Podcast: A Discussion on Handball in California and Argentina


Femebal: The regional federation centered around Buenos Aires has been the developmental force behind Argentina’s rise in the handball world

Cal Heat’s Martin Bilello and I discuss the state of handball in California and why there’s only been 2 major clubs there for several years.  In this free flowing conversation Martin also explains how handball is organized in Argentina and what the U.S. might learn from successful development programs there.

Femebal Website: Link


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Play the Game 2009

By Christer Ahl

Six months ago, I used my Facebook and got the help of some friends to use their web pages to announce my need for an urgent kidney transplant.   So very many of you responded with best wishes and encouragement, and I thank all of your for this support which was invaluable in a difficult time.

But I was not so optimistic that my efforts would lead me to someone who would be willing to donate a kidney.  However, I am enormously happy to inform you that the miracle happened!  And it happened through my decades of involvement in sports, especially in handball.  An ex-player and now coach in PanAmerica, whom I met many years ago, when I was a referee and an instructor, saw my postings.  This fantastic man had already had in mind the idea of donating an organ, and when he now saw my name and photo, he decided to come forward.  Obviously, I am eternally grateful to him!

We are both doing well, and my kidney function is now very strong again.  And it was a special coincidence that our transplant surgery took place, precisely during the days of the handball competition in Rio.  This is to me a story about the meaning of the ‘true Olympic spirit’!


Qatar’s Rafael Capote: What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been

In 2007 Cuban Handball Player Rafael Capote defected in Rio at the PANAM Games. Nine years later he’s back in Rio, this time playing for Qatar. Can his journey to become an Olympian actually make you cheer a bit for the mercenary team in maroon and white jerseys?

In 2007 Cuban Handball Player Rafael Capote defected in Rio at the PANAM Games. Nine years later he’s back in Rio, this time playing for Qatar. Can his journey to become an Olympian actually make you cheer a bit for the mercenary team in maroon and white jerseys?

Well, in the midst of reports chronicling the mercenary nature of Qatar’s national team there’s surely been a couple of questions folks have been wondering.  How does a Cuban become a world class handball player? And, how does a Cuban end up playing for Qatar?

Well, the answer to the first question is that he’s a product of Cuba’s development system.  Perhaps the last remaining example of a communist style sports program, even if it’s been running on life support for the last decade or so.  Handball is not a huge sport in Cuba, but nevertheless it’s gotten some level of government support for years.  Players with potential are identified and they train together as a national team.  I’m sure there’s some choice in doing so, but the arm of the government also surely makes recruitment easier and participation strongly encouraged for those selected.

And, because other nations in Pan America put little emphasis on the sport Cuba has traditionally been a power in this hemisphere.  At times, they’ve even been competitive on the world scene.  But, every time this has happened defections have decimated the team.  Two notable players from earlier times are Rolando Urios and Carlos Perez who played for Spain and Hungary, respectively.

Capote’s defection is more recent and ironically enough Capote has now come back full circle to the city of his defection.  At the 2007 PANAM Games in Rio, Capote snuck out of his room with the clothes he had on, $300 and in the pouring rain he took a taxi to Sao Paulo where a former teammate was living.  Just 19 at the time, Capote then began a rather eclectic handball journey.  Playing first in Brazil, surely at a semi-professional or low paid level before moving on to Italy.  Italy is by no means a handball power, but for some reason it’s league that has been a stepping stone for a number of players from Latin America.  Obviously he played well otherwise he wouldn’t have been signed in Spain where he really started to get noticed, even becoming the EHF player of the week.  And, then when Qatar was awarded the World Cup, and hired a Spanish coach, it probably didn’t take Coach Rivera to consider bringing along a Cuban who hasn’t played internationally for several years.  Heck, I’m guessing that the crafty Rivera figured he could turn this pretty good back into a great back with a little time.  Something that’s clearly been accomplished and is just but one piece to the puzzle that has made this collection of decent cast offs a medal contender.

I wonder how Capote feels now having returned to the scene of his defection?  Just 9 years ago, he was 19 years old, scared, making the decision to leave the country of his birth (perhaps forever).  Surely not really knowing if this risk was worth taking.  Think about the “big decisions” you’ve made in your life and whether they pale in comparison. Talk about a leap of faith and crossing the Rubicon!  He could not have even imagined a journey that would take him from Brazil to Italy to Spain to Qatar and back to Rio nine years later as an Olympian. Walking into the opening ceremonies in flowing Arabic robes representing a country he probably had never heard of before.?  Heck, I can hardly imagine it.  And, while I’m no fan of the mercenary nature of the Qatari team I can’t fault Capote for taking this monetary and career opportunity.  Heck, I can’t help but root for him.

Rafael Capote Wikipedia page (Spanish): Link

Brazzil.com article on his defection in 2007: Link

PATHF Tournament Assignments:  North America with 3 Major Championships


The Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) met this past week in Argentina and the North American Zone was able to secure 3 major championships for 2017 and 2018.  Link

Canada will host the Women’s Sr. Pan American Championships from June 15-26, 2017 in Edmonton, Alberta.  Canada’s hosting of this tournament will be a major opportunity to showcase the sport’s growth in Alberta.  The top 3 teams from this tournament will also punch tickets to the 2017 Women’s World Championships in Germany. (Commentary on Handball’s growth in Alberta: Link)

Greenland will get the opportunity to host its first major tournament when it hosts the Men’s Pan American Championships in 2018 in the nation’s capital, Nuuk.  Air travel has always been an issue in the past with commercial flights to Greenland being expensive and only available via Denmark.  The tournament will likely be played in June and the top 3 teams (or more pending 2017 WC results) will qualify for the 2019 Men’s World Championships that will be cohosted by Denmark and Germany.

Finally, the USA will host the 2018 Pan American Beach Handball Championships.  The tournament will be staged in either Miami or Southern Californian in the March timeframe.  Both Men’s and Women’s tournaments will be played with a TBD number of places to be awarded spots at the 2018 Championships in Sochi, Russia.  The USA Men are the defending PATHF Champions.

Commentary:  I’ve commented on more than one occasion about South American dominance in PATHF affairs.  Canada was once denied participation in a PATHF Championship, despite having qualified for the previous WC (Link) and Greenland was even unceremoniously voted out of PATHF not to long ago: Link.  A decade or so ago it was pretty bleak.  Now 3 major tourneys all awarded to North America. Brazilians and Argentinians getting the opportunity to get a lot of frequent flier miles.  No complaints from me.  It’s time to sing Kumbaya around the PATHF Congress table!

Now we’ll see if the North American sides can take advantage of these opportunities to get some World Championships berth.  In particular, it should be interesting to see how Greenland will fare with what surely will be a loud and boisterous crowd backing them.


Puerto Rico on the World Stage


Puerto Rico Asst Coach Julio Sainz gets a haircut after Puerto Rico's victory over Kazakhkstan

Puerto Rico Asst Coach Julio Sainz gets a close shave after Puerto Rico’s victory over Kazakhkstan

Puerto Rico’s surprise 4th place finish at last Summer’s Pan American Championships earned them a ticket to their first ever World Championship.  Going into the tournament I figured the debutants were all but guaranteed to lose all their games on the way to a 24th place finish.  And, after their first four games in Group Play it sure looked like a good prediction as they lost to Romania, Norway, Russia and Spain by an average of 28 goals.  Their last Group Play game against also winless Kazakhstan presented an opportunity, but they were still big underdogs.  Kazakhstan is by no means a world power, but they’ve been respectable in the past, even qualifying for the 2008 Olympics.  Perhaps, motivated by assistant coach Julio Sainz’s promise to shave his head Puerto Rico used their speed and quickness to win 30-27.  (And, for those of you don’t know, Coach Sainz has been the Assistant coach for the U.S. and the LA Women’s side for several years.  Apparently, he’s on loan to the “Commonwealth”)

I’ve been able to watch bits and pieces of Puerto Rico’s matches on beIN sport.  They’ve got a really young side with an average age of 22.  And, they are undersized as well with an average height of just 5 ft 6 inches.  The inexperience really shows with lots of turnovers, but their quickness is comparable to the top teams.  If they can get some of their players playing in Europe where they can get more experience this team could have a bright future.  One player in particular, 20 year old Jailene Maldanado will likely garner some interest from a European club.  Teams are always looking for a decent lefty and surely some coach has already figured out that if she’s doing pretty well already with little experience, she might just become a star with quality regular competition.

What Might Have Been

Watching the matches on beIN Sports also has me reflecting quite a bit on what it might have meant for the U.S. Women if they had qualified.  It’s not entirely clear, but as far as I can tell there’s only a handful of women currently training at Auburn.  Certainly there’s not enough to scrimmage and reportedly a tryout last month had no women candidates.  The Head Coach is coaching a Men’s club team in France.  Essentially, there’s almost no program right now.  Qualifying for the World Championships would have kept the program intact and have given several players a tremendous experience on the world stage.  That being said, with an average age of 28.5 I’m not so sure that enough of the U.S. players were young enough that they could have realistically used the experience to build upon for future success


Also, seeing Puerto Rico play on a U.S. based TV network had me contemplating what it might have meant if the U.S. had qualified.  For several years now I’ve been advocating a sponsorship or partnership deal between USA Team Handball and beIN Sports US.  A no brainer deal that would be a clear win-win for both sides.  U.S. qualification could very well have been a tipping point that would have facilitated such an arrangement.  For sure one would think there would some promotion of a U.S. National Team playing on U.S. TV.  Something that doesn’t happen very often.


USA Women with Great Draw for Pan American Championships

Obama:  And can you do anything for us vis a vis the upcoming Pan American Championship? Castro:  I'll see what I can do.

Obama: And can you do anything for us vis a vis the upcoming Pan American Team Handball Championship?
Castro: I’ll see what I can do.

Yesterday the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) conducted the draw for the Women’s Pan American Championship that will be held next month in Havana. A combination of luck and generosity resulted in probably the best conceivable draw possible for the USA Women.

Initial Draw- Paired with Cuba

PATHF competition regulations call for draw performance rows to be based on the results of the previous championship. 7 nations participated in the 2013 Championships resulting in the following performance rows

– Brazil-Argentina
– Paraguay-Uruguay
– Mexico-Venezuela

The remaining 5 teams (Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, Greenland and Puerto Rico) were then drawn randomly to fill out the remaining performance rows. And, as luck would have it the U.S. received the very best possible result, getting paired with Cuba and thus not having to face a team that recently beat them 35-15 at the NORCA Championships.

Cuba Chooses a Tougher Path

But, while it was fortunate to be paired with Cuba and avoid them in Group Play in all likelihood the U.S. could anticipate ending up in a tough group. This is because Cuba as the host nation gets to select which group it prefers after the other 5 performance rows have been drawn. The results of the draw were

Group A
Brazil- 1st at 2014 South American Games and current World Champion
Paraguay- 5th at 2014 South American Games
Venezuela- 7th at 2013 Pan American Championship
Puerto Rico- 5th at 2015 North American & Caribbean
Greenland- 4th at 2015 North American & Caribbean

Group B
Argentina- 2nd at 2014 South American Games
Uruguay- 4th at 2014 South American Games
Mexico- 2nd at 2015 North American & Caribbean
Guatemala- 1st at 2014 Central American Championship
Chile- 3rd at 2014 South American Games

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to immediately conclude that Group A would be a far easier path towards a semifinal berth and World Championship qualification. Beating Brazil would be a tough ask, but Cuba surely would make short work of the remaining competition in that Group. But, apparently Cuba was not looking for an easy ticket as they selected Group B. As Ruben Gomez speculates at Mundo Handball, Cuba apparently would prefer to size up their squad relative to their competition at the PANAM Games later this summer. And as fate would have it Group B provided Cuba with that opportunity as it had all 3 teams (Argentina, Uruguay and Chile) Cuba will meet in Toronto during Group Play.

Team USA with a Great Opportunity

The end result of avoiding Cuba and then having Cuba choose a tougher path presents a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to qualify for the World Championship.   In fact, it’s probably the best possible draw imaginable.   Arguably, based on recent results, 5 of the top 6 teams in PATHF are crammed into Group B. The U.S. avoids 3 teams (Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay) they recently lost to, plus Argentina and Chile, 2 teams that qualified directly for the PANAM Games by defeating Uruguay.

Instead, the U.S. gets to take on 2 teams they’ve recently beaten (Puerto Rico and Greenland) and Paraguay and Venezuela, 2 teams probably similar, maybe even slightly below Uruguay in terms of quality. The U.S. has not played Paraguay recently, but Paraguay finished a rung below Uruguay at the 2014 South American Games. The U.S. did lose to Venezuela at the 2013 Pan American Championships, 36-29, but the U.S. has improved since then while Venezuela hasn’t played as much internationally.

It’s a foregone conclusion that Brazil will win Group A, but the U.S. is clearly in the mix for a semifinal berth and a potential World Championship ticket.  Many thanks to Cuba for extending that warming of relations with the U.S. to the Handball World.


Preview: USA vs. Uruguay Last Chance Qualification (2nd Leg)


Newcomer, Greg Inahara, helped spark Team USA to a 25-21 in the first leg.  Up next:  The return leg in Uruguay.

Newcomer, Greg Inahara, helped spark Team USA to a 25-21 in the first leg. Up next: The return leg in Uruguay.

The 2nd legs of the Last Chance Qualification series between the USA and Uruguay will take place this Saturday in Canelones, Uruguay. The Women’s match starts at 6:30 PM (Local) and the Men’s match starts at 8:30 PM (Local). Uruguay is currently GMT-3 or 1 hour ahead of U.S. East Coast Time.

Livestream site: Link

Results of the First Leg and What Each Team Needs in Order to Qualify for the PANAM Games

These matches are the second matches of a two match playoff. If a team wins both matches they, of course, win the playoff, 2 wins to 0. If, however, there is a split with both teams winning one match, the winner will be determined by overall aggregate goal differential for both matches. Then, in the event that the goal differential is equal, the total number of away goals is the next tiebreaker. Finally, in the unlikely event that the score of the 2nd match is identical to the 1st match a coin flip will determine the overall winner.

Women’s Numbers: Uruguay won the first leg at Auburn by a score of 30-25.  Here’s the practical breakdown of what the U.S. Women need to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Win by 6 goals or more
  • Win by 5 goals and score at least 31 goals in the match on Saturday

Here’s the breakdown of what Uruguay needs to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Lose by 4 goals or less
  • Lose by 5 goals and don’t let the U.S. score more than 29 goals on Saturday

If the U.S. wins by the score (30-25) there will be a coin flip to determine the overall winner.

Men’s Numbers: The U.S. Men won the first leg in Auburn by a score of 25-21.  Here’s the practical breakdown of what the U.S. Men need to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Lose by 3 goals or less
  • Lose by 4 goals and score at least 22 goals in the match on Saturday

Here’s the breakdown of what Uruguay needs to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Win by 5 goals or more
  • Win by 4 goals and don’t let the U.S. score more than 20 goals on Saturday

If Uruguay wins by the score (25-21) there will be a coin flip to determine the overall winner.

Women’s Game: Can the USA nibble away at Uruguay’s 5 goal lead?

Last Saturday’s match was pretty much an even affair until midway through the second half at which point Uruguay took control of the game enroute to a 5 goal victory.  One could summarily conclude that it’s pretty unlikely that the U.S. can return the favor with a 5 or 6 goal in Uruguay. However, the U.S. can take some comfort in that several of their players pulled off a similar turnaround just 4 years ago against Canada. In that 2 match series to qualify for the 2011 PANAM Games the U.S. lost it’s first match in Lake Placid by 5 only to beat Canada on the road in Montreal by 5 goals a few days later. And, the U.S. scored more away goals to win the tiebreaker.

Also, working in the U.S.’s favor is that they can undoubtedly play better than they did last Saturday. The U.S. failed to finish many prime scoring opportunities, had far too many turnovers and allowed way more goals (30) than they normally do against teams of Uruguay’s level.

Working against the U.S. however will be the long road trip and a vocal crowd in Uruguay. On top of that, the U.S. style of play is more methodical and they are less likely to rattle off a string of quick goals to change the game in just a few minutes. Instead, if they are to pull off the turnaround it’s more likely that it will be done by nibbling away at Uruguay’s lead over the course of 60 minutes. So, a doable task, but the U.S. will have to shoot a higher percentage and really avoid the turnovers.

Men’s Match: Can the USA hold on to its 4 goal lead and can Uruguay handle the defensive pressure?

For about 3/4 of the match last Saturday, Uruguay had a slight edge, but then Team USA applied some aggressive pressure defense that rattled Uruguay leading to turnovers and fast breaks. In the end, the U.S. won 25-21 to give them a 4 goal lead heading into the return leg. (See video of open defense compiled by Mundo Handball: Link)

All due credit to Coach Javier Cuesta and the U.S. side for applying this aggressive strategy successfully, but one has to truly wonder how Uruguay was seemingly unprepared for this tactic. This is because the USA had already used a similar tactic against Uruguay last June after falling behind 15-5 in a pivotal Group match.   Uruguay struggled and the U.S. came within striking distance of a miraculous comeback only to fall short. To be surprised once is somewhat understandable, but to be unprepared twice is unconscionable.

Further defining the extent of this failure is the reality that such a defense can generally be easily defeated with simple preparation. There’s a reason why you only see this type of defense used by high level professional clubs and national teams towards the end of a match. It’s a high risk defense that more often then not leads to further disaster with a goal scoring barrage.

It will be interesting to see, if and when the U.S. applies this defensive tactic again. I suspect that the U.S. will try and hold on to its 4 goal lead with standard play. After all, the two sides were relatively even for much of the game in Auburn. Should this aggregate lead start to slip, however, it surely will be applied and then we will find out whether Uruguay will get rattled again or whether they have prepared and are ready to learn from their mistakes.

But, to be honest, it’s the U.S. that could be in more danger of getting rattled. 3 relative newcomers (Greg Inahara, Chris Morgan and Carson Chun) made significant contributions in the friendly confines of Auburn, but this will be the first big road match wearing a U.S. uniform. They’ll need to play well again and the U.S. will also likely need big games in the backcourt from veterans Gary Hines and Martin Clemons Axelsson, who was a non-factor in the first match.


USA vs. Uruguay Last Chance Qualification to be Live Streamed: What to Look for

The USA Women had a much needed offensive outburst against Puerto Rico last weekend.  Can they repeat that performance tonight against a better Uruguay side?

The USA Women had a much needed offensive outburst against Puerto Rico last weekend. Can they repeat that performance tonight against a better Uruguay side?

The USA Women and Men will be taking on Uruguay in the first match of a two game series tonight in Auburn, Alabama. The Women’s match starts at 5:30 PM (Local) and the Men’s match starts at 8:00 PM (Local). (Auburn is located in the U.S. Central Time Zone which is GMT-6.)

Livestream site: Link

USA Team Handball also indicates that the full match will be posted to Youtube a couple hours after the matches,

Taped Delay: Link

Understanding the 2 Game Playoff Format

These matches are only the first matches of a two match playoff. If a team wins both matches they, of course win the playoff, 2 wins to 0. If, however, there is a split with both teams winning one match, the winner will be determined by overall aggregate goal differential for both matches. For example if the USA Women wins the first match by 6 goals, but loses the second match by 5 goals, the USA Women will still advance due to having a “plus 1” aggregate goal differential.

Another way to look at it, is that the USA and Uruguay are playing a very long game with the first half being played tonight and the second half being played next Saturday in Uruguay. Because of this format it’s very important to note that simply winning the match by a narrow margin at home could be a unsatisfactory result. The goal is instead to win the first match by as many goals as possible. Or to put it another way, there is no “garbage time” at the end of the game as every goal counts in the end.

Finally adding to the home court advantage for both teams is the travel time required to and from Auburn, AL and Montevideo, Uruguay. Depending on the flights taken it could be anywhere from 17-25 hours of total travel time. And, on top of that there’s a four hour time difference, meaning that the Uruguay Men’s body clocks will be on Midnight when their match starts at 8:00 PM in Auburn.

A Closer Look at the Women’s Game

On paper the Uruguay Women appear to have an edge in this contest. This is primarily based on the last match between the USA and Uruguay played in July, 2013 at the Pan American Championships in the Dominican Republic.  The match was close for a half (14-12), but Uruguay totally dominated the U.S. in the second half en route to a 30-17 victory.

The rosters, however, have changed significantly for both teams. Notably, Uruguay is missing 7 players that scored 16 of Uruguay’s 30 goals in the 2013 match. The USA is also missing 7 players, but only 1 of them, Stephanie Hesser was a significant contributor in the 2013 match. And, Hesser who is perhaps injured and unavailable appears to have slipped on the depth chart anyway.

Also, the recent 3 game series against Puerto Rico might have been a breakthrough performance for the USA Women. For months the USA Women have struggled to put points on the board usually scoring in the low 20s.   This past weekend, however, they scored 29, 30 and 31 goals and if they can match that goal total against Uruguay it may be enough to put them over the top.

On paper, though, Uruguay is a stronger team than Puerto Rico and plays an aggressive 3-3 defense that has given the USA Women problems in the past. It will be interesting to see how the U.S. handles that pressure.

A Closer Look at the Men’s Game

Uruguay and the USA Men have an even more recent match that provides a window of what to expect. This past summer they met in a pivotal Group Play match at the 2014 Pan American Championships to decide which of the two teams would make the semifinals. In that match the USA played very poorly at the start and ended up being down 15-5 at halftime.   An aggressive defense surprised Uruguay in the second half allowing the U.S. to catch up and make the final score a more respectable 27-23, but the outcome was never really in doubt.

The rosters for both teams have changed some and both teams are missing a key player due to injuries. The U.S. is missing Adam El Zogby who plays professionally in Egypt and Uruguay is missing Massimo Cancio who plays in Spain’s Professional league.

The U.S. will surely be relying on its 2 veterans playing professionally in Europe, Gary Hines and Martin Clemmons Axelsson to provide the scoring punch, but it will be interesting to see how well coach Garcia Cuesta can integrate those players with his inexperienced residency program athletes. And, the U.S. has also called up several players who play on club teams in the U.S. to include Jordan Fithian, Justin Key and a trio of naturalized players from the former Yugoslavia, Serbians Vladimir Andjelic and Djorde Radovanovic and Croatian Vladimir Bicvic.

Uruguay’s side counts just 1 professional on its roster, Alejandro Velazco, who plays in Spain while 2 other players Gaston Ruddich and Sebastian Abdala play in the Argentine club league which while mostly amateur is fairly well established. The rest of Uruguay’s side plays club handball in Uruguay.

On paper based on last June’s match Uruguay is the the favorite.  That one match, however, was played in Uruguay and it seems unlikely that the U.S. will play as poorly as it did last June again.  The U.S., however, will have to make up for the loss of El Zogby at Left Back and the Uruguay side may also benefit from the greater familiarity their players have with playing with each other.


The Case Against the Dominican Republic and Why Sports Federations have Independent Tribunals

Overwhelming evidence point to the Domincan Republic Handball Federation repeatedly using overage and non-Dominican athletes on their national teams.  Will the PATHF's Executive Committee's maneuvers to disregard the Tribunal they established just 2 years ago succeed?

Overwhelming evidence points to the Dominican Republic Handball Federation repeatedly using overage and non-Dominican athletes on their national teams. Will the PATHF’s Executive Committee’s maneuvers to disregard the findings of the independent Tribunal they established just 2 years ago succeed?

Team Handball News contributor, Christer Ahl has resigned from his position as the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) President of the Commission and Tribunal for Discipline and Ethics.  Here’s some background on the Dominican Republic’s numerous violations for over age players and how the PATHF’s Executive Committee is maneuvering to disregards the tribunal’s findings.

In the women’s youth world championship in 2010 (for players 18 or younger), which was organized in the Dominican Republic, the home team stunned the handball world by just barely losing against the eventual silver medalists Norway and then coming very close also against the bronze medal winner from the Netherlands in the quarterfinal.  It was the clearly best performance from any of the Pan American teams.  But already during the tournament, there were some suspicions that something might be amiss.   Pan American observers seemed to recognize some of the players from previous years, and some of them seemed rather old.  The same team had months earlier done unusually well in the Pan American Championship.  And it later on turned out to be a time bomb.

In September 2012, at the Congress of the Pan American Handball Federation (PATHF), Christer Ahl, well-known to our readers, was present as a U.S. delegate, in support of then USA Team Handball President Jeff Utz.  Christer was asked by the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) to draw on his vast experience and take on the task of preparing the first ever PATHF Regulations for Disciplinary and Ethics Matters.  And, for good measure, he was also asked to serve as the first President of the Commission and Tribunal for Discipline and Ethics.

Christer has told me that he did not really expect to very busy once the Regulations had been finished, because in the history of the PATHF, there had never been any problems of a magnitude such that a Tribunal was needed.  But, Christer was prepared to support what he felt was a good initiative, because, as a fundamental principle, it makes good sense to separate serious disciplinary and ethics matters from political bodies, such as the Executive Committee and the Congress, leaving them for a totally independent and neutral body such as a Tribunal.

But after only one year, in late October 2013, ‘all hell broke loose’, when the Uruguay federation filed a complaint accusing the Dominican Federation of age fraud involving two specific players.  The focus was on their participation in the 2010 Pan American Championship, and not in the World Championship, which is outside the jurisdiction of PATHF.  There is no time limit for reviewing and punishing such a serious infraction, and the reason why the complaint was filed in 2013 was that these two players were now playing for Spanish clubs, traveling abroad on their own and outside the control of the Dominican Federation.  So the Uruguayans felt that there was some hope that evidence of the age fraud could now be found.  The crux is, of course, that passports have to be presented at Pan American and World Championships and that there was no real no basis for questioning the authenticity of a passport at such time.

I will not repeat too much here of what Christer and his Tribunal colleagues discovered, because you can instead read it more fully in an article on the blog Mundohandball:  Link. But through registrations in Spain, they found evidence of passports which showed that the two players would have been 23 and 20 years old, instead of 18, back in 2010.  It was also found that both players had been on the (senior) national team already in 2007, at which time their stated ages matched the ones they were now showing in Spain.  The Dominican Federation still denied all knowledge and suggested that any wrongdoing must have been the responsibility of the players.  This caused one of the players to explode and make a full confession, moreover explaining all the methods used by the federation.  Essentially, they collected birth certificates, national ID cards and passports for all national team players.  And, when this particular player went to the 2010 Pan American qualifier, she was simply given, and ordered to use, a false passport with a date of birth that made her five years younger and thus eligible to participate.

On this basis, the Tribunal concluded that the Dominican Federation had been engaged in systematic fraud, that the entire Federation management and many players were fully aware, and that the Federation President who had kept submitting false passports was the primarily guilty person.  It was noted that the two players had of course participated knowingly in the fraud, although perhaps under pressure, and that they were not the instigators.  In a case where the mentality of the entire Federation allows this kind of serious and systemic fraud to take place, the normal approach in international sports is to punish the entire community by suspending all teams from the federation.  This is also done in recognition of the reality that the fraud has hurt other teams from other countries, who have used their meager resources to compete, without suspecting that one of the opponents is cheating in a major way.  And, of course, this also serves as a deterrence to tamp down the temptation of future wrongdoing.

The punishments were announced last April, and there had already been interim suspensions in place since January.  The President was suspended for ten years, and the players for five and three years each, with the lesser punishment for the player who collaborated.  All Dominican teams were then suspended for three years.  The PATHF Regulations would allow for an appeal to the International Court for Sports (CAS), but no such appeal seemed to be forthcoming, although there were rumors of concern in the Dominican Republic.

Instead, there was suddenly a public confession, which was given a worldwide distribution through YouTube, by another player, a Cuban national, who had for many years been playing on the Dominican national team in various Pan American and World Championships despite never having had a Dominican citizenship.  Moreover, she stated that many other players had been involved either in the type of age fraud which had just been punished in two cases, or in the type of fraud that she had committed, namely being on Dominican national teams despite being citizens of other countries.   This suggested that the overall scope of the fraud was actually much wider than what had been reviewed by the Tribunal, and it led to expectations that PATHF would order an additional review.

Much to the amazement of the Tribunal, however, the PATHF Executive instead started conveying to the Tribunal that they were having problems with the team suspension, presumably after listening to complaints from the Dominican sports authorities.  They wanted the Tribunal to reconsider, something which the Tribunal noted is simply not permitted.  Instead the Tribunal pointed to the existing appeals possibility to CAS.  But apparently this was not a popular approach, as that would have allowed CAS to take into account all the new confessions and evidence, something which could have led to an increase in punishments.   So this has caused the PATHF Executive to come up with the outrageous proposal, despite the strong objections from the Tribunal, that the PATHF Congress, which is meeting this week, should be asked to review and overturn the Tribunal decision.

As Christer has noted, this is not a matter of the Tribunal thinking that it is ‘infallible’ in its judgment.  Any Tribunal welcomes, and feels protected, by the existence of an appeals process.  But, as noted earlier, the fundamental reason why a Tribunal exists is that it is intended to remove the decisions from the Executive or the Congress, which are always apt to act under political influences, taking personal or business considerations into account.   So every Federation which has instituted a Tribunal must then refrain from getting back into these matters, influencing the process or overturning decisions.  As Christer notes more in detail in an interview at Mundohandball (in Spanish)  it seems clear that the PATHF has completely failed to understand or respect the principles of a Tribunal.

The PATHF Congress will be addressing this matter in the next few days.  At which time the Congress could take one of two actions.  They could decide to respect the independence of the Tribunal and its findings.  This doesn’t mean that the Dominican Federation couldn’t appeal the finding; only that they will have to appeal it through the also, independent International Court for Sport Arbitration (CAS).

Or, the PATHF Congress can over turn the Tribunal’s findings, essentially make the Tribunal’s work and its careful review of the very convincing evidence meaningless.  Here’s hoping that the Congress Delegates will show sound judgment.


Part 1: Grass Roots vs National Team Focus: Recent National Team Losses Should Raise Doubts on National Team Focus

Intrepide Youth

How does a club team in Guadeloupe beat a national team from the U.S.? Answer: It’s start with superior youth development programs.

This past April the USA Women’s National Team traveled to Puerto Rico where they played several matches.  They lost twice to the Puerto Rican national team, beat the Puerto Rican junior national team and lost twice to French Guadeloupe’s top club team, Intrepide.  Depending on your perspective these results could be considered as either totally disheartening or a sign of mild progression.  If your perspective is that of an old timer you’re disappointed as Puerto Rico is a team that the U.S. would typically beat by 10 goals or more.  If your perspective is more recent it’s a sign of mild progression as the Puerto Rican team is roughly equal to the U.S. and we were able to play competitively against them in their home country.

More interesting to me, however, are the the two losses against, Club Intrepide, and the contrast it presents.  Most Americans probably don’t know much about France’s Overseas Departments: Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion Island.  I, for one, was fairly ignorant about them until I lived in France and started following French sports more closely.  France’s national handball and basketball teams have several players from these Islands far removed from France.  And athletes from from these islands also play on a number of club teams in France.  I saw this first hand in the over 35 basketball league I played in while living in Paris. Trust me, those guys from the Caribe can play ball and this tall American player knew he was in for a workout, but also thankfully for some Ti’ Punch after the match.

Still, Guadaloupe has only around 400,000 inhabitants and the town of Sainte-Anne where Club Intrepide is based has 23,000 residents.  How does a small town with very modest living conditions put together a club that can beat the U.S. National Team?  Well, there are probably a number of reasons, but I would argue that the underlying reason is that the tiny town of Sainte-Anne has a better organized and structured youth program than what the entire U.S.has put together coast to coast.  Most likely the players on Club Intrepide have been playing since their early teens, if not earlier.  Whereas most of the players on the U.S. weren’t introduced to the sport until their 20’s.

U.S. Women’s Team:  Modest Progress or Regression?

In theory, with 318 million people the U.S. can overcome its lack of developed youth programs by finding and training top notch athletes regardless of age.  And, superior athleticism can indeed trump skill and experience if the athleticism gap is big enough.  But, that’s a big “if” and these recent results are a pretty strong indication that the U.S. isn’t overwhelming it’s competition athletically.  Instead it is simply a continuation of less than satisfactory results seen in 2011 and 2013.  And, while Rome wasn’t built in a day there should be an expectation of better results.

Even more concerning is a not widely advertised loss that the U.S. Women suffered against West Point at the Collegiate nationals.  (I did not see this match, but heard one of the commentators mention it during one of the other matches.)  I suspect that the U.S side had some very recent additions to the U.S. Residency program, but there’s still no excuse for ever losing to a collegiate team. Residency athletes are supposed to be the cream of the crop, training on a daily basis and should be able to overwhelm a collegiate side.  Still, I will say it’s not the first time a Service Academy side has played a National Team close:  When I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy we narrowly lost a close match vs the U.S. National Team.  Thing is, though:  I was on the Men’s club team and we lost to the Women’s National Team.  (Maybe, this gives you some perspective as to where I’m coming from when I make an assessment that not one single player on the current USA Women’s team would have made any of our Olympic rosters from 84 to 96!)

Don’t Blame the Athletes

I’d like to make some perfectly clear.  I do not, nor should anyone else, blame the athletes for their lack of success.  They are a hard working bunch making a lot of sacrifices to improve their game.  They’ve been given the opportunity to train full time at a Residency Program and they’re doing their best to make the most of it.  Heck, in many respects as a former national team player with modest skills I really identify with them and their dreams.

Taking Stock: Are Residency Programs the best place to spend limited resources?

No, if blame is to be assigned that blame goes straight to the decision makers.  And, basically the fundamental question is whether it is better to direct resources towards athletes chasing the 2016 dream or towards efforts that will improve chances for U.S. success in 2020 or 2024.  As someone who’s a already expended quite a bit of time and energy addressing this question it’s fairly clear where I stand.  Although, written a year ago little has changed to alter my position.  In fact, it’s hardened as 2016 Olympic Qualification seems more unlikely now, the Auburn program seems to be a bit on the austere side and the prospect of a U.S. hosted 2024 Olympics seems even more likely.

Some might argue that resources directed towards 2016 also helps the out years, but the reality is that there’s minimal overlap at this point in time.  This is especially true if you look at the ages of both the men’s and women’s team.  The women’s program at Auburn is especially long in the tooth with many players in their late 20s.  Even worse in what I’ll generously call highly questionable recruiting the U.S. has brought in several rookies that probably range in age from 24-29.  (I say probably, because the U.S. Federation doesn’t list the ages of it’s athletes on its website and ages were deduced by internet searches for their last year of college.)  If out year success is desired it goes without saying that this sort of recruit should be the very rare exception instead of the norm.

The U.S. Federation hasn’t provided much in terms of rationale for this spending decision other than that previous residency programs have resulted in most successful national teams for the U.S.  A true statement, but one that neglects a number of “Yes, buts” to include:

  • That previous success wasn’t all that successful:  No Olympic medals and zero victories over top European sides in Olympic or WC competition.
  • European leagues are far more professionalized now:  Virtually every top athlete in the world is now training and competing regularly in a professional environment superior to the club and national team regimens of the past, further widening the gap between what the U.S. can do with a residency program.
  • Our competition in Pan America is now much stiffer: Grass Roots development in Latin America has resulted in stronger national teams, both technically and athletically.  And, their top players are now playing for top European clubs.
  • More post college opportunities for collegiate athletes:  Playing opportunities with decent salaries abound for 2nd and 3rd tier athletes in many sports making recruiting crossover athletes even more challenging.

Quite frankly, I am totally perplexed that smart people don’t look at these stark realities and come to the same conclusion that I have:  That a Residency Program focused on crossover athletes in their mid to late 20’s has very little chance of success.  That it is a huge drain on very limited resources.  And, that other paths and possibilities need to be considered, carefully assessed and pursued.

What are some of those possibilities?  In part 2 I will identify some options for consideration but, only after I first take a closer look at the current club situation and the state of grass roots development in the U.S.


Pivotal USA – Puerto Rico Match likely to determine nonqualifier


The North American and Caribbean Men’s Handball Championships will qualify 4 teams for this summer’s Pan American Handball Championships in Uruguay.  With 5 nations participating this means only 1 nation won’t punch their ticket for Uruguay.  There’s still quite a few games to be played, but with Puerto Rico having lost their first two matches by large margins they appear to be the weakest team.  Mathematically, there best hope is a win today against the U.S. which is the only other team without a victory.  The U.S. lost 21-15 against Cuba in its only match so far.  Following a 13-5 deficit in the first half the U.S. played much better in the 2nd half, actually outscoring the Cubans 10-8.  Based on that performance the U.S. should be able to get a win and all but punch their ticket for Uruguay.

Match time is 5:00 PM (U.S. Eastern Time) and will be streamed live at the link below.

Tournament Standings: Link

Webstreaming website:  Link


Caribbean Cup ongoing in the Dominican Republic


Caribbean nations are currently competing in the Dominican Republic.

The Caribbean Cup Handball Tournament started yesterday in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  This tournament is the Caribbean region qualification event for next year’s Central and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico.  Nations participating in the Men’s tournament are the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mexico.  The Women’s tournament has the same nations, minus Mexico.  Haiti and Venezuela had indicated that they were going to participate, but pulled out shortly before the tournament.  The result of this is that the 4 qualification slots will automatically be awarded to the nations attending.  (Mexico had already qualified as host.)

In yesterday’s action, the Cuban Men returned to International competition in fine style with a relatively easy victory over Mexico, 31-22.  The second men’s match between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was suspended due to water leaking on to the court and will be restarted later today.  The Dominican Republic was leading 5-3 after 11 minutes played.  In the sole women’s match the Dominican Republic women easily defeated Puerto Rico, 30-17.

Although the tournament will have no bearing on qualification it will serve as preview of next year’s Central American & Caribbean Games.  As the Central American sides are relatively new to handball in all likelihood the nations participating in this all Caribbean tournament will be the same ones fighting for the 3 PANAM Games slots next November in Mexico.  In particular, it will be interesting to see how well the Cuban Men and Women perform in this competition.

USA Team Handball followers might also get a good idea as to which 2 nations they might play against in the the 2nd chance qualification tournament in 2015 for the PANAM Games.  The 4th and 5th place nations from this region, the 4th place nation from South America and the U.S. will battle for the 8th and final spot for the 2015 PANAM Games sometime in early 2015.  (For more information on 2016 Olympic Games Qualification check the links on the right hand side of the page.)

For more information and to follow the Caribbean Cup competition check out the links below.

Standings and results Wiki (Mundo Handball):  Link


Live Stream and on demand highlights:  Link


Pan America: Sorting out North, South, Central and Caribbean nations for team handball event qualification


I recently updated the World Championship and Olympic Qualification pages (See links on right hand side) and in doing so I got a bit of a geography lesson.  And that lesson is the following:

There is no definitive agreed upon standard for defining what countries are part of North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

For sure, no one is ever going to place Canada in South America or Argentina in North America, but when you start talking about the countries in the middle of Pan America it’s wide open for debate.  Depending on the context and who’s talking Mexico is or isn’t part of Central America and the Caribbean nations can simply consist of the islands in the midst of that sea or those islands plus nations on the continent with coastlines on the sea.  Setting aside the generic debate, in the context of Team Handball those regions can be defined.  Albeit, it depends on what competition you’re concerned.  Confused?  So, was I.  So, here forthwith is an explanation that should help clear things up a bit.

1) The Pan American Team Handball Federation has administratively divided Pan America into 3 regions:  North & Caribbean, Central and South.  Those 3 regions are depicted in the top picture and qualification events for Pan American Championships are held every 2 years (Men) (Women) for the nations in those regions.  The Pan American Championships also serve as the qualification event for the World Championships, with typically 3 teams (and sometimes 4) earning slots.

2) The Pan American (PANAM) Games is a quadrennial event organized by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO).  Qualification for the Team Handball Tournament at the PANAM Games is depicted in the bottom picture and is grouped into 3 regions: North, Central & Caribbean and South.  Qualification for the PANAM Games takes place every four years.

3) The Caribbean island nations (Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago) and Mexico swing back and forth.  They are grouped with with the North nations for Pan American Championship qualification and grouped with the Central nations for PANAM Games qualification

4) Greenland is recognized by PATHF and therefore can participate in Pan American Championships Qualification.  Greenland, however, is not recognized by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) and therefore cannot participate in PANAM Games Qualification.

5) For PANAM Games qualification Colombia and Venezuela can participate in either South American qualification or Central & Caribbean qualification.  Granted, give the current relative strengths of both regions it would be far more difficult to qualify through the South American Games, but they have that option

6) Some competitions can serve as qualification events for both Pan American Championships and PANAM Games competition.  For example, this is the case with the upcoming South American Games this March in Chile.  The top 3 nations at this event will earn slots for the 2015 PANAM Games and the top 5 nations will earn slots for the 2014 Pan American Championships.  And adding a little more confusion is the practicality that Colombia and Venezuela would likely participate in this event for Pan American Championship qualification purposes only.

Enlarged View of Pan American Championships Qualification Map: Link

Enlarged View of PANAM Games Qualification Map:  Link