pan American region into 2 separate Continental Federations.  Following the meeting the IHF then sent a letter to the PHF informing them of the split and telling them to cease operations.

A Pair of Official Statements Takes Each Side to Task

The PHF then issued a fiery official statement on Thursday taking IHF President Hassan Moustafa to task for attempting to destroy Pan American Handball.  Not to be outdone the IHF fired back on Friday with a statement of their own outlining how the PHF has failed to develop handball in Pan America and why the IHF is justified in its actions.

PHF Official Statement (18 January 2018): Link
IHF Official Statement (19 January 2018): Link

Legal Maneuvering

Both the PHF and IHF outline some of the “legal” aspects that support their side.  The PHF highlights notes that “the uprecedented forced division of our continental federation violates democratic and self-governance principles expressed in the very IHF statutes, as well as Swiss Law, where IHF is located.”  The PHF also notes that the PHF rejected the proposed split in a near unanimous vote at an PHF Extraordinary Congress this past October and that the IHF vote at the IHF Congress in November had only 60% (less than a 2/3 majority) vote in favor of a motion to let the IHF Council address the split issue.  Further, the PHF notes that the IHF Arbitration Commission has failed to respond in a timely manner to an appeal that was filed on November 11, 2017.  The final parting shot from the PHF:

“PATHF will seek all legal paths available to stop this outrage from Moustafa and to defend the integrity of worldwide handball from those forces from the past that make lack of transparency and manipulation their only sport.”

As one might expect the IHF takes issue with the PHF legal position.  In particular, the IHF has a different vote tally for the IHF Congressional vote (68%) based on fewer abstentions.  And, they take the PHF to task for holding the October Extraordinary PHF Congress without inviting the IHF President in violation of the IHF statutes.  Indeed, the PHF violation was submitted to the IHF Arbitration Commission for their review and recommendation to the IHF Council and Executive Committee, and this violation was the precedence used to suspend the PHF.

Repercussions:  Tournaments in Jeopardy?

The action by the IHF to immediately suspend PHF operations puts into doubt several major tournaments scheduled to take place later this year including the Men’s and Women’s Pan American Beach Handball Championships scheduled for March in Oceanside, California, the Men’s North American & Caribbean Championships (Location TBD) and the Men’s Handball Championships scheduled for June in Greenland.  As these events are qualifiers for the World Championships the IHF has indicated that they will assume organization responsibilities, but such a role in the midst of legal wrangling over splitting the PHF could be complicated.

Also, apparently lacking due to the conflict between the PHF and IHF is any orderly transition plan to go from one functioning Federation to two new Federations.  Such a transition would be somewhat complicated under ideal circumstances, but under the current situation is really difficult to plan for.  This is particularly true when you consider that many nations are caught in the uncomfortable position of choosing sides while legal aspects of the proposed split are unsettled.

Way Ahead

With the PHF indicating that they will be seeking all legal path available it seems likely that this conflict will eventually find its way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).  CAS is an independent body that handles sport related disputes.  When and how the case is settled is an open question.

In the meantime, we should expect some formal announcements as to how the upcoming PHF competitions scheduled this year will be organized, in the near future

Previous Team Handball News Commentaries Regarding the Proposed Split

  • The IHF Proposes a Pan-American Split (Part 1): The Pros and Cons: Link
  • The IHF Proposes a Pan-American Split (Part 2): The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal and a High Stakes Vote in Turkey: Link

Recent Articles on Other Sites Regarding the Split Controversy

  • Super Handball (Argentina): Link
  • Inside the Games: Link
  • Clarin (Argentina): Link

The recriminations from both sides and the elements to this proposed split warrant further analysis.  I am working on a commentary that I will publish in the near future.

Podcast (Episode 26):  Japanese Women’s Handball Coach, Ulrik Kirkely

Japan’s Head Coach, Ulrik Kirkely urges his team on at the World Championships

The Japanese Women’s National Handball Team had a breakthrough performance at the 2017 Women’s World Championships with wins against Montenegro and Tunisia, a draw vs Brazil, and a 1 goal loss to Russia in Group play.  They then played arguably the most entertaining match of the tournament in the round of 16 losing by 2 goals in Extra Time to the eventual bronze medalists, the Netherlands.

Coach Kirkely and I discuss Japan’s performance at the World Championships, handball organization/development in Japan and the future prospects for the Women’s team heading into the 2019 World Championships and 2020 Olympics, both of which will be hosted by Japan.

This podcast episode was brought to you by Nord VPN.

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Well, I can’t guarantee you that Nord VPN will solve all your handball viewing problems.  I can only state, that I personally am a very happy camper now and with plans as low as $3.29/month it’s worth every penny and then some.

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Sign up for Nord VPN today: 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

2017 Women’s World Championships Odds (Update for the Round of 16)

Russia beat Norway 38-37 in an epic semifinal at the 2016 Olympics. We could be looking at a rematch in the Quarterfinals.

The knockout stages of the World Championships start today and the bracket certainly has some interesting matchups both in the Round of 16 and potentially in the quarter finals.  Most notably, Sweden’s surprising upset of Norway on the last day of pool play created a bottom half of the bracket which is loaded with pre-tournament favorites.  Here’s a breakdown of the 4 quadrants of the bracket (listed in parentheses is each team’s current odds courtesy of Nordicbet to win the championship).  The winner of each quadrant will advance to the Final Four.

Watch all the matches in the knockout stages on Fubo TV:  Link

Quadrant 1

Sweden 16-1
Slovenia 74-1

Germany 23-1
Denmark 16-1

Well, conspiracy theorists thinking that perhaps the hosts and the IHF wanted to give Germany a good shot at making the Final Four might have some pretty solid arguments backing their case.  This is the weakest bracket and for sure the prospect of Germany knocking off Sweden in the quarterfinals is far better than it would have been against Norway.

Quadrant 2

Hungary 20-1
France 7-1

Serbia 17-1
Montenegro 14-1

France is the favorite in this bracket, but really all four teams here have a decent shot at advancing.

Quadrant 3

Romania 14-1
Czech Republic 149-1

Japan 149-1
Netherlands 7-1

It looks as if it’s preordained for Romania and the Netherlands will battle in the quarterfinals, but then again the Netherlands had a surprising loss vs South Korea in pool play.  The Japanese are smaller than the Koreans, but even quicker so the Dutch better be ready for them.

Quadrant 4

Spain 40-1
Norway 1.3-1

Russia 4.5-1
South Korea 39-1

This quadrant could almost have been a Final Four with 3 of the top 7 pre-tournament favorites.  A likely quarterfinal match between Russia and Norway could easily have been the gold medal final.  Honestly, the way this shapes up it’s as if Norway wanted to make the knockout stages as interesting as possible for the fans back home.

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.

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


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.


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.

Preview of the 2017 Handball WC Semifinals:  A French Coronation?

World Championships Final Four:  A French Coronation in Paris?

World Championships Final Four: A French Coronation in Paris?

The Perils of Prediction

Well, let’s just say the Round of 16 and quarterfinals did not go as I expected.  In particular, Denmark’s and Germany’s departure at the hands of Hungary and Qatar busted my bracket pretty badly.  Qatar relied heavily on Capote and Saric and got just enough support from their supporting cast to send and a disorganized German attack packing.  Hungary got Nagy back, but it was the Dane’s lackluster performance was more to blame for their departure.  Finally, Spain survived a scare from Brazil only to be done in by a more determined Croatian squad.  So, of my final 4 only France (no big surprise) has survived.

All told, if one looks at the opening odds it’s a surprising final four. Here are those odds for the 4 remaining teams to win the championship and finish in the top 3

France: 1 to 1; 1 to 5
Croatia: 12 to 1; 9 to 4
Slovenia: 30 to 1; 11 to 2
Norway: 40 to 1; 8 to 1

A French Coronation?

Now, here’s the updated odds to win it all:

France: 5 to 12
Croatia: 5.5 to 1
Slovenia: 12 to 1
Norway: 4.5 to 1

In simple terms, or if you prefer percentages (like the website fivethirtyeight.com calculates) France should win this tournament about 70% of the time.  So, France is clearly a pretty big favorite.  That being said, here’s a case for each of the other sides to knock out France.

Slovenia lacks star power, but plays very well collectively. The players know their roles and they don’t try to do too much individually.  Several of the players have either played or are currently playing professionally in France.  They know the French players, know that man for man the French are better, but they also know their limitations.  If Slovenia can keep France from running off one of their typical 5 goal scoring blitzes, Slovenia can win a close game in the closing minutes through smart play.  The key, though, will be keeping in contact and not letting the game get out of hand.

Norway, has been the biggest surprise of the tourney.  Aside from rising start, Sandor Sagosen (headed to Paris SG next season) it’s a collection of no-name players, most of whom play in the Danish league.  Peter Bruun at Stregspiller.com gives much of the credit for the team’s performance to their coach, Chrisitian Berge: Link.  I’m inclined to agree with that assessment.  Much like Slovenia, Norway plays very well together collectively.  I’m not sure if they have the star power, but I think they can beat Croatia.

Croatia’s chances I think begin and end with the play of Domagoj Duvnak.  The 28 year old Kiel Centerback is the key linchpin in the Croatian attack.  If he plays well, he can shepherd a Croatian side that’s a bit thin in depth and reportedly ailing.  If he plays outworldly maybe they can spring an upset against France in the final.

Could France Beat France?

Ultimately, I think the only team that can beat France, is France themselves.  Clearly they are the best team in the tournament.  None of the other teams can even begin to match their depth at each position.  But, then again France hasn’t been fully tested yet.  Their depth is not as great as it used to be and they’ve got a new coach.  If a game comes down to the wire it’s at least conceivable that the pressure of being the host and expectations could do them in.

Conceivable, but I would have bet on a team like Denmark or Germany as being the side capable of keeping the match close for such a possibility.  And, those sides got bounced in the Round of 16.  My thinking now is that France’s superiority will show its face early on in both the semi and final and result in less than exciting games to watch.  But, if my past predictions are any guide we could be looking at some significantly different outcomes. I guess that’s why games are played on the court, and not on paper.

Preview of the 2017 World Championships Knockout Tourney   

France will be playing their next two matches in Lille. Why not Paris? Well the Stade Pierre-Mauroy can sit 27,000. Should be a new attendance record.

France will be playing their next two matches in Lille. Why not Paris? Well the Stade Pierre-Mauroy can sit 27,000. Should be a new attendance record.

Well, Group Play is over and it’s largely confirmed what I, and others, expected to happen.  There are 4 strong contenders (France, Denmark, Spain and Germany) for the title and they each managed to emerge through Group play unscathed with perfect 5-0 records.  Heck, they only broke a sweat in a couple of matches.  But, now the real competition begins and a 5-0 record means nothing.  One loss against a hot goalie and your tournament is done.

With 16 teams left one can look at the tournament now like a version of the NCAA sweet 16 with 4 regionals taking place with 4 teams each vying for a spot in the final 4 in Paris.  Here’s a breakdown of the four regionals:

Montpellier Regional

Spain (B1) vs Brazil (A4)
Croatia (C2) vs Egypt (D3)

Spain is the heavy favorite here.  Brazil has shown promise at times and could play with Spain for a bit, but inevitably they lose consistency for a spell and find themselves down 4 or 5.  Egypt has the same problem, but will have a better chance against a Croatian side that lacks depth.  Regardless, it’s hard to see Spain not advancing to the Final Four.

Albertville Regional

Denmark (D1) vs Hungary (C4)
Norway (A2) vs Macedonia (B3)

Denmark should emerge from this regional without too much trouble.  Denmark had been looking forward to a freebie match vs Chile, but Hungary’s loss to Belarus means a significantly tougher round of 16 opponent.  Still, Hungary lacks depth and scoring punch from 9 meters with Nagy out.  Macedonia has much the same problem with too much reliance on Lazarov.

Lille Regional

France (A1) vs Iceland (B4)
Sweden (D2) vs Belarus (C3)

Both France and Sweden should coast to easy victories here.  Sweden, in particular, received a gift with Belarus’s upset of Hungary giving them an easier match in the round of 16.  Hard to see a side that lost to Chile beating Sweden in a knockout game.  A really thin Icelandic side without Palmarsson has no chance against France.  It’s also hard to see Sweden knocking off the hosts in a quarterfinal.  Any upset would hinge on an epic performance by Palicka and/or Applegren in goal, plus an uncharacteristically poor performance by Omeyer.  Something I wouldn’t bet on.

Paris Regional

Germany (C1) vs Qatar (D4)
Slovenia (B2) vs Russia (A3)

Germany should have little trouble dispatching Qatar.  Saric can make up for a lot of defensive mistakes, but there’s simply not enough depth in the Qatari squad.  Slovenia should have little trouble with an inconsistent Russian side.  In a potential Germany-Slovenia match I would expect Germany’s defense to wear down Slovenia’s attack.

Preview and Odds for the 2017 Men’s World Championship

The Arch of Triumph lit up as a handball goal. The world's dominant team for the past decade is hosting the World Championship, but for the first time in years I'm predicting they'll come up short.

The Arch of Triumph lit up as a handball goal. The world’s dominant team for the past decade is hosting the World Championship, but for the first time in years I’m predicting they’ll come up short.

The 2017 Men’s World Championships starts this Wednesday with hosts France taking on Brazil in the opening match.  Here is some analysis and odds courtesy of the online betting site bet365.com: Link 

Odds to win the championship and odds to finish in the top 3

The Usual Suspects  
France                  1/1         1/5
Denmark             4/1         13/20
Spain                    6.5/1      6/5
Germany              8/1         8/5
Croatia                 12/1       9/4

These 5 sides are strong contenders for the title.  As the host France is an even money favorite and at 1/5 to medal they are a virtual lock to make the semifinals.  France would likely be the favorite if the championships were being staged in another country, but it certainly wouldn’t be as overwhelming.  Personally, I think France is the most vulnerable they’ve been in years.  They still are the best side, but they aren’t as deep as they used to be and the old guard is starting to show signs of age.  Perhaps newer players like Mahe and Remili will step up, but that remains to be seen.  And, this side will be under pressure with new coaches (Dinart and Gille) and the expectation that nothing other than gold will suffice.  Denmark, with an Olympic Gold Medal in its possession has the confidence to know that they can beat France as do Spain and Germany.

The Other Guys
Slovenia               30/1       11/2
Norway                40/1       8/1
Qatar                    40/1       8/1
Sweden                40/1       8/1
Hungary               60/1       11/1
Poland                  60/1       11/1
Russia                   60/1       11/1
Iceland                 70/1       13/1

These 8 sides are solid picks to make the round of 16, but making it to the semifinals could probably be considered a solid accomplishment for these 8 teams.

The Outsiders
Brazil                    200/1     30/1
Egypt                    250/1     40/1
Macedonia          250/1     40/1
Argentina            500/1     100/1
Belarus                500/1     100/1
Tunisia                 500/1     100/1
Japan                    1000/1  200/1

These 7 sides will  be looking to make the round of 16.  Advancing to the quarters would hinge on a major upset.  Making the semifinals would be a major achievement.

The Out-Outsiders
Angola                  2000/1  500/1
Bahrain                2000/1  500/1
Chile                     2000/1  500/1
Saudi Arabia       2000/1  500/1

These 4 sides have probably already booked their transportation to Brest and the President’s Cup.

Here a closer look at the odds (in parentheses) to win each group and my prediction as to the Final Standings

Group A
1) France (1/10)
2) Norway (8/1)
3) Brazil (18/1)
4) Poland (25/1)
5) Russia (14/1)
6) Japan (100/1)

I think Brazil will surprise here, taking advantage of a new look Polish roster and an inconsistent Russian team.  They also played well at the Olympics and the past few World Championships.

Group B
1) Spain (2/9)
2) Slovenia (7/2)
3) Tunisia (30/1)
4) Macedonia (20/1)
5) Iceland (15/1)
6) Angola (100/1)

Wael Jallouz and Tunisia will take advantage of the home crowd.  Expect more than a few Tunisian and French citizens of Tunisian descent in attendance.  Jallouz has shown at Barca how he can take over a game.  Expect him to do just that against Macedonia and Iceland.   Iceland might raise a cup at the WC, but minus Aron Palmarsson it may well be the President’s Cup.

Group C
1) Germany (19/20)
2) Croatia (21/20)
3) Hungary (13/2)
4) Belarus (50/1)
5) Chile (300/1)
6) Saudi Arabia (300/1)

I think this Group will simply follow the oddsmaker’s ranking.  Germany’s hard nosed defense will prevail over Croatia and Hungary.  Chile has an outside shot at upsetting Belarus for a round of 16 opportunity.

Group D
1) Denmark (1/7)
2) Sweden (7/1)
3) Egypt (30/1)
4) Argentina (50/1)
5) Qatar (7/1)
6) Bahrain (300/1)

Can Qatar with one of the world’s best coaches and goalkeepers continue their successful runs in international competition?  No, not with their depleted roster of court players.  Egypt and Argentina will pip Qatar and send them to the President’s Cup.

Projecting the Semifinals and Champion

A lot of handball will be played over the next 10 days so predictions at this point are real hazardous.  Still I’ll go out on a limb and project that France will come up short in it’s quest for a 5th title.  Followers of this website will note that this is quite a departure for me as I have consistently picked France to win every title for the past 10 years or so.  Not that was exceedingly brave.  As I declared over and over, if you have the best GK (Omeyer), best court player (Karabatic) and best defender (Dinart) you should win.  Throw in Narcisse, Fernandez and Abalo as a supporting cast and it was an embarrassment of riches.  But, father time is starting to kick in.  Dinart is now coach, Omeyer is 40 and Karabatic at 32 is starting to seem more human on the court.  Why Hansen and Duvnjak might even be better now.  Maybe the new supporting cast will step up, but I’ve got my doubts.  Maybe the home court advantage will give the old guard one more title, but again I’ve got my doubts.

Right now I’ll project Germany giving coach Sigurdsson a parting gift victory over France in the semifinals and Denmark knocking off Spain in the other. Then Denmark topping Germany in the Final.


Podcast: New Handball Rules (Part 2)

I know what you are thinking regarding whether I’m going to call passive play: Do you have to shoot on goal yet? Have you made 5 passes or 6?  Do you feel lucky? Do ya, punk?

I know what you are thinking regarding whether I’m going to call passive play: Do you have to shoot on goal yet? Have you made 5 passes or 6? Do you feel lucky? Do ya, punk?

My discussion with Christer Ahl, the former IHF head for Playing Rules and Competition, continues.  In part 2 we discuss the new rules regarding passive play, the last 30 seconds of a match and blue cards

Point-Counter Point on Handball’s Last Minute Problem from 2009 (Or why I was so gleeful at Christer’s mea culpa)

Part 1: John: Time to add a technical penalty shot: Link
Part 2: Christer: John has good intentions, but gets his solutions from the wrong sources: Link
Part 3: John: No, Christer, post game sanctions are not working and referees should be empowered and trusted: Link

It’s not very often (heck, this might be the only time) that I’ve gotten Christer to side with me.  There’s a reason for this: He knows handball rules about 10 times better than I do.  But, every dog has his day

If the Dirty Harry reference has no meaning to you, here’s a link to the classic scene: Link


Podcast: New Handball Rules (Part 1)

Irina Bliznova penetrates opposing defenses on a regular basis and gets fouled a lot. Against S Korea on day 1 she was fouled fairly hard, but chose to get back on her feet quickly. Why? I'm thinking the new rules had something to do with it.

Irina Bliznova penetrates opposing defenses on a regular basis and gets fouled a lot. Against S Korea on day 1 she was fouled fairly hard and started to relax and recover a bit on the floor, but then chose to get back on her feet quickly. Why? I’m thinking the new rules had something to do with it.

The International Handball Federation (IHF) has recently added 5 new rule changes and the Olympics is the first major event to see them implemented.  And, while at its core the game remains the same these rule changes are having an impact.  The ability to now substitute any court player for the goalie has resulted in goalies being pulled even more.  Why, it’s practically standard practice for some teams when they are a man down.  We’ve even seen a few instances of 7 court players being used on offense.

The rule change requiring injured players to exit for three possessions has also sped up the game.  Irina Bliznova went down after being hit fairly hard during Russia’s comeback vs S. Korea.  But, it wasn’t a 2 minute and when it looked like the refs might call for medical protection she hopped to her feet quickly.  With Russia’s offense really relying on her steady play in the backcourt she didn’t want to nurse her minor injury on the sideline for a couple of minutes.

There’s a lot of nuance to these rule changes, and who better to explain and discuss their potential impact then Christer Ahl, the former IHF head for Playing Rules and Competition.  In part 1 of this podcast Christer highlights the overall intentions behind these rules and we delve into the details of the new rules as they relate to goalkeepers and injured players.

Summary of new rules: Link


IHF and Qatar ruin the big event

Qatari Referee Saleh Jamaan Bamurtef issues a yellow card warning against Croatia.   Officiating was inconsistent to say the least in Qatar.

Qatari Referee Saleh Jamaan Bamurtef issues a yellow card warning against Croatia. Officiating was inconsistent to say the least in Qatar.

Former chair of the IHF Playing Rules and Referees (PRC) Commission, Christer Ahl, takes the IHF and Qatar to task for inconsistent officiating and unfair advantages for the host nation.

This should have been the exciting, biennial competition, where all the focus would be on the star players and the entertainment and excitement they are able to offer.   There would be an expectation of fair play and evenhanded refereeing, in the spirit of ‘let the best team win!’ But this time, the IHF and the Qatari host conspired in various ways, so that the focus instead was on the mercenaries of what purported to be a Qatari national team, the many advantages they obtained, and the totally inconsistent refereeing which often was the deciding factor in key games.

Can everything be bought?

It all started in 2011, when to the surprise of many, the IHF Council decided to award the hosting of the 2015 event to Qatar.   Especially against the background of the more publicized affairs around the awarding of the 2022 football World Cup to Qatar, there have also been many suspicions and accusations surrounding the IHF decision for handball. It is ironic that the country favored to be awarded this event in 2015 was precisely France, the opponents of Qatar in the final, who now had to deal with the extra burden of being up against the home team and all that this implies.

But the main topic for many observers was that Qatar had imported eleven players to fill all the key positions on their team, taking advantage of their own rules for awarding ‘half citizenship’ in Qatar, in combination with the very lenient rules of the IHF regarding changes in citizenship. (By contrast, FIFA has much stricter rules in football). We find it normal that wealthy club teams use their resources to acquire the best players in the world, but we have come to expect, until now, that national teams are genuine national teams.

Another aspect, unrelated to the Qatari team that instead became a problem for many other teams in important games, were the incredible nominations given to the incompetent Qatari referees. They were allowed to ruin several important games, and in one game the clearly affected the result, unfairly preventing Brazil from getting a sensational win against Croatia in the ‘round of 16’. It is difficult to imagine that the iHF Referee Chief was so oblivious to this problem, so one must assume that the instructions must have ‘come down from above’.

Referees under pressure

With their imported team, it was no surprise that Qatar advanced from the group stage to the elimination matches.   And here it soon began to look as if the path towards a possible final was being paved for the home team. It was conspicuous that all the referee couples who have a reputation for being particularly capable of standing up to pressure were kept away from the games of Qatar in the ‘round of 16’, the quarterfinal and the semifinal. And in all cases, ‘less resistant’ referees were seen by neutral observers as having had a lot to do with the Qatari wins in very narrow games. In turn, Austria, Germany and Poland left the court fuming about mysterious decisions in critical moments, and also totally neutral observers found it to be a bit too much.

During my own time as the person ultimately responsible for the refereeing and the fair play on the court in IHF events, I am only too familiar with the situation.   In 2007 in Germany, the IHF somehow seemed to ‘owe’ the gold medals to the host country, and many aspects were set up to favor the hosts. This included the situation in the quarterfinal and semifinal, where all tickets had been sold to German fans, and where IHF bosses even prevented me and my colleagues from taking warranted action against the home team. At least we tried to offset the pressure by assigning referees who were known to be courageous, but not even that helped. And in 2009, when the Croatian home team lost the final against France, I received threats for having assigned referees who were known to stay neutral and resistant. Here in Qatar, amazingly the situation was instead exacerbated through questionable nominations.

Irresponsible changes in rules interpretations and instructions

Many handball fans who follow European top level competition are likely to agree that the intentions of the 2010 rule book to clamp down on cynical and dangerous action have never really been realized. The IHF and the EHF have not been willing or able to insist on a closer adherence to the spirit of the rules, so the cynicism and dirty tricks have flourished.   Therefore, I applaud the intentions of the IHF, as discussed and agreed in a conference of all stakeholders, including top coaches, a few months ago, to make a more concerted effort in the context of the next set of rules changes and instructions.

But, what the IHF president then suddenly decided, was totally crazy and irresponsible! The IHF Referee Commission and Coaching Commission were ordered to implement new, stricter interpretations with immediate effect in Qatar.   Moreover, this was done without any forewarning to the team, who normally would be fully informed about major changes 6-12 months ahead of time in order to be able to adapt and prepare. Instead, they got a brief explanation the day before the event started….! No wonder that media around the world have been filled with shocked reports from the flood of punishments given out to unsuspecting players and teams, who cannot understand what has happened.

However, it seems that one specific team, namely Qatar, must have been extremely well informed about the new, stricter rules interpretation and completely ready to adjust to it, so that they actually deserved by far many fewer punishments than all the other teams. Because it is not very pleasant to think of other possible explanations as to why the referees, in game after game, found very few reasons to give 2-minute suspensions against Qatar…

The referees put in an impossible position

Clearly, a sudden adaptation to new standards would have been difficult for the referees even if the team had been prepared and ready to cooperate. But now the referees were caught between protesting teams and an awareness that if they did not follow instructions, they would risk being sent home after the group stage.   Some referees handle this kind of adaptation and pressure better than others, but it is clear that inconsistencies are likely to arise both during matches and from one match to another.   Some referees got carried away, taking too tough a line in a not very rough match, while others fell back into their habits of recent years.

What is worse is that uncertainties around a new interpretation always serve to increase the scope for biases and one-sided treatment of teams. In other worse, there are more ‘opportunities’ for referees to fall for the pressures that I discussed above, simply because the number of ‘marginal’ decisions will increase.   Moreover, if the teams did not always manage, or want, to adapt to the new interpretations, it seems that they quickly saw an opportunity to gain unfair advantages instead. What I mean is that if the player knows that the referees will be more ready to punish conspicuous fouls, then they will resort to ‘theater’ and exaggerate the impact of a foul or even ‘nicely’ fall to the floor at the slightest touch.

Unfortunately it appears that the massive confusion and criticism was too much for the IHF leaders to handle in a level-headed and constructive way.   Horror stories about abusive criticism and confused feedback for the referees are floating around. And now, even before the event finished, my successor as IHF Referee Chief, who had my support when I was ‘exiled’ in 2009, has given a shocking interview in the main German handball web site:  Link

Essentially, he sees himself as blameless and instead declares half of the referee groups as idiots who are not talented and smart enough to understand their instructions.   So he states that they will be kicked out. These are the words from the person responsible for rules interpretations in recent years and for selecting the referees for Qatar. So if you want to blame the referees for some of the things you saw, perhaps you need to look elsewhere.   The behavior and attitude of the IHF president appears to be contagious! I can only feel sorry for the top referees who are asked to do a very demanding job.

Some conclusions

With all the problems indicated above, like the rules permitting ‘mercenary teams’, and the deliberate incompetence on the part of many IHF leaders, added to the scandalous process involving teams kicked out (Australia), given free places in the event (Germany, Iceland and Saudi Arabia), or inexplicably overlooked as candidates for available places (Hungary and Serbia), one wonders whether there is any basis for taking IHF’s ‘World Championships’ seriously any longer. (As you may have noticed, this is the only time that I have even used that label in this text).

Perhaps the time has come to eliminate these events, as they have lost their integrity. Perhaps it is better to let the individual continents arrange championships for national teams, including qualifications for the Olympic Games, and otherwise simply continents and nations concentrate on competitions for club teams, where there is no pretense that nationality matters. In that case, perhaps the time has also come to eliminate the IHF, because beyond the task of organizing fictitious championships the IHF does not really do much to justify its existence!


IHF Updates Competition Regulation to Make Australian-Like Removals Standard Practice


Australia had the rug pulled out from them for the 2015 WC.  Who's next?:  Asia, Pan America or Africa?

Australia had the rug pulled out from them for the 2015 WC. Who’s next?: Asia, Pan America or Africa?

On the heels of its, after the fact  and arbitrary action to remove Australia from the 2015 Men’s World Handball Championships, the IHF now appears to have revised its regulations to make future moves clearly legal.   I’m not sure when the new Competition Regulation was posted on the IHF website, but it was first brought to my attention by this article at Mundo Handball.

The section of the revised regulation which should draw the attention of every developing handball nation is Section 2.3 which reads in part”

To participate in IHF World Championships a certain performance level of the qualified team is obligatory. In case the competitive capability of a qualified team is disputable and the difference in performance level between the country in question and the other teams qualified for the WCh is too large, the IHF Council reserves the right to re-award this place to a country meeting the corresponding competitive requirements in order to strengthen and protect the IHF World Championship product. In such cases an in-depth analysis has to be carried out by the respective IHF Commissions (COC, CCM) as well as by media and marketing experts to highlight the impact on the media and marketing side. Also the current performance as well as the IHF ranking and the performance in earlier IHF events will be taken into consideration when evaluating the performance level of the respective team. Therefore the IHF bodies will issue performance reports about all participating teams immediately after the end of the respective World Championship.”

It doesn’t take a lawyer to analyze this paragraph and come to the conclusion that this paragraph essentially states the IHF can pretty much take away any qualification spot it wants to.  Breaking it down here’s some of the major problems and ramifications:

The regulation is exceedingly vague as to what the obligated performance level must be.  In other words, if the Australian Men’s side performance level is too low, how much better does it have to be?  Lose by only 15 goals against the top European sides?  10 goals?  Australia was the last and 24th place team at the 2013 WC.  Chile was 23rd, but were they good enough?  Chile’s made some strides, but Iceland, the best European team not participating is still clearly a better team.  How competitive is competitive?

Media and marketing experts have a say:  Speaking of Iceland, it’s a small TV market, but a very focused one.  With their non-qualification for the 2015 WC I bet the TV rights are significantly lower there.  Now, if Iceland were to participate that would probably mean a bump in that price.   Is this then the IHF Council discussion:

IHF President: Let’s see who should take the fall?  Chile?  or maybe Iran, the third place team from Asia?

Asian Rep:  What about Egypt, the third place team from Africa?  Sorry, just joking.

Marketing Rep: Well according to our marketing assessment, the Chilean market is the smallest, so it should be Chile.

IHF President:  Chile, it is.  Send them an email to let them know.

(On a side note, I guess as an American I should like this provision.  If, admittedly a big if, the enormous U.S. market ever showed an interest in the sport we might get a boost in our participation chances.)

This IHF Council decision can be made at anytime.  Which in this hypothetical scenario would mean that Chile or Iran might think they are headed to Qatar, but they could get informed tomorrow they aren’t.    A nation could spend thousands of dollars traveling to participate in qualification to secure a bid only to be told later, “Sorry, Wally World is closed

Continental qualification could become a mystery game.  Future qualification in Pan American, Africa, Asia and Oceania might not hinge on where you place, but what (and how many) European teams (with a big TV market) unexpectedly don’t qualify.  Teams need to now finish in as high as slot as possible.  This is particularly true for the Pan American Woman’s Championships next Summer.  Brazil’s 2013 Championship has resulted in an unprecedented 6 slots going to a continent outside of Europe.  But, after Brazil there’s a drop in talent and without a doubt the lower ranking teams from Pan America are probably not going to fare very well at the 2015 WC.    Just a coincidence that this regulation has recently been updated?

At the very least, the IHF should provide absolute guarantees on at least some of the qualification spots before the tournament takes place.  Otherwise, the victorious teams that win a pivotal placement match will feel a little awkward when they hug each other at center court and celebrate their, “I think we may have qualified” victory.

Elections and Developing Nations

Last I checked the number of IHF member nations in Pan America, Africa, Asia and Oceania far outstrips the total in Europe.  And, yet here is an IHF Council decision which clearly impacts those developing nations.  How does that happen?  Maybe next time around those nations will think about what their votes mean and whose really going to be looking out for their interests.