AUDIO: Handball Talk (Episode 2): British Success and Referee Challenges

John Ryan and Christer Ahl discuss two topics in this latest edition of Handball Talk.  First up is a brief discussion highlighting the great strides the British Women’s program is making in their run up to the 2012 Olympics in London.  Then in the wake of the recent tragic death of the Methe brothers in a car accident we discuss some of the challenges European referees have in terms of balancing their officiating careers with their family and professional lives.

THN (25 Nov 2011): Good British performance in Olympic test event:

THN (11 Nov 2011): World class referees killed in traffic accident en route to Bundesliga game:



Handball Competition Manager, Alex Gavrilovic, on 2012 Olympics Preparation

Construction for London 2012's Handball Arena is nearing completion

British Handball has an interview with Handball Competition Manager, Alex Gavrilovic, concerning preparations for the 2012 Olympics in London.

London 2012: Excitement Mounts for Handball Manager:

In the interview it’s noted that construction on the Handball venue is nearing completion and that there will be a 6 team international tournament there later this year in November.  Alex, also optimistically notes that he thinks there is a real chance for Great Britain to make significant inroads into become a stronger handball nation.

For more background on the 2012 Handball Competition Manager check out this interview that Christer Ahl had with him a year and a half ago.

THN (Nov/Dec 2009): Alex Gavrilovic: a true fighter for the global progress of handball

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


British Handball Update: Formal approval from the BOA, EHF funding and a victory over Italy

Great Britain captain Ciaran Williams on attack vs. Italy

The 2012 Olympics are about 17 months away and the British Handball Federation has had several small victories, both on and off the court, in the past few months.  First off, back in January the British Olympic Association (BOA) (GBR’s Olympic Committee) granted full approval for the British teams to participate in the 2012 Olympics.  Never a done deal, the BOA’s approval was contingent on British Handball making the case that the games would leave a “lasting legacy” for the sport and that the men’s and women’s teams could put forth a “credible performance.”  Some had even argued that no funding should be spent on a team with no hope of medalling.

Terms like “lasting legacy” and “credible performance” are wide open to interpretation, but few would argue that progress isn’t being made on both fronts.  Notably the European Handball Federation (EHF) has stepped forward with some funding support to British Handball.  Details were lacking in terms of how much funding, but it appears most of it will go toward the salary of a full-time handball development officer in London.  Such a position makes sense and is a win-win for British Handball and the EHF as both organizations would benefit greatly were Great Britain to become a Handball nation.

On the court itself, Great Britain is still a long ways from being on par with the other 11 nations that will round out the field in London.  The Men’s recent matches against Italy (a 33-24 victory) and Turkey (26-28 loss), however provide some hope.  Neither of those teams strikes fear into Europe’s top handball nations, but those are a couple of teams that likely would have beaten a British side by 10 or more goals only a couple of years ago.  Does that mean the Brits are on track for a credible performance in 17 months?  That, of course, depends on your standards.  Both the men and the women are likely to get beaten badly by the other European sides and will be fortunate to win any games.  But, it wouldn’t surprise me if they have stretches where they play credibly. 

The more important standard though, is clearly the “lasting legacy” one.  Non handball nations like Australia and the U.S. have failed to fully take advantage of the opportunity an Olympics can bring.  Let’s hope that Great Britain can break that trend and use 2012 as a stepping stone towards becoming a Handball nation. (21 March 2011): GB handballers raring to go:

EHF (15 Mar 2011): EHF supports Olympic legacy in London:

The Economist (17 Mar 2011): Britain’s new Olympic sports: New balls, please: The host nation extends its sporting repertoire:

BBC (19 Jan 2011): Great Britain handball teams given 2012 Olympic nod:

THN Commentary (25 Jan 2008):  Times of London Handball Article Misses the Goal:

Great Britain Women score major victory against Slovakia

The Great Britain Women’s National Team is currently in Poland taking part in EHF Group Qualification Play for the Women’s 2011 World Championships. Through 3 rounds of play, Great Britain has a 2-0-1 record with wins over Cyprus (39-20) and Slovakia (27-26) as well as a loss against Austria (30-20). The win over Cyprus is no surprise, except perhaps for the margin, but the victory over Slovakia is pretty noteworthy. Slovakia is not part of Europe’s elite, but they have a long tradition of playing the sport. To knock them off a neutral court is clearly a sign of British progress.

Going into the final two rounds of games, it’s even possible that Britain could play Poland in a winner take all match on Sunday to qualify for the next round. Austria will need to lose to both Poland and Slovakia for that scenario to play out. A prospect that is conceivable with Poland hosting the event and Slovakia playing Poland close, losing 28-31.

British Handball: Injury Mars Great Britain Win Over Cyprus:
British Handball: Last-Gasp Goal Helps GB Women Beat Slovakia:
EHF 2011 Women’s World Championship Qualification Page:

Great Britain Men with first win in qualification competition

Great Britain’s Steve Larsson, scored his 13th and final goal with 2 seconds left to propel Great Britain to a 33-32 victory over Bulgaria. The game winner was the first time Great Britain had led in the match. The victory is a milestone in that it is Great Britain Men’s first win in a World Championship or European Championship Qualification match.

The win was a positive finish to a disappointing tournament, though, as Great Britain lost to tourney winner’s Estonia (35-26) and runners up Cyprus (24-16). Britain had hoped to win the tournament and qualify for the next round of tougher competition as a prelude to the 2012 Olympics. Failing to do so will mean that they will have to be content with International Friendlies for the foreseeable future.

VIDEO: BBC (12 Jun 10): Highlights: GB handball stars bow out:
VIDEO: BBC (12 Jun 10): British men record first competitive international win:
British Handball: Jubilant GB Secure First Win on Home Soil:
EHF: 2012 European Championship Preliminary Qualification:

British Handball: Up and down results on the road to progress

A flurry of recent news articles on British Handball reinforce the premise that handball development is rarely a straight line march towards respectability. The British women wrapped up their Euro 2010 qualification campaign with a respectable showing in Glasgow against Austria (23-17 loss) and a crushing defeat against France in Lille (34-15). The match in Glasgow, complete with bagpipes was closely fought until the final 15 minutes. With Austria needing a win to keep their qualification hopes alive this was no „Friendly“ match and Britain was justified in seeing this result as a sign of resilience following an embarassing 20 goal loss to Iceland in April. Unfortunately, they weren‘t able to follow up with a respectable score line against France on Sunday, but overall they have to be pleased with the progress shown in their 6 pool play matches.

The British men are gearing up for Euro 2012 qualification. Later this month they will host Cyprus, Estonia and Bulgaria in a 4 team round robin with the winner qualifying for group play throughout the 2010-2011 season. These 3 opponents are bottom tier European Handball nations and as host Britain could have a shot at qualifying. This past Friday they notched their first win against a European side in 4 years with a 26-24 win against Belgium in Brussels. The next day, however, an injury depleted side lost to the same team 36-22. Injuries are part of the game, though, in this poor result suggest that Britain lacks depth and may not be quite ready to take the next step.

For more on the British team check out these articles and in particular the BBC video feature on British Women‘s Captain Lynn McCafferty. This 8 minute story highlights the sacrifices she‘s making to pursue her Olympic dream and includes highlights of Britain‘s match vs Austria.

THN (3 Nov 09): British Men participate in 4 Nations Tournament in Luxembourg; Ireland and Scotland take part in EHF Challenge Cup:
THN (5 Apr 10): British women with disappointing results against Iceland:
British Handball (28 May 10): GB Men Beat Belgium as Euro 2012 Build-Up Continues:
VIDEO: BBC (28 May 10): Mr & Mrs Handball sacrifice married life for Olympic goal:
British Handball (28 May 10): McCafferty: I'm Proud of the Team:
British Handball (28 May 10): Coach: GB were Passionate, Dedicated and Motivated:
British Handball (29 May): Depleted GB Men Lose Out to Belgium:
British Handball (30 May 10): Euro 2010: GB Women Take on World No 2:

British women with disappointing results against Iceland

The Great Britain women’s team was easily defeated twice this past week by Iceland in Group Play qualifier matches for the 2010 European Championships. Iceland won the first match in London 27-16 and the second match in Reykjavik 40-20. Great Britain is winless in 4 matches having previously lost to France 42-16 and Austria 30-20 back in October.

Commentary: While wins against Iceland were not expected, Great Britain was surely hoping for more respectable score lines as the Iceland women (unlike the men’s program) are a second tier nation in Europe. Last October’s match against Austria was competitive and with 5 months more of development for their players better results would have been a sign of progress. Progress, however, does not usually occur in a straight line and this past week could be an example of three steps forward, two steps back. Additionally, Iceland may be better than thought as they were able to beat Austria at home and a return match in Vienna this May will likely decide who goes through to the next round.

On a positive note the British program continues to get good press coverage from the mainstream media with the BBC again filing a video report. From the video footage it also appears that the Britain – Iceland match was well attended with a good atmosphere.

THN (18 Oct 09): British Women given dose of reality:
VIDEO: BBC (1 Apr 09): Iceland freeze out GB handball women: (31 Mar 09): Holmris pleads for patience after British handball defeat:
British Federation: Iceland Prove Too Strong for GB Women:

Great Britain Men’s Update

This past December and January the Great Britain (GB) Men’s team played 13 matches against club and national teams in 4 different events. The culmination of the tour was an official World Championship qualifying tournament in Finland. GB lost all 13 matches, but showed significant progress through nearly a month of practice and serious competition. GB also did not have their full complement of players for some of the matches and lost their team Captain and Center Back, Ciaran Williams, to injury in the first tournament.

In June, the GB men will have the opportunity to host their first international tournament as they will host Estonia, Cyprus and Bulgaria in the first round of qualification for the 2012 European Championships. The winner of this tournament will advance to the second round of qualification where they will play home and away matches against the top teams in Europe.

The British Federation website has a trove of information on their trip including video interviews with their coach, Dragan Djukic, their performance director, Lorraine Brown and players at the qualifiers in Finland. Additionally, BBC did a video report on the event as well.

Commentary: The bottom line results are fairly stark as GB lost all 13 matches and they clearly have a long way to go towards their goal of being competitive at the 2012 Olympics. The margins of defeat varied from 3 goals against one of the weaker club sides in Norway’s top league to a 25 point drubbing by Bosnia & Herzegovina. Still even in a massive loss like the one against Bosnia there are signs of progress as the margin was a more respectable 17-12 at the halftime break. In their interviews the coach and director, acknowledge the shortcomings and the long road ahead. Compared to the women’s team, the men’s team is currently a notch or two behind in terms of where they stand relative to the rest of Europe. The next big test will be the qualification tournament in June. As host, they should have a good performance. The other sides are all part of Europe’s lowest tier of handball and qualifying will show a marked sign of progress.

British Federation website:
GB Federation (31 Jan 10): GB to Host Euro 2012 Matches:
Huw Goodwin Blog (26 Jan 10): Lessons learned…:
VIDEO: BBC Sport (17 Jan 10) Great Britain handballers edged out by Finland:

Match Results:

Limburgse Handbaldagen Tournament (Netherlands):
27 Dec: K Sports (KOR/JAP) – GBR 29-20 (17-10)
27 Dec: Vos Invesments Lions (NLD) – GBR 39-23 (17-11) (Currently 4th in Netherlands league (10-2-5))
28 Dec: Põlva Serviti (EST) – GBR 36-26 (17-11) (Currently 1st in top Estonian league)
29 Dec: Haugaland HK (NOR) – GBR 29-26 (Currently in 11th place (2-1-9) in top Norwegian League)

Yellow Cup (Winterthur, Switzerland):
2 Jan: Switzerland – GBR 33-18 (12-10)
3 Jan: Tunisia – GBR 42-24 (21-14)
4 Jan: Netherlands – GBR 39-21 (16-10)
VIDEO: Swiss news report on GBR- Switzerland match: British coach, Dragan Djukic, is a former coach of the Swiss National Team:

Le Marrane Tournament (France)
8 Jan: Tunisia – GBR 33 – 23 (16-11)
9 Jan: Qatar – GBR 38-26 (20-10)
10 Jan: Czech Republic 32-22 (17-14)

2011 WC Qualifying Group Play:
15 Jan: Romania – GBR 36-27 (23-11)
16 Jan: Bosnia & Herzegovina – GBR 44-19 (17-12)
17 Jan: Finland – GBR 35-21 (17-13)

Alex Gavrilovic: a true fighter for the global progress of handball (Part 2 of 3)

This is a continuation from an earlier installment. Here the focus is mostly on the current situation in Australia and Oceania.

It is then an interesting coincidence that the Australian women’s team is right now going through their final preparations for the women’s world championship in China. So before we get into today’s interview segment, you may want to try this link to an article on the Australian federation’s web site: Naturally, we wish our Aussie friends the very best of luck in this tough competition!

[i]CA: Having continued to play a key role both in your country and in the region, you took over as President of the Australian Handball Federation in 2006. You recently had to resign from that post, due to your upcoming engagement in London. From that perspective, how would you describe overall the current status of handball in Australia? [/i]

AG: As I noted earlier, the overall status of handball in Australia is still that of a “minor” sport. Participation levels have increased overall, particularly in schools, however, this is not translating into significant junior numbers outside the school system. Handball clubs around Australia remain small and composed of dedicated but under-resourced athletes. The State and National teams are remaining competitive but struggle to get financial support, therefore, athlete “burn-out” occurs, particularly in financial terms, with athletes being asked to contribute too much of their own money in support of their national and international competition

[i]CA: What are the stronger aspects and what are the ones that need particular attention?[/i]

AG: Our strongest aspect is that we have a small but dedicated AHF Board, which, although amateur, provides effective leadership for the sport. As a result, local club and State competition tends to be well run although it is low-budget and low profile. We have some excellent athletes competing but, again, the selection pool is small, therefore, it is difficult to send 16 high-quality athletes to international competition and therefore difficult to be truly competitive on the world scene.

Handball in Australia still needs to reach the “tipping point” to become an established broad participation sport. The link between school handball and club handball is still weak or missing. Proper funding of talent identification, elite athlete development, elite training facilities and access to sports science, “institute” programs, regular high level international competition, etc. are still elements that need attention. Australia organises regular international events which are well-run but remain low profile. In summary: more effort is required in broad participation development, elite athlete development and programs and achieving appropriate funding for the sport.

[i]CA: As in so many other sports, Australian handball is affected by its geographic isolation; are there any real ways of compensating for this handicap?[/i]

AG: Yes there is. Clearly the “major” sports of Rugby and Cricket, for example, are continuing to grow and attract teams from around the world. Their advantage is that they have the membership, profile and exposure which ensures sponsorship and funding levels that can sustain events for which the high cost of travel to and from Australia can be overcome. Ultimately, proper funding can compensate for the handicap.

In the meantime, attracting “major” handball nations to Australia for competition is still problematic due to the high cost of coming to Australia, related to our distance from the rest of the handball world. I don’t know that I can “blame” the IHF for that nor that we can expect the IHF to assist us to overcome this issue directly. However, I know that the IHF is keen for Australia to host a World Championship in due time, therefore, there will be another opportunity for the IHF to support the development of the sport in this way.

[i]CA: Also as in other sports, while struggling with its own development and resources, Australia tends to be needed as the ‘engine’ for other countries in Oceania; how do you see the overall development in recent time in Oceania and what can Australia do in this regard?[/i]

AG: I have already indicated that there has been a resurgence of international competition within Oceania and this has proven to be a real boost for us and the other nations in the region. However, issues related to the leadership of the Oceania Handball Federation have, in my opinion, held the development of the sport at a regional level back for many years. I am pleased to say that the Oceania Handball Federation has recently been restructured, new officials elected and a new Constitution adopted. The IHF have made an even stronger commitment to support international events as a result. The current AHF President, Paul Smith, has been elected to the Presidency of the Oceania Handball Federation, to use his words: “at the insistence of the other Oceania nations”, so you can see that Australia is seen very much in a leadership role.

[i]CA: In soccer, Australia decided to join Asia. (And now we have the effect that Australia has qualified for the 2010 World Cup as one of the Asian representatives, while New Zealand just qualified from Oceania.) Has the same idea ever come up in handball? [/i]

AG: Football in Australia is enjoying a great revival. (even to the common use of the name “football” rather than “soccer”!) It has for a long time been a major participation sports in Australia, but this was not reflected in the sport’s profile or international performance. The recent changes, including better structure at the peak, more funding, a new national competition, commitment to elite level performance etc., have been reflected in the national team’s improved results. This of course has re-invigorated public interest. It is still behind Rugby but getting stronger every year. The national team’s exposure to the Asian competition has significantly lifted performance.

There was an idea to emulate Australian football by having Australian handball join the Asian handball zone. This proposal was rejected by the Asian Handball Federation. I sense a fear that Australian handball will eventually improve like it has in many sports and result in a dominant Australia at the cost of other Asian teams in qualifiers for World Championships and so on. The advantage of not being a member of Asia is that there is a direct Oceania handball spot for World Championships which Australia can fill due to its dominance in the region. Whilst I understand the benefits of more competition via the Asian zone, the reality is that Australia would struggle to qualify for World and Olympic Championships via this zone and therefore, having an Oceania place remains very important and valuable to Australia at this time.

British Men participate in 4 Nations Tournament in Luxembourg; Ireland and Scotland take part in EHF Challenge Cup

The British Men played their first competitive matches in several months at the 4 Nations Tournament in Luxembourg. Great Britain came away with a draw and 2 losses in their 3 matches against Luxembourg (32-32), Belgium (23-25) and French club, Mulhouse (26-21).

While it’s good news that Great Britain can now play level against two other sides in Europe’s lower tier, it still shows that they still have a long way to go towards being more competitive against the teams they’ll face in London 2012. Belgium and Luxembourg both participated in Euro 2010 qualification last year and both sides compiled 0-0-8 records losing each of their matches by an average of around 9 goals. The fourth team in the tournament, French club, Mulhouse, is currently in 11th place (out of 14 clubs) with a 2-1-4 record in France’s Division 2.

2012 is now a little over 2 and half years away, but there’s still time for improvement. Many of their players are playing in Europe and the IOC recently came through with $110,000 to support their program and its preparation for WC 2011 qualification matches against Bosnia & Herzegovina, Romania and Finland.

In other British Isles action, Scotland and Ireland participated in the EHF Challenge Cup in Malta. Both sides were soundly defeated by Malta and Finland and Ireland salvaged their trip with a 35-29 victory over Scotland for 3rd Place. Congratulations to Oisin O’Brannigain (Center Back) of Ireland and Scott Frew (Defence) of Scotland who made the all-star team for the tournament. Also, in case you were wondering why Scotland and Great Britain can be playing in a tournament at the same time it’s a little complicated. Depending on the sport, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete independently rather than as a combined Great Britain team. And in sports like Handball they do both. For a tutorial on the terminology:

Luxembourg Handball Federation: 4 Nations Results:
Handball Head Coach pleased with the performance of GB Men:
IOC gives $110K to GB Handball:
EHF: Challenge Cup Results:
British Player Huw Goodwin Blog Report:

VIDEO: BBC Reports on Great Britain’s 2nd leg victory over Finland

BBC Sport has a 7 minute report on Great Britain’s 24-23 victory over Finland on Saturday. Coupled with their earlier victory in Helsinki, Great Britain has moved onto Group Qualification play. The video contains several minutes of match footage along with post game interviews from a clearly elated British squad. Also, noteworthy is that it appears that a respectable crowd was on hand at the Echo Arena in Liverpool to witness the match. Great Britain will have their hands full taking on France, Austria in Iceland in the next round, but they’ve certainly come a long way in a short amount of time.

BBC Sport: Success for GB women's handball team:

Other Reports:
Inside the Games: British Handball enjoys biggest night in its history with victory over Finland:
British Handball: GB Women beat Finland 24-23:

British Handball notches first ever Euro qualification match win

Earlier today the British Handball women defeated Finland 17-14 in Helsinki in the first leg of a two leg series to decide which nation will advance to the next round of qualification for the Women’s Euro 2010 Championships. The second leg will be played this Saturday in the UK with the winner on aggregate goals advancing to group play. Great Britain should feel pretty good about winning a qualification match on foreign soil, but the low scoring match rightly gave head coach, Jesper Holmris, cause for concern. As a physically talented, but inexperienced team it appears they won the match on defense with a strong goalie performance. Perhaps they can hold the more experienced Finns to just 14 goals again, but it’s not something they should count on.

Commentary: I would assess that this match should probably go down as Britain’s first “real” match win. By my definition a “friendly” match win is nice, but since there is nothing really on the line it doesn’t really count for much. In my book, the only matches that really count are matches that directly relate to World Championship or Continental Championship qualification. I could be wrong, but to the best of my knowledge Great Britain has never previously won a match that fits that definition. Sure, Finland is not a European handball power, but I’d wager that the least experienced player on the Finnish squad has probably been playing handball longer than every single British player. On top of that the Brits won on the road. It’s a long road to actually qualifying for the European Championships. The Brits first need to take care of business this week at home, and then they will need to win matches against much tougher European squads (France, Austria and Iceland) this winter. But, the bottom line is they’ve started out on the right foot by getting revenge on a side that easily beat them by 13 a year ago.

British Handball Website: Great Britain beat Finland 17-14 in Helsinki:

BBC Reports on Handball

The BBC recently did a couple of stories on Handball. The first story was aired in Britain and is focused on the British Handball contingent currently playing for the German Bundesliga club, Essen. Note that there is an audio file available for listening towards the end of the page

British Handballers Star in Germany:

The second story was broadcast on the BBC World Service and is about Handball’s increasing popularity and a decision by the World Service to cover the sport in greater detail. As a frequent listener to the World Service, while living in Europe, I can recall hearing the word Handball only once during 5 years, so this is a welcome development. The BBC World Service is also truly a “World Service” with listeners in practically every corner of the globe

BBC World Service (Over to You) (April 18, 2009):
– BBC Website Stream: (Note: The Handball story begins at the 8 minute mark; only available on the BBC website until April 25th)
– Team Handball News Recording: (Left Click to listen/ Right click to download)