Yes, Brazil vs. Denmark again, but Poland is the big surprise!

Happy Polish players celebrate their place in the semifinals against Serbia

Happy Polish players celebrate their place in the semifinals against Serbia

Well, at least some of my predictions for the semifinals worked out: Denmark will indeed get the chance to have revenge on Brazil for the loss in the preliminary round, but the Norway-France pairing will not materialize. Both teams made their way to the quarterfinals, but there it came to an end.

France had looked relatively steady and comfortable in the preliminary round, and they easily got past Japan. But against Poland they suddenly appeared lacking in confidence and fighting spirit. Some of the veterans were not in old form and some of the newcomers looked overwhelmed. By contrast, Poland came to the game with a lot of enthusiasm after having defeated Romania. They just played their style and never let up. It was refreshing to see their attitude, and the 22-21 victory was deserved. And the Swedish team sitting at home watching may now feel some sense of consolation, after they were so criticized by being kicked out by Poland in the qualifying.

Poland will now have to deal with the home team Serbia. Just as in EURO2012, where Serbia was also the hosts, it seemed again that playing in front of a boisterous home crowd made a real difference. This had already been noticed in the previous round, where Serbian hooligans used green lasers in the face of the Korean 7-meter shooters. Norway got off to a great start with good goalkeeping and a fast-paced game, and it seemed that they were on a winning path. But suddenly the lost their rhythms, resorting to crazy shooting and beginning to leak on defense. In particular, they were not able to cope with the ‘heavy-weight’ circle-runner Cvijic. So much to the delight of the spectators, Serbia turned a 15-20 deficit into a 25-22 edge and never looked back. Norwegian spectators and media were dumbfounded and coach Hergeirsson was criticized for having been too passive. The unofficial Serbian anthem ‘The march to Drina’ could be heard with increasing fervor.

Denmark started out in a way similar to Norway, using fast-breaks and speed to get ahead. But gradually the German team fought back. It was then a tough game with an uncertain outcome for most of the game, until Denmark again was able to get a grip towards the end. The end result was 31-28. It had seemed already in the ’round of 16′ against Montenegro that Denmark was back in shape after a hapless preliminary round. So even if they were occasionally struggling today, they are probably going to be a tough nut to crack for Brazil in the semifinal; and then there is that element of revenge!

It is hard to know how Brazil will react after their victory today. They had occasionally been unconvincing in the previous game against Netherlands, and now they had an even more experienced opponent in form of Hungary. Of course, I had really dismissed the weak effort of Hungary in the preliminary round, but against Spain they then showed improvement and today they were again good enough to win, And it was close, with Brazil seemingly getting undisciplined before the result after 60 minutes was set at 26-26. The lack of discipline and some bad luck with referee decisions continued, so I was prepared to give up on our PanAmerican friends. But in the end their determination was greater and they pulled away to 33-31 in the second half of the second overtime. Alexandra played a dominant role, but both goalkeepers also contributed to the win. So now Brazil is through to the semi-final for the first time ever. Will they still be ‘hungry’ and ready to go for more after that achievement? Other PanAmerican teams are certainly hoping so, because a Brazilian gold medal would mean that no less than FIVE PanAmerican teams will be able to participate in the 2015 World Championship.


Celebration in the Vatican: the Pope’s team won the football championship in Argentina

Pope Francis proudly displaying the shirt of his favorite team, the new champions in Argentiina

Pope Francis proudly displaying the shirt of his favorite team, the new champions in Argentiina

There are many famous football teams in Argentina, for instance River Plate, Racing, Velez Sarsfield and, of course, Boca Juniors. The latter is obviously ‘my’ team, considering that they play in blue and yellow, moreover having once picked those colors from the flag of a Swedish ship entering the harbor of Buenos Aires. But in recent time, the team more often mentioned internationally is San Lorenzo (de Almagro), the team supported by Pope Francis. It should not require much explanation as to why he favors a team named after a sainted third-century Christian martyr.

San Lorenzo has not managed to win the championship in Argentina since 2007, but now it happened again. A team with such a well-connected and powerful supporter should of course have a major advantage. And by playing 0-0 at Velez Sarsfield, they managed to hold off second-placed Lanus who also managed just a draw in the final round. Our congratulations go out to San Lorenzo and all their supporters, including my good friend and successor as PanAmerican referee chief in handball, Miguel Zaworotny, now the Managing Director in the office of the PanAmerican Handball Federation. But how about San Lorenzo also starting a section for handball, perhaps even a women’s team!?


The new IOC President Thomas Bach – what will ‘unity in diversity’ mean in practice?

Ceremonial handover at the IOC: Jacques Rogge (right) hands over the key to his successor Thomas Bach (left)

Ceremonial handover at the IOC: Jacques Rogge (right) hands over the key to his successor Thomas Bach (left)

The dust has now settled after the complex and somewhat controversial election process which led to Thomas Bach of Germany taking over as new President of the International Olympic Committee three months ago. Observers of the Olympic movement are now instead paying attention to every word and every action by Bach, trying to interpret what direction and what changes could be expected as a result of the Bach presidency.

Bach, who turns 60 a week from now, has started out in a way which suggests that he quickly wants to try to put to rest the suspicions and concerns that surrounded his election. As I noted in some articles prior to the election, there had been concerns related to Bach’s background as a protégé of Horst Dassler, the former Adidas boss, who was seen as the ‘Godfather’ of the corrupt aspects of sports marketing and power brokerage. Similarly, the notion that Bach was being pushed by the well-known ‘puppet master’ Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait did not go over too well in many circles in the IOC and elsewhere in the world of sports.

So in a situation where, after 12 years, many had become disillusioned by the lack of achievements by the departing IOC president, Jacques Rogge, Bach has come into office with a lot to prove. Bach has been seen by many as a traditionalist and as a defender of key aspects of ‘status quo’, for instance by perennially being the IOC spokesman on the topic of the IOC’s strong insistence on autonomy for the sports movement. So for those who are looking for change, there were concerns. Among the changes that people have been hoping for, one could mention the composition of the IOC and the secret and stodgy nature of its work processes, the criteria and processes for the selection of Olympic host cities, the composition of the program for the Olympic Games, and the increasing sense of corruption and bad governance in international sports federations (IFs) and National Olympic Committees (NOCs).

Clearly, the IOC is first and foremost a ‘machine’ in charge of organizing the Olympic Games, moreover, with the recognition that such complex mega-events require a strong focus on its business aspects and the related politics. To a large extent, the respective IFs have a major role in ensuring the proper technical and sporting execution of the Games. But the IOC, as Bach clearly realizes, also has to be concerned with the image and credibility of the Olympic movement. Attention must be paid to issues such as corruption and doping. And the IOC would frantically hope that uncomfortable aspects such as anti-gay laws, abusive construction practices and worries about freedom the press at the upcoming Sochi games would not come to the forefront. Similarly, worries about political protests and delays in the preparations for Rio 2016 are dark clouds on the horizon. So Bach appreciates that bidding and selection processes will be critical in the future.

The continued justification for the existence of some traditional sports on the Olympic program is a hot topic, considering the realization, as just confirmed by Bach, that there is really no scope for expanding the number of participating athletes. And at the same time, there is a claim from many emerging sports who want to get their chance, something which also coincides with the IOC’s awareness that a modernization is needed in order to retain the interest among the younger generations. So the experience of the Youth Olympic Games, where some experimentation has been used, could become important. But there is also a balancing act in the sense that sponsors and TV rights holders will continue to insist on prominence for the well-established ‘cash cows’ on the program. Bach now seems to try to find a new way out, by discussing fine-tuning focused on specific events within the different sports, rather than just looking at additions and deletions of entire sports in the program.

Finally, I think it would be too optimistic to expect that Bach will take a new stand regarding the scope and propriety for the IOC to monitor and affect governance and corruption issues in IFs and NOCs. First, one must again keep in mind that the IOC is mainly focused on organizing the Olympic Games. Second, the ability of the IOC to serve as a role model or ‘police man’ given its own weaknesses in terms of membership and procedures is limited, although Bach seems intent on increasing IOC effectiveness, transparency and attention to ethics. Third, the potential for major conflicts and a weakening of the IOC’s ability to carry out its core functions would be enormous, if the IOC started intervening in the internal processes of the IFs and NOCs.

Yes, there is a tremendous need for such a role, and the IOC is theoretically well-placed, given its position at the top of the ‘matrix’ of IFs and NOCs. But for such role one would really need a separate WADA-like entity. Just perhaps there is some hope that Bach eventually would come to that conclusion. After all, he has explicitly recognized that the insistence on autonomy of the sports movement is tenable only if good governance and adherence to ethical principles can be demonstrated! So let us see what he means with his somewhat cryptic slogan: ‘unity in diversity’!


Monterrey – here we come!

Christian Posch and Lars Jedermann Jorgensen, USA referees at the IHF Trophy

Christian Posch and Lars Jedermann Jorgensen, USA referees at the IHF Trophy

This could have been a story about how the U.S. men’s and/or women’s teams were gearing up to participate in the intercontinental finals in the IHF Trophy in Monterrey, Mexico, starting this weekend.  The only problem is that we did not have a team that managed to qualify.  So as often happened during long periods of ‘drought’ for our teams at the international level, our referees are the ones who play the role of upholding our image.  Just as U.S.A couples many times participated in men’s or women’s World Championships in the absence of U.S. teams, we now have Lars Jedermann and Christian Posch, our currently most prominent referee couple, participating in Monterrey.

The IHF Trophy is an event intended to provide international competition against teams of equal strength and background for the small and new handball countries in all continents.  It is supposed to get these countries on a trajectory where eventually they will be competitive in the normal continental championships, and the hope is that it will give handball a boost vis-à-vis governments, sponsors, media, spectators and future players in the participating countries.  The IHF Trophy did not get global coverage until three years ago, when all continents were involved and intercontinental finals were held, separately for the men and women, in India and Kazakhstan respectively.  Now, for the first time, both the men and women will be together in one final event.

For Lars Jedermann, a resident of Houston, it is as close to home court as it can get.  For those who are not clear about the Mexican map, Monterrey is the capital of the province up in the northeast corner of Mexico, and therefore right of the border with Texas.  It is one of the largest and most modern cities in Mexico and, for many years now, it has been a bit of a ‘hot spot’ for handball.  It seems like a place that will be able to guarantee both excellent conditions for the tournament and a nice environment for the visitors from all over the globe.

On the men’s side, the participating teams are Australia, Moldova, Nigeria and Uzbekistan, together with the Mexican hosts.  Australia is represented also among the women, together with Bulgaria, Canada, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Thailand.   The referee crew is equally exotic, with Lars and Christian being joined by colleagues from Australia, Kenya, Korea, Russia and Mexico.   Lars and Christian are at this point ‘half-way’ toward an IHF license, after their successful participation in an IHF Course earlier this year.  The IHF Trophy should be a good opportunity for them to refine their methods and skills, so that they will pass the test when they get to their next IHF course in the coming months.  We wish them success!


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


Handball News Summary (13 September 2013)

1) French League (LNH) press conference and club budgets. Prior to the start of the new season the LNH had a “State of the League” press conference. It was noted that the LNH is now the world’s 2nd best league and is gaining on the HBL. Also released were the budgets of the 14 clubs. No surprise that Paris’ 13.5M Euros leads the way and is nearly double #2 Montpellier.

LNH website (French): Link (French): Link

2) Liga Asobal takes unprecedented step in promoting sports betting. Several leagues and clubs have had agreements with sports betting companies. I’m pretty sure, however, this is the first time that league matches have been incorporated into a specific betting scheme prominently displayed on a league’s home page.
Liga Asobal Homepage (Spanish): Link
Liga Asobal Website article on Quinihandbal (Spanish): Link

3) Talant Dujshebaev on his Champions League career and future plans. He indicates that he will not coach any team until November at the earliest.
EHF Website: Link

4) Hombrados signs with German Club Wetzlar. 41 year old Spanish Goalkeeper Jose Hombrados joins Ivano Balic in Wetzlar
Handball-World (German): Link


Handball News Summary (12 September 2013)

Handball News Summary


1) VIDEO: IHF President Hassan Moustafa discusses Argentinian Handball during his visit to Buenos Aires. He also indicates that Brazil’s debt related to their hosting of the 2011 Women’s World Championship might be partially recovered with that nation’s hosting of Beach Handball World’s Championships.
PATHF Website (Mostly English with some Spanish): Link

2) Argentinian International Diego Simonet and 3 others are now cleared to play for Montpellier. Previously, their contracts had exceeded overall budget restrictions imposed in France.
Mundo-Handball: Link

3) The Beach Handball community in Germany seeks more support from the German Federation.
Handball-World (German): Link


Handball News Summary (11 September 2013)

Handball News Summary


1) Polish International, Marcin Lijewski, discusses returning to Poland to play with his new club Wisla Plock. (Polish): Link 

2) Spanish International, David Davis retires.
EHF Website (English): Link
(Side note: Of African descent and with an American sounding name, I was curious when I first saw him play several years ago as to the personal back story of this non-typical looking Spanish National Team player. There is, however, no USA connection. His ancestry is from Equatorial Guinea, Spain’s only former colony is Sub-Saharan Africa.)

3) Russian International, Sergei Gorbok discusses his return to the HBL and financial problems at his old club, Chekovski Medvedi.
Handball-World (German): Link

4) Chilean International and Magdeburg Circle Runner, Marco Oneto, discusses internal problems with the Chilean national team.
Short summary of the interview at Mundo Handball (Spanish): Link
Audio interview at Handball de Primera (Spanish) : Link


Handball News Summary (5 September 2013)

Handball News Summary


1) German Bundesliga clubs overwhelming reject a management proposal to add playoffs.  Handball-World (German): Link

2) A French National Commission won’t approve the contracts of 4 Montpellier players. Contracts for Diego Simonet, Wissem Hmam, Arnaud Sifferet and Antoine Gutfreund exceed Montpellier’s authorized budget. (French): Link

3) New French power house, Paris St. Germain is not happy with its LNH schedule. At issues is a quick turnaround between French League matches and Champions League matches. (French): Link

4) An update on which nations formally submitted bids for 2019 Men’s and Womens Handball World Championships. Inside the Games: Link

5) The Netherlands Handball Federation appeals EHF fines and suspension. The EHF Court of Handball imposed a 550,000 Euro fine and 3 year competition suspension for backing out of their host responsibilities for the 2012 European Women’s Championship. EHF Website: Link

6) Retiring German referees, Ralf Damian and Frank Wenz reflect on their career. The highlight their officiating at the 2010 USA National Championships in Las Vegas as one of their most memorable events.: Handball-World (German): Link


Handball News Summary (4 September 2013)

Handball News Summary

1) The German Bundesliga is considering revamping the format for both the National Club Cup (DHB Pokal) and the HBL.  There’s even talk of adding playoffs.  Martin Kloth, DPA, reports on an interview with HBL Managing Director, Frank Bohmann (Martin Kloth, DPA): “Playoff ideas: Club Handball modernized”:  Link
2) Handball-World’s Christian Ciemalla sums up some of the issues with the HBL adding playoffs:  “Playoffs are back on the table:  HBL provides clubs with their plans tomorrow”: Link
3) Bjoern Pazen, writing for DPA, highlights the poor attendance at the recent IHF Super Globe in Qatar “Sandwich and free admission: Qatar is vying for viewers”: Link
Editor’s Note:  The Handball News Summary is a new feature that we will be experimenting with over the next couple of weeks.  The intent of the Handball News Summary will be to highlight some of the key news developments in the Handball world.  In terms of experimenting we’re not certain yet as to how frequently we will post a news summary and how significant a news event will need to be in order to make the summary.  If you would like to have an article considered for inclusion email us at

A couple of key points
1) We will always try to link and give credit to the original source of the news.  Perhaps in some instances we might not realize that another site has simply taken the material from another website and claimed it as it’s own, but we’ll do our best.
2) The news items will often be in a language other than English.  A number of websites such as Google TranslateBabelfish and Bing Translate provide workable translations.  (Of course, we could simply do an automatic translation, not even bother to clean up the garbled English and then claim the news item as our own creation, but we’ll leave that to other websites.)

Handball News Summary (3 September 2013)

Handball News Summary

1) Swedish International, Oscar Carlen, retires. Carlen, once a rising star, has had multiple knee surgeries and therefore has decided to end his career at the age of 25.
(Source: (Swedish)
Summary story:  Link
Commentary by Jan Ohlsson:  “Could have been one of the world’s best players”: Link
2) Nikola Karabatic likes idea of an NBA style handball league.  He isn’t so sure, however, if the French and German leagues would like it.  Interview with El Periodical (Spanish):  Link  (Subscription required for full article)
3) Champions League qualification for Group Play is now complete.  Summary of the key matches from this past weekend at the EHF Champions League site: Link
Editor’s Note:  The Handball News Summary is a new feature that we will be experimenting with over the next couple of weeks.  The intent of the Handball News Summary will be to highlight some of the key news developments in the Handball world.  In terms of experimenting we’re not certain yet as to how frequently we will post a news summary and how significant a news event will need to be in order to make the summary.  If you would like to have an article considered for inclusion email us at
A couple of key points
1) We will always try to link and give credit to the original source of the news.  Perhaps in some instances we might not realize that another site has simply taken the material from another website and claimed it as it’s own, but we’ll do our best.
2) The news items will often be in a language other than English.  A number of websites such as Google Translate, Babelfish and Bing Translate provide workable translations.  (Of course, we could simply do an automatic translation, not even bother to clean up the garbled English and then claim the news item as our own creation, but we’ll leave that to other websites.)

Go, Diego, Go! Argentinian Diego Simonet has a grand debut with new club Montpellier

Go, Diego, Go!  (With the tousled hair, there's a bit of resemblance to Dora the Explorer's lesser known cousin)

Go, Diego, Go! (With the tousled hair, there’s a bit of resemblance to Dora the Explorer’s lesser known cousin)

Yesterday, France’s Montpellier shook off an 11-15 halftime deficit to defeat Poland’s Wisla Plock 29-27 in the first leg of a two leg aggregate qualification match.  Playing the major role in that turn around was Montpellier newcomer, Diego Simonet who scored 7 goals and set up several others with his court awareness and quickness.

Diego Simonet is a familiar name for Pan American Handball followers as he is one of the 3 Simonet brothers (Sebastian and Pablo are the other two) that play for Argentina.  Yesterday, courtesy of ehfTV, however, was the first time I had the opportunity to see him play a full match with a quality web stream.  And based on just this one match observation, I’m actually contemplating as to whether already at age 23 he might just be the best player to ever come out of Argentina.

Probably too soon to tell, but based on his career progression so far it might not be too long before it becomes obvious.  In 2007 he was a key member of Argentina’s surprising 4th Place finish at the Youth World Championships and Argentina followed that up 2 years later with a respectable 6th place finish at the Junior World Championships.  His performances in those events surely played a role in his signing a contract with the Spain’s Torrevieja from 2009-2011, then with France’s Ivry from 2011-2013.  And, then top side Montpellier, apparently liking what they saw the previous two years, signed him to a contract this season.  He’s also been a key part of Argentina’s recent success in Senior events, leading the team in goals and assists at both the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships.

It remains to be seen what his future career holds, but certainly, the fans in Montpellier have welcomed his with open arms, already echoing the arena with chants of “Di–e–goooo, Di–e–goooo.”  Sunday’s match will be in less friendly confines as Wisla Plock  will seek to turn the tables and qualify for the Champions League with a 3 goal victory.   This match will also be show on ehfTV with a start time of 1600 CET or 1000, US Eastern Time.

Highlights of his performance yesterday against Wisla Plock:  Link

Full match video of Thursday’s 1st leg:  Link

Live Video (Sunday’s 2nd leg): Link

Mundo Handball article:  Link


The Dramatic Decline of the Liga Asobal

Spanish Exodus

Player Exodus: Where 11 of 16 players from Spain’s 2013 World Championship Team will play their club handball this season
José Manuel Sierra, Paris (France)
Antonio García, Paris (France)
Alberto Entrerríos, Nantes (France)
Jorge Maqueda, Nantes (France)
Valero Rivera, Nantes (France)
Ángel Montoro, Toulouse (France)
Joan Cañellas, Hamburg (Germany)
Gedeón Guardiola. Rhein-Neckar (Germany
Julen Aguinagalde, Kielce (Poland)
Carlos Ruesga, Veszprem (Hungary)
Albert Rocas, Kolding (Denmark)
5 players (Arpad Sterbik, víctor Tomás, Dani Sarmiento, Viran Morros and Aitor Ariño) will remain in Spain and play for Barcelona.

The Spanish National Team player exodus  and Barca’s domination definitively show how this once mighty league has fallen on hard times.

The Great Recession has pretty much impacted in the entire world, but in Spain the crisis has been felt particularly hard.  Property value that once soared to record heights tumbled precipitously leading in turn to banking problems and soaring unemployment.  While a major sport like soccer has been able to weather the storm, handball clubs have had more trouble.  The first warning signs were reports of some of the bottom tier teams in the Liga Asobal not being able to make payroll.  This led to many 2nd tier professional players from other European countries deciding that they were better off playing elsewhere.  Only the two top clubs, Ciudad Real and Barcelona, were able to keep their top players, but then Ciudad Real started to show cracks in its finances with a sudden relocation/merger with Atletico Madrid in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy.  A move that merely postponed that reality to 2013.

Long Odds

With Madrid Atletico’s demise the Liga Asobal has gone from a marginally interesting two horse race between Madrid and Barcelonal to a ridiculously one sided coronation for Barca.  How ridiculous?  Well, the current odds of Barca not winning the Liga Asobal are 200-1.  Online sports books have even posted odds for second place since the mere thought of another side winning seems too remote of a possibility.  Yes, Barcelona is a great side and they are even the top favorite to win the Champions League, but barring a betting scandal (certainly a possibility with one recent roster addition) the only item of possible interest in the Liga Asobal is whether they will run the table with an undefeated season.  And, I haven’t seen the odds on that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they aren’t something like 1-10.

For several years the Liga Asobal had been regarded along with Germany’s HBL as one of the two top professional leagues in the world.  One just had to look at the club rosters and point to the who’s who list of top players from other countries to see that the league was loaded with talent.  Jackson Richardson, Jerome Fernandez and Didier Dinart from France;  Ivano Balic, Mirza Dzomba and Igor Vori from Croatia; Tomas Svensson and Jonas Kallman from Sweden; Olafur Stefansson from Iceland; Mikkel Hansen from Denmark; Kiril Lazarov from Macedonia, Lazlo Nagy from Hungary and many more.  And surely Talant Dushebajev and his son Alex would not be Spanish citizens if not for the opportunities Spain provided for a talented handball player.  Yes, for many years, with few exceptions, the top players of the world had two options if the wanted to maximize their salary potential:  play in either Spain or Germany.

The Spanish Exodus

Now outside of Barca there’s only a smattering of foreign players in the Liga Asobal.  And many of these foreign players are actually lesser known talents from Latin America.  Even more telling is the exodus of Spanish National Team players to other leagues in Europe.  Previously, it was somewhat of a novelty to see a Spaniard playing anywhere else but Spain.  Now with Madrid’s demise it’s commonplace.  The map above highlights where 11 members of Spain’s January World Championship team are now playing professionally.  And this doesn’t include other notable players like Berlin’s Iker Romero and several 2nd tier players who’ve also left Spain in search of greener pastures.

Tax breaks and subsidies

When I first started following professional club handball 10 years ago I was puzzled as to why Spain rivaled Germany as the world’s top league.  The primary confusion for this American was simply a glance into the stands at the occasional Champions League match I saw played there and at a 30 minute weekly Liga Asobal highlight show.  With a few notable exceptions there were always more empty seats than fans in the stands.  A sharp contrast to the typical HBL match where the attendance was much stronger.  And even the typical match in France seemed to have more fans.  How do these Spanish Clubs pay higher salaries if they’re bringing in less revenue this Capitalist American wondered?

Insight into this answer came from another sport, basketball, where my club in France, Levallois had a professional team in the 2nd division.  As often is the case in Europe, there were usually a couple of Americans playing for the club and their salary was often a significant part of the club payroll.   One season an American playing for the club decided that he wanted more money, in the middle of the season, no less.  Being an uninformed American I assumed my club had two basic choices:  1) They could bow to the demand and pay him more; or 2) They could refuse the demand (after all, he signed the contract) and have a somewhat disgruntled player for the rest of the season.  But, this was France and the tax structure offered a 3rd choice:  They could pay his salary for the rest of the season and send him away; recoup the tax money on his remaining salary; and then use that money to hire another American for the remainder of the season.  And this is what my club did; Successfully, I might add as they moved up into the 1st division that season.

Further research and discussion with my teammates brought up a sore spot in regards to Spain.  The amount that Spanish sports clubs have to pay in taxes is a pittance compared to other countries.  And in some instances cities even provided substantial funds to clubs in the form of subsidies.  These tax breaks and subsidies were the primary reasons why Spanish clubs are were able to pay better salaries despite less revenue being brought in.  The chickens, however, have come home to roost as the financial crisis has resulted in a general collapse in municipal revenues and subsidies have dried up.  Further causing pain has been a decrease in fan discretionary spending causing significant revenue declines.  A double whammy if you will.

Barca Survives (or should I say thrive?)

So while the rest of the Liga Asobal crumbles around it Barca is still a shining beacon for Spanish Club Handball.  Arguably, they are the best team in the world.  How do they do it?  It’s certainly not due to an adoring fan base.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a Champions League match with the stands of the Palau Blaugrana half full (or worse) for an attractive match against a top club.  No, Barcelona Handball survives, or more accurately thrives, on the shoulders of Barcelona Football.  With a net worth of $1 Billion dollars the club can afford to throw a few millions at its handball club.  Why, it chooses to do so is less clear.  Perhaps it simply relishes the “mother club” aspect and the prestige of being the best in Europe in multiple sports.  The fact that it is an association with 170,000 members also surely has something to do with it.  It’s one thing for an individual owner to say, “I’m not going to keep spending money on this minor sport if it runs a net deficit year after year” and another thing for a collective to make such a decision.

The recession, however has even hit Barca football and the team has been running a debt in recent years.  Perhaps belt tightening will even hit Barca handball soon.  With the further weakening of its competition in the Liga Asobal, Barca could drop 3 or 4 name players and still run away with the title.  And they would still be competitive in the Champions League, just not a dominant player.

Who knows what the future will bring?  All I can say is that if anybody told me 5 years ago there would be more Spanish National Team players in France (then the reverse) in 2013 I wouldn’t have believed them.