538 Website Uses Google Trends Data to Assess Curling Interest, So I Do the Same for Handball

Google Trends data on searches for “handball” in the U.S. since 2004.

One of my favorite websites, fivethirtyeight.com recently posted an article that immediately got my attention:

America Loves Curling, Until it Forgets about it for Four Years:  Link

It got my attention, because I’d just written a commentary which highlighted the exact same problem for team handball.  In the 538 article, the author, Neil Payne used Google Trends data to quantify just how much America forgets curling.  Google Trends is a tool in which you can plug in different search terms and get graphs as to how much search traffic that term gets comparatively over time.  No big surprise: Curling sees a massive spike in interest every February of an Olympics year.  And, a small surprise:  Curling’s interest spike is bigger than any other winter Olympic sport.  This was measured as a comparison of Google searches in Olympic months vs non-Olympic months.

It’s an interesting use of Google data so, if you know me, I had to do some of the same analysis for handball.  (And, oh what an interesting rabbit hole it is.)

First off, I quickly discovered the semantical mine field the sport’s name has in the U.S.  Another form of handball similar to racquetball is more popular in the U.S., but Google doesn’t seem to be capable of fully distinguishing between the two.  It’s possible to enter several different terms into the Google Trends engine:

  • Handball (search term)
  • Team Handball (search term)
  • Handball (sport)
  • American Handball (sport)

Further, you can compare the relative results of each term as well as results for individual countries or world-wide data.

For starters, I looked at U.S. internet searches for “handball” since 2004.

At first glance, it followed what I expected with sharp spikes in August of Olympic years.  But, then I noticed a significant spike in November of 2009 followed by a slight bulge in the data for the following months.  At first, I thought it might be some great article on handball in the mainstream press, but then it dawned on me:  It was my old friend Thierry Henry and his infamous “hand of frog” handball in a World Cup Qualification match vs Ireland. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLUxMRYJAso

This bulge appears in both the “handball” and “handball (sport)” search suggesting that Google can’t tell the difference between a search for the sport of handball vs a search for a soccer related handball.  Further, if one does a comparison of searches for “Handball (sport)” vs “American Handball (sport)” one will see handball kicking American handball’s butt.

As much as I would love for this to be an accurate comparison of the two sports popularity, there’s little to suggest that it has any basis in reality.  We’re making some serious inroads, but such a disparity just can’t be accurate.  For sure, I could see handball beating wall handball in searches, but not by a factor of 100 to 1.  No, the conclusion should be that Google Trend data for “handball” in the U.S. ends up being an aggregate of handball, wall handball and soccer handballs.  What does that mean then?  Well, it means that the Olympic spikes for handball searches in the U.S., big as they are, are actually even bigger than what the data shows.  That, the baseline hovering around 10 would probably be closer to 2 or 3 if Google could figure a way to take out wall handball and soccer handballs from its data.  The 538 article highlights that Curling has the biggest spike of winter sports with a relative spike of 80 when compared to non Olympic months.  For handball the data shows a gain of only around 60, but it’s probably at least 80, if not more for the reasons described.

Handball vs Other Sports

The 538 article also compares Curling to several other winter sports.  I did several comparison of handball vs other sports and here are a few charts.

Here’s handball compared to 2 other “lesser known” Olympic Team Sports.  Both Water Polo and Field Hockey see similar jumps and both are more well known in the U.S.  Field Hockey, since it’s an NCAA Women’s sport and a more commonly played high school sport has a higher baseline with more peaks and valleys.  You can do your own comparisons, but be forewarned if you put a popular sport like basketball or volleyball into the mix, the handball line will almost entirely morph into the zero line.

I decided to make myself feel a bit better about handball by seeing how well it would do against arguably the most obscure Olympic Sport, Modern Pentathlon.  And, handball wins that battle, but again we’d probably wouldn’t win by as much without wall handball and soccer handballs padding our numbers.

Finally, what about a Handball vs Curling comparison?

What does this comparison tell us with the gigantic Curling Winter Olympic spikes and our tiny little Handball Summer Olympic spikes?  Well, it shows how you much curling benefits from being in the Winter Olympics where there are fewer sports to compete against.  Seriously, what other explanation could there possibly be for handball losing to curling so soundly?  It really makes you wonder how much handball would “blow up” if it was staged during the Winter Olympics instead of the Summer Olympics.  With the NHL players gone handball might even have gotten better ratings than the hockey competition.  And, it would be so easy to make happen.  A whole month of professional club handball is already sacrificed every year (Men- December and Women- January) so the world’s best players would be readily available.  Think the Curling venue was a happening place with the South Korean Women playing for Gold.  Imagine what the crowd would have been like for handball?  We’ve highlighted the potential of a summer/winter switch before.

2010: Link

2012: Link

But, while it would make so much sense don’t expect the IOC to give up its snow and ice requirement for Winter Olympic sports any time soon.  There will be Nigerian bob sledding teams before that ever happens.

Who Should be on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors (Part 2):  A Gospel Spreader

Who should be on the USA Team Handball Board?: A Gospel Spreader: How about a media personality that’s already fallen in love with the sport? For consideration: Bill Simmons, Scott Van Pelt and Stefan Fatsis

In the coming year as many as 7 new directors will be elected/selected to serve on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors.  This series of commentaries will highlight some traits, skills and backgrounds that might be a good fit.  And, what the heck, even identify a few candidates by name.  Part One focused on candidates with wealth.  This part focuses on finding a Board Member who can help spread the good word.

The Underlying Problem to the Money Problem

In Part One of this series I stated matter of factly that USA Team Handball’s #1 problem was a lack of revenue.  While this is true statement it’s important to step back and ask why is there such a lack of revenue?  That seemingly simple question can be answered in a lot of different ways:

  • Because we have a small membership base.
  • Because we don’t have any major sponsors.
  • Because we have very limited revenue streams.
  • Because the USOC changed their grand funding philosophy towards medal winning sports.

All of those reasons for a lack of revenue are true, but I would argue that there is an underlying root problem that, if successfully addressed, will go a long way towards solving the revenue problem.

That root problem:  The Lack of Awareness; As in far too few people in the U.S. are even aware of the sport of handball.

I’ve addressed this problem in several commentaries.  These two commentaries from 2012 summarize the problem in detail:

  • Why weren’t the U.S. national teams at the London Olympics (Part 5): A lack of awareness and marketing: One in a million: The 312 real fans of team handball in the U.S.:  Link
  • Why weren’t the U.S. national teams at the London Olympics (Part 6): A lack of awareness and marketing:  The Catch-22 TV paradox:  Link

The cliff notes version:  Only about 5% of the American population even know the sport of handball exists and the lack of regular TV broadcasts really inhibits the likelihood of more Americans discovering the sport and becoming fans and players of it.

Solve the Awareness Problem and Revenue will Follow

If USA Team Handball were to successfully address this “lack of awareness” problem increases in revenue would undoubtedly follow.  This is because there would be more fans of the sport, making sponsorship more than just charitable giving.  This is because there would be more Federation members and players contributing to the membership revenue stream.  More players, in turn, would, over time, improve the player pool and the quality of our national teams.  Leading in turn to better performance on the court and more support from the USOC.  And, eventually to another revenue stream, networks paying for U.S. National Team matches.

We can debate just how much revenue will follow.  And, we can debate how long it will take for those trickle down dollars to follow.  But, there should be no debate as to the overarching interrelationship between the awareness and revenue problems.

The Awareness Problem will be Solved

I’ve written ad nauseam about this problem and the importance of regular TV broadcasts.  I’ve highlighted the problems with some of the networks that have acquired handball TV rights and the lack of emphasis U.S. Team Handball has placed on this issue.  I’ve looked longingly at how some other sports (soccer, rugby and lacrosse) have addressed and in some cases have solved their awareness problem.  And, I’ve looked at the changing landscape for sports distribution as digital web streaming continues to play an ever increasing role.  I’ve tried my best from my news/blog website to be a pied piper for this cause.

Overall, I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before this problem solves itself.  The sport of handball has a lot of challenges and handicaps, but its attractiveness as a televised sport is not one of them.  Handball is not very likely to become a top tier sport in the U.S., but it’s going to have a significant niche in the U.S. sports market.  And, due the wealth and overall population (326 million) of the U.S. such a niche is nothing to sneeze at.

It’s going to happen, sooner or later.  Even if absolutely nothing is done to address this problem it will solve itself.  But, why on Earth, shouldn’t we try to do some things to make it happen sooner?

Solving the Problem… Sooner

So, here’s where the Gospel Spreaders come in.  Every four years, like clockwork, handball in the U.S. gets a publicity blitz courtesy of the Olympics.  Print reporters, bloggers, TV and radio personalities get their first opportunity to see the sport and they fall in love with it.  They write odes to the sport, devote entire radio and TV segments to it and inevitably they discuss why the U.S. isn’t any good at such an American looking sport.  And, they come up with plenty of “interesting” conceptual ideas as to how the U.S. could become a world handball power. Their discussions while well intentioned and often entertaining are usually superficial and don’t fully appreciate how professional the sport is in Europe.  (Sorry, Lebron and a few other NBA players aren’t going to take handball gold at the Olympics anytime soon.)

And, like clockwork, after the Olympics are over the short lived interest in handball also recedes from consciousness until 4 years later there is another Olympics and the American handball cicadas come back out.

Here’s a greatest hits of some of the pieces that have been written over the years

  • 2008: Sean Gregory:  Hey, America, What About Handball?: Link
  • 2009: Stefan Fatsis: Team Handball Has It All, Except an American Interest: Link
  • 2012: Bill Simmons: The London Chronicles, Vol. 2: Handball! (Handball?) Handball!:  Link
  • 2016: Adam Kilgore: U.S. athletes run fast, jump high, throw hard — why are we so bad at handball?: Link

Nice stories, but, what if the U.S. could get one of those new handball converts to stay fully engaged with the sport?  To not disappear and instead use his media savvy to strategically keep the sport in the limelight.  To successfully lobby a quality TV network and/or some new media digital options to continue broadcasting handball with matches from Europe, U.S. National Team and domestic competitions.  In short, help craft and implement a plan to move the sport forward in the consciousness of the U.S.

While that board director would primarily address the awareness problem he/she would also get involved with other aspects of Federation operations.  And, while some might pooh-pooh the thought of having a media person on the board by virtue of their years of experiencing observing other sports they may very well have some insights and suggestions that are worth considering.

And, of course, that would be the pitch:  You’ve shown that you’re a big fan of this great sport.  We need your help in promoting this sport so that others will discover it.  We need your help in transforming it from an interesting curiosity every 4 years into a mainstream niche sport.  If we can do that our national teams can only get better.  Would you like to play a role in this turnaround?  Will you do this for your country?

Candidates for Gospel Spreader

Bill Simmons: For a number of reasons, Bill Simmons, is at the top of my list.  His article from London, as well as a short segment on his HBO TV show during the Rio Games, shows his affinity to the sport.  He’s also got a huge following with his BS Podcast, The Ringer website and 6M Twitter followers.  And, at the moment, he’s unaffiliated and essentially his own boss.  He could devote a few hours a week to handball and actually try to put some of his whimsical analysis on how “to make handball great again in America” into action.  Why one could even envision it as a thinking man’s documentary/reality TV show or podcast.  A real life laboratory taking place over several years and culminating with the 2016 Olympics

Scott Van Pelt:  During the 2012 Olympics, probably no media personality got more engaged with the sport of handball than ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt.  Entire nation wide radio segments devoted to Team Handball.  Absolutely unprecedented.  He even had somebody make him a USA Team Handball T-Shirt so he could wear it on the Radio/TV simulcast.   In the 6 years since his profile has increased and he’s arguably the most prominent sports anchor on America’s top sports network.  But, I haven’t heard a lick about handball from him since that brief shining moment 6 years ago.  Still, he’s someone to consider, especially if it could be coordinated with an IHF and/or EHF rights deal with ESPN

Stefan Fatsis:  No one has been more engaged in spreading the handball gospel than Stefan Fatsis, a reporter who has written for the Wall St Journal and the New York Times and has been an occasional correspondent on National Public Radio.  He wrote his first handball ode at the 2004 Olympics where he memorably asked French Coach Claude Onesta why the U.S. isn’t very good at handball. Onesta’s response: “As far as I am concerned, there are a lot of games at which the United States does not excel.”  He’s continued to write about the sport every time he gets a chance and routinely drops a handball reference on the weekly sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen.  Even did a podcast with me back in 2012 to get fired up for the Olympics.  In short, when it comes to handball he walks the walk and talks the talk.  His profile is nowhere near a Bill Simmons or a Scott Van Pelt, but maybe he’d try harder because he’d be more committed.

Others?:  I’m sure there’s no shortage of would be media personalities that could be considered.  Feel free to chime in with additional suggestions on the Team Handball News Facebook or Twitter pages.

Who Should be on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors (Part 1):  Billionaires and Millionaires

Who should be on the USA Team Handball Board?: How about this 1978 Empire State Games bronze medalist, player/coach, Bob Rich?

In the coming year as many as 7 new directors will be elected/selected to serve on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors.  This series of commentaries will highlight some traits, skills and backgrounds that might be a good fit.  And, what the heck, even identify a few candidates by name.  This first part will focus on candidates with the ability to contribute financial support and the expertise that comes along with it.

The Need

Anybody who follows team handball in the U.S. knows that the number one challenge the sport faces in this country is a distinct lack of revenue.  How big a need is it?  Consider this.  The most recent Form 990 tax disclosure form for USA Team Handball lists total yearly revenue as $347,825.  That’s not anywhere near the revenue that’s needed to run a sports federation in the U.S.  It’s a shoestring of a shoestring operation and it means that the U.S. can’t even pay to send its national teams to international competition let alone fund an austere residency program.  And, you can pretty much forget about starting any significant initiatives that might expand youth and collegiate program development.  Even salaries can’t be paid as the last Board Meeting Minutes highlight that the CEO forgave back pay and will likely take a salary cut.

This is why it’s often talked about finding Board Directors that can financially contribute to USA Team Handball.  This includes personal contributions as well as the capacity to solicit friends and business connections.  The most prominent example of this is former Board President, Dieter Esch who reportedly provided contributions in the mid 6 figures from 2008-2010.  Former Board President Harvey Schiller also made significant personal contributions and reportedly worked his connections as best he could to solicit more support for the Federation.  Other Board Members, including current Interim Board President, Bob Djokovich ($11,555 recently) have made contributions to help keep operations afloat.

Why Not Go Bigger?

But, maybe the need is so significant that USA Team Handball needs to think bigger.   Millionaires are nice, but billionaires are where it’s at.  Or, maybe perhaps 6 figure millionaires.  Individuals with the wherewithal and connections to provide an injection of around $2M/year for the next several years.  Maybe this is just really wishful thinking, but then again maybe not.

There’s a solid pitch that just might be bought by the right wealthy individual who likes sports and relishes a challenge.  Someone perhaps who’s thinking about spending 10’s or even 100’s of millions of dollars for a professional sports franchise.  That pitch goes like this:

Why not spend a smaller amount transforming a USA National team from a perennial loser into a world power?  Instead of spending millions of dollars on salaries for a handful of athletes why not spend millions of dollars on youth athletes, collegiate athletes, and a few professionals that make 5 figure salaries, not 7 and 8 figure salaries?  And, this is not just about you opening your wallet and writing a big check.  We need your experience, knowledge and skills to help build a plan to make it happen.  Can you?  Will you do this for your country?  Do you want to be with us 10 years from now in Los Angeles when Team USA steps on to the Olympic podium?

Well, I’m sold on that pitch.  Too bad, I don’t have the resources to write the big check.  But, something tells me that there is somebody out there with the resources that might be so inclined.   We just need to find them, get them to listen to the pitch, and reel them in.  Easier said than done, but here are a couple of by name possibilities to consider.

Bob Rich, the Retired Billionaire Team Handball Player/Coach

Every day, courtesy of Google, I get an email with news articles referencing the word, “handball.”  It’s an eclectic mix of articles that really reminds me where my favorite sport fits in the big scheme of things.  This is because half of the articles aren’t about the sport of handball.  They are either about, “wall handball”, or more likely the latest controversial handball call in a soccer match.  (Seriously, enough about Thierry Henry, Please!)

But, occasionally, I get a random article from an unusual source.  One such article was this one from the Buffalo News:

The Quiet Billionaire: Bob Rich is Still Buffalo’s Ultimate Booster: Link

“Meh,” I thought to myself this guy probably plays “wall handball” on occasion at the gym.  But, instead I was surprised to find out that this “quiet billionaire” actually played and coached a team handball squad at the 1978 Empire State Games.  The Empire State Games is kind of an Olympics for New York State and actually introduced quite a few people to the sport of handball back in the 1970s and 80s.  And, Bob Rich was one of those people.  In fact, a little internet searching dug up the fact that he’s quite enamored with the sport.

So much so, that he devoted an entire chapter to team handball in his book, “The Right Angle: Tales of A Sporting life.”  The chapter highlights his discovery of the sport, his efforts to put together a team from scratch in the Buffalo area, and his surprisingly good memory recalling details from matches played 30+ years ago.  Even has references to USA handball legend, Laszlo Jurak, who coached the Long Island team.

Google Books:  Link

Who is Bob Rich?  He is the majority owner of Rich Products, a frozen foods company.  According to Forbes, he is the 441st  richest person in the U.S. with a net worth of $5.52 billion dollars.  In addition to dabbling in handball, he owns the Buffalo Bisons AAA baseball team and two other minor league baseball teams.  He’s also on the Board of Directors for the Cleveland Clinic.  Might I suggest he would be a good addition to the USA Team Handball Board as well.

The Cuban-Nowitzki Combo

Further down the list of richest Americans is Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban at #564 with a net worth of $3.4B.  But, Cuban is surely one of the best known billionaires initially becoming famous with his vocal antics in support of his team and now with his regular participation on the TV show, Shark Tank.  He’s also shown a penchant for supporting other sports including rugby, which he played in college.  He even has a principal owner’s stake with a proposed Professional Futsal League which could due to the court size/goals similarity of the two sports have a natural affinity with handball.

Cuban, however, is a very busy guy.  When he’s not fully engaged with his NBA franchise he’s off doing something else.  Sure, handball could be added to his large portfolio, but maybe there’s a sidekick millionaire he’s friendly with that might be a better fit.  Someone who’s currently very busy, but that come May/June of this year might have a lot of spare time on his hands.

That someone, of course, is Dirk Nowitzki, one of the greatest basketball players of all time who is expected to retire at the end of the NBA season.  Nowitzki, who is German, reportedly plans to split time between Germany and the U.S. and has even talked about acquiring a U.S. passport.  And, Nowitzki is very familiar with team handball since his father Jorg, was a top player in his younger days.  Could Nowitzki be convinced to take a bit of his time to be an ambassador to the sport?  To convince his former employer to help take the sport another level in the U.S.?  Why not?  It’s certainly worth asking.


Bob Rich Jr., and the Cuban-Nowitzki combo are but two possibilities.  Surely, there are others.  The net should be cast far and wide with the key selling points that financial support and a willingness to help craft a strategy to transform the sport in this country are needed.  Call me crazy, but I think such a pitch just might work.

USA Team Handball Board of Directors:  Change is Coming

USA Team Handball Board of Directors President, Dr Harvey Schiller resigns. In all likelihood, more changes to the Board are coming in the near future.

This past Thursday (1 Feb) many in the U.S. handball community got a bit of a surprise in their inbox, in the form of a resignation letter from the now former USA Team Handball (USATH) Board of Directors (BoD) President, Dr. Harvey Schiller.  Dr. Schiller, easily the highest profile Board Director USATH has ever had thanked everyone for their support and noted that he believed it was “best to now bring in new leadership including capable board members to meet the challenges ahead.”  Board Member and 1984 Olympian Bob Djokovich has stepped in as the interim Board President for the next 60 days.

The surprises, however, did not stop there as the January 18 BoD Meeting Minutes that were also provided included a lengthy section highlighting upcoming Board elections.  I like to think that I’m a pretty sharp guy, but I’ll have to admit that I struggled to decipher all of the information contained.

Fortunately, I was able to get a hold of Mike Lenard on the phone in Korea where he is supporting the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.  We discussed the board minutes and the existing bylaws and he was able to clarify for me the upcoming election process.  From my perspective, here are the key points:

  • The underlying issue is the conflicting language regarding BoD terms and elections in the current federation bylaws. Mike has worked on a volunteer basis to update the bylaws to address these and other issues and it is still an ongoing effort.  4 Board Member seats are past due for an election and 3 others will be due for an election in the near future.
  • There are a number of ways that this current situation could be resolved, but the crux of the matter is that 7 of the 9 board members have been serving on the board longer than 4 years, the standard term length.   (The 2 Athlete Representative positions (David Thompson and Sarah Gascon) were recently elected and their terms will not expire until 2021.)
  • Mike Lenard proposed a couple of options and the one the board decided to have him further flesh out would be to have 3 elections as soon as possible (with 2 for new terms and 1 to replace Dr Schiller for the remainder of his term) and 4 elections later this year. He is now working on more detailed procedures that will then be provided to the board for a vote to incorporate in the By-laws.
  • The near term election will be for 3 Independent Board members and the election later this year will be for 3 Independent Board Members and 2 General Membership Board Members. (The seat formerly held by Dr Schiller will be elected both in the near term and later this year.)
  • The different board positions will be clearly identified in terms of their term length. It is also desired that terms be staggered with 4 or 5 board seats having their terms expire every 2 years.
  • Each class of Board Membership has a distinctly different electorate.
    • Athlete Representatives are elected by athletes who have represented the U.S. in international competition within the last ten years. (The exact requirements for this electorate may be tweaked)
    • General Membership Board Members are elected by members in good standing with USA Team Handball. This will likely be an election later this year similar to the one that was held in 2013 which saw the election of Jennie Choi and Attila Agoston to the Board.  The current by-laws indicate that only “athlete members” can run and vote in the election for this position, but it’s been proposed that this be modified to allow any member in good standing to run for the board.
    • Independent Board Members are “elected” by the Nominating & Governance Committee. This committee has 5 members and their responsibilities also include identifying and interviewing potential board members.  While it is technically an election in reality it is more likely to be a collaborative selection process by the committee.
  • The current members of the Nominating & Governance Committee are Tom Fitzgerald (Chair), Cindy Stringer and Dennis Berkholtz. The current BoD will need to confirm these members and add two new members.

So, that’s the “nuts and bolts”, as I see it, in terms of process that USA Team Handball will be using for the upcoming Board elections.  I should emphasize, though, that nothing has been formally approved yet by the Board.  As, I hear further developments I will post them.

Current USA Team Handball Board of Directors: Link

The PHF Split:  Key Aspects Meriting Further Analysis

The IHF President and PHF President shake hands in a happier moment.

Much of what has been released in the dueling official statements (PHF and IHF) is fairly straight forward, but some aspects are not so clear cut.  Some claims, to varying degrees are a bit misleading and some aspects merit further discussion and analysis.  The analysis presented here is a mix of rumor, intuition and feedback I’ve received from people in the world handball community.

Olympic Handball in Jeopardy?

In the IHF Statement a passing reference is made to the Olympics:

“The IHF President’s development plan includes many projects which shall promote the development of the sport worldwide and in Pan-America. He undertakes large endeavours in many fields to develop handball not only to maintain its position on the Olympic programme but also to pave the way for development on all levels, including World Championships and Olympic Games.”

I added the bold face, and it sure merits additional discussion.  Why would the IHF even mention the need for handball to maintain its position on the Olympic Programme?  Handball no longer part of the Olympics?  That couldn’t possibly be?  Could it?  Well, apparently somebody must be occasionally discussing that possibility otherwise it’s hard to imagine the point being made.  Certainly, one could hardly imagine the World Federations for Basketball, Athletics or Swimming making such a point.

I’ve heard rumors of handball’s place in the Olympics being in danger, but it was only a few days ago that I saw this rumor in print for the first time.  As reported by handzone.net, the French Handball Technical Director, Philippe Bana went on record as having seen IOC reports indicating that the future of handball on the Olympic Program after 2024 is in jeopardy due to the sport being too European.  And, logically what better way might there be to counteract IOC concerns then to aggressively build up handball in America, especially with the U.S. hosting in 2028.  Certainly, I would assess that this IOC threat is at least a factor, if not the biggest factor, behind this initiative.

$1,000,000 from Qatar Airways

Mentioned in both statements is the accounting for $1,000,000 in sponsorship from Qatar Airways.  The IHF letter claims that this sponsorship was obtained with the assistance of the IHF and that it’s not clear how this funding was used.  With the nation of Qatar being closely tied to the IHF for the past several years it’s certainly logical to assume that assistance from the IHF was pretty critical to securing this sponsorship.  Certainly, one might have a difficult time of rationalizing why the airline with only 3 flights to and from North and South America would seek a $1M sponsorship with a relatively minor sport if their footprint was so small in that region.  But, technically the relationship is between Qatar Airways and the PHF, so one could argue that the IHF doesn’t have any say at all in how that $1M has been sent.  On the other hand, having spoken with different handball people throughout North America, no one has volunteered as to how a portion of that $1M has been spent in their country.

PHF Nations are Unified Against the Process the IHF has Used; Less so Against the Concept of Splitting

The PHF in its official statement likes to point out how the PHF nations are standing together against IHF’s proposed splitting of the PHF Federation.  They point to the vote tally at the PHF Extraordinary Congress (25 against, 1 abstention) and at the IHF Congress (reportedly only Mexico and Costa Rica voted in favor of letting the IHF Council decide the matter.)

However, it’s been brought to my attention that at least some of the nations were primarily voting in opposition to “the process” that the IHF was using to impose the splitting of federations.  And, that to varying degrees several nations were open to “the concept” of splitting.

From my own perspective this position makes quite a bit of sense.  As, I elaborated on in this earlier commentary there are a lot of good reasons for splitting a federation that almost stretches from pole to pole.  Travel costs will decrease and done properly it will foster growth and development.  I think most nations when they review the pros and cons would likely come to the same conclusion.

But, should such a split be imposed from above?  Without constructive dialogue on how to go about in an orderly fashion?  In principle, I’m not on board with that.  It’s kind of like the UN telling a nation it would be better if the split in two.  The natural inclination is for a federation (or nation) to say, “Thanks for the suggestion.  We’ll take care of that on our own.”

Then again, it’s not clear as to whether this topic was ever proposed informally by the IHF and then summarily shot down by the PHF leadership without taking it to the PHF nations.  That the idea was dead on arrival, even if some nations might warm to the idea, especially if it came with resources.

An Olympic Slot for Both the North and the South?

There are a lot of aspects to a proposed splitting of the PHF Federation, but a bottom line factor of the split that could sway nations one way or the other will be the World Championships and Olympic qualification slots that would be offered to each federation.  The original proposal outlined last summer simply divvied up the slots that the PHF currently has.  I bemoaned a bit the North getting shortchanged, but now I’m hearing rumors of both the North and the South getting an Olympic slot.  That would certainly be a response to IOC threats to show progress with efforts de-Europeanize the sport.  Further, if its own Olympic slot is part of the deal you can bet the North nations will very quickly warm up to a split even if they aren’t fans of the process that has been used.

Is There a Personality Clash with the Two Presidents?

I’ve also heard rumors from multiple sources indicating that the IHF President (Hassan Moustafa) and the PHF President (Mario Moccia) simply have had a falling out.   These two articles at Super Handball (link 1, link 2) elaborate on that relationship, noting that some have speculated that Moccia is gunning for the IHF President job and that the split is a way of getting back and decreasing his influence.  Indeed, as the PHF notes in their Official Statement the split has the effect of removing a VP slot from Pan America on the Executive Council.  Instead the newly split federations will each have a “representative” on the Council.

Way Ahead Still Murky; Tournaments in Jeopardy

With the way ahead still murky some planned PHF tournaments are in real jeopardy.  These tournaments include the PHF Beach Handball Championship (Men and Women), scheduled for March in Oceanside, CA; a Men’s North American & Caribbean Championship (location TBD), and even the Men’s Pan American Championships, scheduled for June in Greenland.  It’s possible that these tournaments will still be staged under the auspices of the IHF, but that is still TBD.  If I get any definitive information I will post it as soon as I hear about it.

Move Over Simonet, Sigurdsson is the New ESPN Sports Center Top 10 Handball King

Sigurdsson with the punch in goal vs Serbia

Last September, Montpellier’s Diego Simonet made the ESPN Sports Center Top 10 plays of the day with a nifty goal in a Champions League match vs Metalurg.  To date his goal has gotten 1.2M views on Instagram.  A nice viewership to be sure, but he’s now been eclipsed by Iceland’s Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson who’s only needed 21 hours to get 1.6M views for his 2nd chance punch in goal following a penalty shot vs Serbia at the European Championships.

Much like Simonet, Sigurdsson’s efforts has received thousands of comments along the lines of “what’s that sport”, “Is that something a PE teacher made up”, and “this should be on the Ocho” (A Dodgeball movie reference that poked fun at ESPN’s expanding family of networks).

I’m a little tired of beating the dead horse into a pulp, but what the heck, why not?  The lack of awareness the sport has in this problem isn’t just one problem among many the sport faces in this country.


Fix this problem and all other problems will become easier to solve.  Nothing demonstrates this more than the thousands of comments that accompany this video.

To the EHF’s great credit every match of the ongoing Men’s European Championships are available for viewing, both live and on demand.  Further, they are high quality web streams with English language commentary.  For the dedicated handball fan it is truly a phenomenally great deal.  And, it’s 100% free.  How could I possibly complain?

Well, because the EHF and others don’t need to convince me and the other 300 or so super fans of the sport in the U.S.  They need to be laser focused on finding a way to turn that 300 into 3,000, then 30,000, then 300,000.  Seriously, 300 fans in the world’s biggest market?  How can that possibly be?  It’s a mind boggling small number for such a great sport.  And, nothing could fix that faster than decent TV exposure.

The Need to Find the Right TV Network Partner?

While a free video stream is pretty cool, potential new fans aren’t likely to accidentally type in www.ehfTV.com and get converted.  The way people watch sports is evolving, but TV is still king in 2018.  A good TV network partner can lead the potential new fan to the sport.  ESPN gave handball a freebie with exposure on its flagship show, Sports Center, but I doubt they also gave everyone a heads up on where to watch online.  (For sure they took down my post with a link to ehfTV.)  But, they sure would have if the matches were shown on one of their networks or even their online platform.  And, there likely would be more than just the occasional spectacular goal making the top 10.

For too long, not enough effort has been given by the EHF, IHF and others to find the right network.  Getting on TV in the U.S. was seen as something nice if it happened, but of minor importance.  And, then it seemed that any network would do.  How else to explain beIN Sports US, which currently has the U.S. TV rights for most of the major handball properties, but chooses not to broadcast on TV anymore.

There are, however, signs of change on the horizon.  The IHF has a new contract for the World Championships with MP&Silva so a new network could be showing that event next January.  And, the EHF is in the process of reviewing 4 bids for a mega ten year contract from 2020-2030.  I’ve been told that the U.S. market development is a big part of this review, so I’ve got some cautious optimism for the future.

Or, Maybe a TV Partner isn’t Needed?

But, then again while TV is king, maybe it won’t be much longer.  The way people watch sports is evolving at a pretty fast pace.  I, for one am pretty happy with ehfTV.  The NBC OTT platform in the 2016 Olympics was seriously awesome too.  All of the major networks have OTT platforms and reportedly ESPN is upgrading their platform to address the drop in traditional cable TV viewers.  Maybe the partner won’t be a TV partner, but a digital streaming partner.

And, maybe you don’t even need a partner?  Perhaps with the right marketing campaign a dedicated handball online streaming platform could take off its own.  Seriously, my daughters watch “Youtubers” that make millions of dollars a year.  How are those less than awesome videos discovered?  Could a combination of social media and advertisement create a stand alone platform for the word’s handball community.

The Deadest Weekend of the Year:  Couldn’t Handball Replace Ice Fishing?

In the U.S., the NFL is king and there is a 2 week gap between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl.  The weekend between those 2 events is sometimes called the deadest sports weekend of the year.  Everyone is waiting for the big game and they’re not quite ready to shift their attention to basketball.  And, often that deadest weekend coincides with either the European Championship or World Championship Final.  One might think this would be an opportunity, but sadly it hasn’t in years past.  In 2012, I did this review of what was on every available sports channel in the U.S.  Yes, depressingly the NBC Sports Network had an Ice Fishing showing on.  Ice Fishing! And, yes I’ve actually been ice fishing.  Boring to do. Mind boggling boring to watch.

Here’s hoping that next year around this time we’ll be celebrating a World Championship Final on a major U.S. Network.  It has to happen sooner or later.  I suggest sooner is the better option.

2018 European Championships Odds, Analysis and Notes

France vs Norway:  A rematch of the World Championships Final on Day 1.  What a way to start the European Championships.

The 2018 European Championships start today and as usual France are the established favorites for this major tournament.  They are closely followed by hosts Croatia and Olympic Champions, Denmark.  Further down the list are Spain, defending champions Germany and World Championship runners up, Norway.

2018 European Championships Odds (Courtesy of Best Betting)

Nation Odds
France 2.25 to 1
Croatia 3 to 1
Denmark 4.25 to 1
Spain 8 to 1
Germany 9 to 1
Norway 14 to 1
Sweden 25 to 1
Slovenia 40 to 1
Hungary 50 to 1
Serbia 100 to 1
Macedonia 200 to 1
Iceland 225 to 1
Belarus 500 to 1
Czech Rep 500 to 1
Austria 1000 to 1
Montenegro 1000 to 1


The EHF website has a nice preview article on each nation participating.
EHF “Countdown” articles on each nation: Link

The Stregspiller Website has several good interview and previews of the tournament and the chances of the top teams

Sascha Staat on Germany:  Link
Kevin Domas on France: Link
Peter Bruun’s Overall Preview:  Link

Peter Bruun’s summary is excellent and I pretty much concur with all of his analysis.  In particular, the following:

“Still, France possesses sufficient power and quality to be my top pick for winning the title.  However, much will depend on the performance of Nikola Karabatic – more so now than ever before. France with or without their charismatic leader is a very different team, and if Karabatic can’t deliver, “Les Bleus” won’t even reach the semi-finals.”

Recently, I was amused somewhat about twitter postings regarding possible MVPs and key players for the tournament.  Amused in that there wasn’t much talk about Karabatic, who I still think is the best player in the world.  (Probably, the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) as well, but, that’s fodder for a longer commentary).  And, for sure, shepherding this talented, but relatively inexperienced team to a title as a 33 year old veteran would be a big legacy statement.  But, then again flaming out in the Main Round would also make a statement.

I’m a little bit less enamored with Croatia despite being the host.  As with France and Karabatic much of Croatia’s success hinges on Domagoj Duvnjak.  Reportedly, he’s back in fine form after being out for several months due to injury, but I will need to see that with my own eyes in a non-friendly match to believe it.  Perhaps they can still be willed into the semifinals as the host nation regardless, but I have my doubts.  Looking to the Main Round the would be Norway-Croatia match might be pivotal for advancement

In Groups C and D, I think Denmark and Germany are pretty clear favorites and it wouldn’t surprise me if they both end up with unblemished records, excepting of course their head to head matchup.  Spain could surprise, but I don’t think any of the other teams have the personnel to match up with them.

For the Final Four.  I’ll go with France beating Germany in one semi and Denmark beating Norway in the other.  And, then France getting revenge over Denmark in the Final.

Gotta Love the Format

Personally, I wax and wane as to whether the Preliminary/Knock out stage or Preliminary/Main Round format is better.  There’s a lot of drama in a Round of 16, but, this European Championship sure makes a strong case for the latter.  Day 1 and we’ve got a rematch of the WC Final between Norway and France.  A match that could very well put the loser on the cusp of not making the semifinals.  Wow, talk about a riveting way to start out the tourney!

EHF Stepping Up their Game on the Media Side:  Link

Well, I’ll jump the gun a bit and assume that the EHF will not have any geoblocking of the championship like 2 years ago.  Hopefully, a good assumption.  Every match should be available at ehfTV live and on demand.  Viewers in the U.S. should get their “boss key” working as pretty much every day for the next 2 weeks will have 3 or 4 matches available for viewing around Mid-day depending on your time zone.

Further, it looks like they will have a daily show with highlights and interviews which should be an outstanding way to catch up on the competition and get fired up for the upcoming matches.  They will also be live tweeting conversations and Snap Chat.


Well, it Had to Happen Sooner or Later:  Barcelona’s Unbeaten Streak is Snapped after 133 Matches and What it Says about Long Shot Chances in Handball

Big News in Spain: Barcelona played a Liga Asobal handball match and didn’t win it.

In the midst of the Women’s World Championships this past December a pretty significant Liga Asobal Men’s club match was played in Guadalajara, Spain where the host team managed a 26-26 draw against, Barcelona, one of the best club teams in the world.

Why was that draw significant?  Well, because not since May 18, 2013, when they lost to Naturhouse La Riolla, 33-31 had Barcelona failed to win a match in Spain’s top competition.  A staggering 133 straight victories and 4 straight undefeated 30-0-0 seasons from 2013 to 2017.  Back in 2013, I wrote a commentary on how the financial crisis in 2008 had set in motion the tumbling of what was once the World’s 2nd best league to merely an afterthought competition.  Essentially, Barca and everybody else.

Still, 133 straight victories?  No upsets along the way? This is not simply a matter of amateurs vs pros.  The other teams in the league aren’t what they once were, but they are sides still mostly, if not entirely, composed of professional athletes.  Granollers and Leon have had decent teams the past few years.  Perhaps if you ranked every single club in Europe, they’d be somewhere in the top 30.  Top 50, for sure. They’ve each had 8 shots at taking Barca down.  Plus, the home court advantage for half those games.  Crazy things can happen with “home cookin” if you know what I mean.  I don’t care how much better the opposition is.

One couldn’t imagine such a string of victories in American professional sports.  There’s just way more parity even if there have been some pretty dominant teams over the years like the present day Golden State Warriors.

Just how lacking in parity is the Liga Asobal?  Well, I would ascertain, that Barcelona has the league’s best player at every position.  Probably, the 2 best players at every position.  Heck, there might not be another athlete on all the other teams combined who could find a spot on their roster.  OK, that might be a stretch, but for sure nobody playing on any of the other teams would start for Barcelona.  And, not only are the players better at every position they are significantly better.  There’s a huge gap in talent.

Still, 133 straight victories?

Handball is Just Not the Sport for the Big Shock Upset

But, then again maybe 133 straight wins isn’t such a shocker.  When you’re looking for the really big upset in sports there are several factors that come into play.

  • How hard is it to score? Games with a lot of scoring are less prone to upsets because the odds dictate that the better team is going to get its points and the weaker team will be faced with the prospect of matching and scoring more.  But, if the the prospect of scoring is challenging even for a great team it open the door to the possibility of a huge upset by even totally outmanned opposition.  And, no other sport demonstrates this as ably as soccer where a game can be won, 1-0.  Entirely amateur sides have knocked off dramatically superior opposition in such games over the years.  More often than not the top side wins 5-0, but every once in a while a lucky goal goes in off a corner kick and the dramatically inferior side puts 11 players in the box and prays the pro side can’t find the back of the net.
  • How many opportunities are there to score? This essentially relates to the variability in outcomes over time.  The longer the game, the more chances to score, the more likely it is the better team will eventually come out on top.  It’s just statistics really.  For any 5 minutes in a 60 minute game, the weaker team might outperform the stronger team.  A team will miss a shot, but if they get to keep shooting, it’s only a matter of time before talent wins out.  But, if there are fewer opportunities or it’s a game of shorter duration then the upset becomes more possible.  There are a couple of sports that demonstrate this well.  One is Rugby 7s where a minor rugby nation like the U.S. can knock off New Zealand without causing much of a real surprise in this 14 minute compact game.  Whereas a USA Rugby 15s victory over New Zealand would be epic.  Another game:  Beach Handball where a USA victory over a top team would be a minor surprise, but the same win over a European team in court handball would again be epic.
  • How much difference can one player’s great performance make? In some sports an incredibly great game by one athlete can make all the difference.  A great pitcher in baseball can throw a no-hitter.  A basketball player can shoot out the lights from 3 point land.  The closest thing to something similar happening in handball is a commanding goalie performance.  And, I’ve seen it happen, on occasion, but in reality such a performance might realistically mean chopping the talent gap 4-5 goals.

Handball is a game where 2 of these 3 factors always work against the dramatically weaker team.  And, even the 3rd possibility of a great individual performance is muted somewhat in its effectiveness.  Upsets do happen in handball.  But, those upsets typically occur in matches where the talent gap between the two sides is actually somewhat modest.  Think, the French women’s recent upset of Norway.  There was a gap in talent, but not a chasm and goalie play/defense overcame it.  But, the bigger the gap widens in terms of talent the chances of a shock upset increase dramatically, probably exponentially.

Unwittingly, a Test Case for Other Handball Odds Assessments

I’ve written a couple of commentaries (Link 1, Link 2) where I’ve tried to critically assess the odds of the U.S. National Teams to qualify for the Olympics and the World Championships.  As, I did my assessment I struggled a bit to try and quantify the differences between long shots, big long shots and really, really long shots.  It’s a theoretical contemplation for sure to entertain the differences between 5-1, 10-1, 50-1, 100-1, 250-1, etc.   And, the USA Women are never going to play Brazil a thousand times to get some good data that might back up assertions on just how long are the odds for a long shot upset.

But, Barcelona’s 133 straight victory run over the past four years probably serves as a pretty good approximation.  Heck, one could argue that the gap in talent between Barcelona and the typical also run Liga Asobal team is less than the gap that exists between the U.S. and Brazil Women.  Much like the gap I described above I don’t think a single American would make the Brazilian roster.  The Brazilian roster is composed mostly of athletes playing on tier 1 teams in Europe.  The U.S. has maybe a couple of players that with some more competitive experience could possibly make the roster of a tier 2 side in Europe, but the bulk of the roster, while hard working is tier 3 at best.  Even with Brazil’s disappointing World Championship performance there is still a massive talent gap.  We could argue as to whether the possibility of an upset is a 100-1, 250-1 or 500-1 proposition, but there should be little doubt that it’s a big number.

And, the double whammy the U.S. Men face in having to beat 2 significantly superior sides, Brazil and Argentina is aptly displayed.  Seriously, what do you think the chances are of Barcelona losing 2 games, back to back in the Liga Asobal anytime soon?   As, I previously highlighted needing 2 upsets means a really big number.  Maybe the 2,500 to 1, is even right on the money

I wish this was all simply a total nonsense speculative assessment.  I wish the U.S. had a realistic shot at Olympic qualification. I also wish we would stop kidding ourselves and start thinking long and hard about how to transform the sport of handball in this country.  To take advantage of the 10 years we’ve been given leading up to the 2028 Olympics to do things right.  I’m beginning to think the odds of that happening, though, maybe isn’t much better than our 2020 Olympic Qualification prospects.  Call me Don Quixote if you will, but, I’ll keep advocating and asking the burning questions until somebody starts thinking maybe we should try to answer them.

And, here’s a closing thought for you.  Barcelona’s 133 game victory streak may be over, but the 136 game unbeaten streak marches on.  Yeah, the match in question was a draw.  I’m thinking if there had been extra time Barca would probably have kept their winning streak.  And, Guadalajara also ran into Barcelona in the semifinals of the Copa Asobal a few weeks later with the opportunity to show everyone that the draw was no fluke.  Final score?  Barcelona 36, Guadalajara 22.

USA Women’s Trip to France:  Summary of Results and Top Level Analysis   

USA Women on defense vs Belgium

The USA Women recently traveled to France for some training and friendly competition.  Here’s a summary of their match results based on information obtained from French Club, the Belgian Federation, USA Team Handball website and various social media accounts:

16 December  USA vs Paris Saint-Germain 26-18 (Halftime 12-10)
17 December  USA vs Belgium 29-31 (11-12)
19 December  USA vs Belgium 21-31 (13-14)
20 December  USA vs HBCSA 19-31 (10-13)
21 December  USA vs Lomme Lille Metropole 24-29 (11-14)

Background on the Competition

Here’s some very top level analysis on the competition Team USA faced during the trip.  “Very top level” in that other than a few video clips I did not see any of the matches.  The relative quality of the French club team can be assessed by the division they play in.  Unlike their male counterparts (one of the world’s top clubs), the Paris S-G women play in somewhat obscurity in France’s N2F, effectively the 4th Division in France’s confusing club hierarchy nomenclature.   They entered the winter break with a 3-1-4 record and are in 7th place in their pool.   HBCSA plays in France’s 2nd Division and they had compiled a 4-1-3 record so far this season and are in 5th place.  Lomme Lille Metropole plays in France’s N1F (effectively the 3rd level) and had a 4-2-2 record and are in 4th place in their pool.

As far as to the level of the Belgian Women’s team there’s not very much in terms of recent results to assess how good they are.  According to Belgian native Jan Vanderstraeten, who plays for the Portland Sasquatch the Belgium ladies have only recently restarted their program after 13 years of not playing in international competition.  Overall, handball in Belgium is a significantly lower level than most countries in Europe, but they are now taking steps to develop their program.

Team USA Makes Do with Thin Roster

The U.S. was missing several key players and was particularly lacking in backcourt experience.  Further, with 3 goalies on the 13 player roster leaving only 10 court players available such a thin roster had to be a concern going into the trip.

Team USA Roster

Taking into account the thin roster, a 1-4 record with 2 lopsided losses against modest competition is not a surprise to me.  Playing 5 matches in 6 days is really demanding for a team with a full roster of experienced players and the U.S. was clearly short handed. Truth be told, it could have been worse and the U.S. is commended for easily taking care of the 4th division team, playing Belgium close in the first game and then playing the 2nd Division side close for a half.  Again, having not seen the matches I can only guess that the U.S. ran out of gas in the 2nd halves of the 2nd match vs Belgium and against HBCSA.

Finally, if one compares this trip’s results to the trip taken last January to France there are signs of progress.  For sure, last year’s trip had a more robust roster, but yet actually compiled more disappointing results against similar competition.  If the U.S. roster had included Andersen, Butler and Van Ryn helping out in the backcourt this team would surely have fared better.

Photos: USA vs Belgium Link Link

Belgian Federation Reports on matches: Link Link

Handzone.net (France) Report on match vs HBCSA: Link

Photos: USA vs Lomme Lille Metropole: Link

USA Team Handball Preview of Trip: Link


Handball Bar Stool Discussion:  Ever Wondered What a Basketball Game Would be Like if Teams had to Play a Man Down?  Or Two Men Down?  Just Like in Handball? (Well, Now We Know)

Alabama on defense with just 3 players. Nice to see the NCAA experimenting with the adoption of handball rules. What might be some other cross over possibilities?

This past weekend a pretty bizarre basketball game was played between 2 NCAA Division 1 College teams, Alabama and Minnesota.  With 13:39 remaining in the game a fight broke out on the court between the two teams and upset, the entire Alabama team left the bench to join the fray.  And, unfortunately for Alabama the penalty for leaving the bench is ejection leaving Alabama with only the 5 court players that were playing at the time of the incident.

From then on it just kept getting more bizarre as shortly thereafter Alabama’s lost 2 more players, one due to fouling out and one due to spraining an ankle.  With 10: 41 remaining in the game Alabama was down 11 points and down to 3 players.  What ensued?  Well, basketball fans got to see the Collin Sexton show as he finished with 40 points and single handedly kept Alabama in the game.  Indeed with 1:30 left Alabama actually cut the lead to 3 points!  Only to end up falling short 89-84.

The match is pretty interesting to watch and this article describes what happened in more detail and has a link to the video.  As a handball fan I watched with handball knowledge and was a little befuddled that the Minnesota coaching staff couldn’t figure out how to put a team away with a 2 man advantage.  A double team or even a triple team on Sexton (a future NBA lottery pick) probably could have done the job.  And settling for outside shots, even if uncontested, is not the best strategy either.

And, naturally it rekindled one of my favorite barstool topics regarding basketball and handball, two similar sports, but with different rules that lead to different strategies.  Remember handball’s last minute rule problem?  The silly situation that led to really unsportmanlike hard fouls to ensure that the other team couldn’t get a shot off.  It’s become a distant memory as handball adopted some basketball like penalties to make such fouls a really bad idea.

But, there are so many other possibilities for transfer between the two sports that would certainly change how handball or basketball would be played.  Highly debatable as to whether they are good ideas or not, but have another round of beers and discuss.  Here are my favorites

What if basketball adopted these handball rules?

  • On the fly substitution. Paint a couple of substitution lines on the court and see how coaches work the offense to defense player changes.  No more tall guys sitting at mid-court waiting for the buzzer to sound.  Really, what purpose does checking in at the scorer’s table serve anyway?
  • Two minute penalties. Give teams the option of taking the free throws or having the fouling team play down a man for two minutes.  All kinds of unintended consequences here, though.  Would the game become even softer as teams become more reluctant to foul.

And, what if handball adopted these basketball rules?

  • Shot Clock. Passive play has got to be one of the silliest rules ever.  Really?  Leave it up to the officials to decide whether a team is making a good faith effort to attack?  Can you imagine what basketball would be like if that was the rule instead of a shot clock?  Quit nibbling around the edges handball people and just cave in and adopt a shot clock.  But, as in basketball it’s needed for the higher levels.
  • Start and stoppage of the time clock. Of course if you adopt a shot clock, though, you’re going to have to rethink the running clock.  Otherwise, defenses will adapt their strategies to delay the offense.  Additionally, it would eliminate referee decisions as to what is deemed worthy of stopping the clock.
  • 4 quarters and more timeouts. Professional handball players bemoan the numbers of games they have to play a year, but somehow the NBA plays even more with the only big complaint being back to back games.  I realize that basketball is a softer game that’s a bit easier on the body, but the greater amount of stoppage time in an NBA game also helps.

Anyway, those are some of my favorite possibilities.  Feel free to chime in with your opinion on Facebook or at the barstool after your next match.

Team USA Olympic and World Championship Qualification Odds (Part 2):  Assessing 2024 Olympic Qualification Odds Based on Level of Investment

Projected U.S. Olympic Qualification Odds based on level of investment. Does this reality suggest a strategy that forgoes investment in the near to mid term in favor of  maximizing national team performance in 2028?

In Part 1, I highlighted the long odds USA National face in the next couple of years.  In Part 2, I project what the odds are for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic Games.  I also get a little philosophical as to whether those odds suggest a re-evaluation of USA Team Handball’s near to mid- term priorities.

2024 Olympic Prospects

With under 2 years to get ready for the 2020 Olympics it should come us as no surprise to anyone with even just an inkling of handball knowledge that the U.S. Men and Women do not have a realistic chance of qualifying for those Olympics.  Perhaps, some folks don’t fully realize to the extent of just how unrealistic it is, but most people are aware that it’s not very likely to happen.

But, even if there is virtually no chance to qualify there is still an obligation to make a good faith effort to do so.  Further, one can make the case that efforts to qualify for 2020 will have the benefit of setting up a stronger and more realistic attempt to qualify in 2024.

For an Olympics qualification run that is less than 2 years away it’s fairly straight forward to assess how successful such a campaign might be.  This is because the teams that compete in those qualifying tournaments will bear a strong resemblance to the teams of today.  Sure, there will be some roster changes to both Team USA and its competition, but on the whole it’s pretty unlikely that there will be a dramatic drop off or gain in performance.

6 years out, however, is a bit more difficult to project.  Will Argentina’s Diego Simonet at age 33 still be as big of factor? Or will Argentina even be better with some promising newcomers complimenting the wily veteran?  Will the Brazilian women be as strong with less sponsorship and support then what they received in the run up the 2016 Olympics?  Could Cuba’s economy improve such that they are competing on a regular basis?

And, what of the U.S. teams?  Could the U.S. Women continue to improve with several newcomers joining the program to replace some veteran athletes due to retire?  Could the U.S. Men show steady improvement with a mix of dual citizens and top athletes learning the game at Auburn?  Or, might the U.S. teams simply tread water playing with a measure of respectability, but lacking the depth and talent needed to challenge the likes of Argentina and Brazil.  Or, could the U.S. sink even further in terms of relative competitiveness?

Projecting the 2024 Competition

I could set up a table of possibilities as I did for 2020 qualification, but doing so would be pointless.  There are simply too many variables to project out that far.  That being said, I think some top level crystal ball projections can be made in regards to our competition.

  • The Brazilian Men are poised to be very good for years to come. Multiple players in their early to mid 20’s are playing for top clubs in Europe.  Their domestic league is also respectable and they’ve fielded Jr and Youth National Teams with great depth.
  • The Argentinian Men are also solid, but lack the depth Brazil has. They’ve got Simonet, though, and if he’s playing well Argentina will continue to be a threat for a gold medal.
  • No other Men’s PHF team appears to be on a trajectory to challenge Brazil or Argentina anytime soon. Chile and Greenland have decent teams, but their lack of depth is even more pronounced than Argentina’s.
  • The Brazilian Women have a Golden Generation that is starting to age out. I doubt that their replacements will be as good, but on the whole they have tremendous depth. Brazil’s 2nd and 3rd teams could have taken silver and bronze for the last several years if they had been allowed to participate in PHF Tourneys.
  • The Argentinian Women have yet to show that they can improve to the level of Brazil. Solid technical players, but they have to find a game changing athlete that can take them to the next level.
  • No other Women’s PHF team appears to be on a trajectory to challenge Brazil, but several sides are probably capable of mounting a challenge to Argentina
  • As an aside, the Cuban Men’s and Women’s programs are a real wild card. If properly resourced they surely could contend with other 2nd tier programs and perhaps even challenge for a PANAM Games Gold Medal.

Projecting Team USA in 2024

But, what about the U.S. Men and Women in 6 years time?  Taking the court in Santiago, Chile, the likely host of the 2023 PANAM Games.  As discussed, there are a lot of variables to factor in, but there is one simple thing that can be done:  Just add 6 years to the age of every athlete in the current talent pool.  If one does this simple addition to the Sr Team rosters for the past few tournaments, you’ll reach a quick conclusion:  That there will likely be only a few hold overs between now and then.

With the U.S. Men the roster change will likely be pretty significant.   The last major Men’s competition was the 2016 Pan American Championships I would assess that perhaps 4 or 5 players from that roster will be on the team in 2023.   I would then add 1 or 2 players from the current team at Auburn and then 4 or 5 dual citizens that have shown promise in Jr Events.  There’s some overlap with those 3 groups, but all told I think 10 athletes could come from our current player pools (Sr and Jr).  And, that would mean 6 athletes that aren’t even playing or perhaps just started playing would be on a 2023 roster.

And, such a roster would have some major question marks.  The biggest one being who would be the reliable, consistent scoring threat in the backcourt?  Perhaps a 39 year old Gary Hines will still be starting at backcourt, but I’d like to think he’ll have gently been nudged into retirement by some up and coming players.  Or at best he is a veteran reserve playing key minutes a la France’s Daniel Narcisse by then.

With the U.S. Women the change will be really dramatic.  I would assess that from the 2017 Pan American Championship roster the only holdovers could very well be just 3 or 4 younger dual citizen athletes.  Perhaps there will still be a couple of U.S. based players from the 2017 roster, but they will all be 31 or older and right in that age range where “life issue” decisions related to career and family could become more pressing.   Yes, there could be as many as 11 athletes on the U.S. Women’s Team in 2023 who are not even playing handball right now.

Now at first glance, particularly to our European friends, the prospect of the U.S. National Teams qualification for the 2024 Olympics with much of the roster consisting of newcomers might seem pretty farfetched. But, it is possible to take a quality athletic talent who has never played the game before and turn them into a decent handball player in 6 years time.  Possible, but not easy.  And, not cheap either.  It requires recruiting great athletes, providing them a quality training atmosphere and relatively frequent competition opportunities for those athletes.  I’ve written ad nauseum that the program at Auburn has not provided any of those key components for the past 4 years.  Don’t get me wrong.  Those athletes and coaches are working hard and doing the best they can, but there simply has not been enough financial support to do the job properly.

Playing the percentages (or the percentage gain)

But, what if we could properly fund our National Team programs?  Would it make a difference?  Would we then have a real shot at Olympic Qualification?

Those are very important questions.  Questions that should be asked, researched, and answered by USA Team Handball.  The short answer is that, of course, it would make a difference and it surely would improve our odds of qualifying.  But, the real questions are “How much would it improve our chances?” and “Is that percentage gain in improved chances worth the investment?”

For illustrative purposes, I’ll outline 3 possibilities in terms of investment to support or National Teams over the next 6 years and assess at a top level what our chances of qualification will be:

Minimal Investment:  This is the status quo and would mean relying on dual citizens and the continued recruitment and development of athletes at Auburn under the current austere circumstances.

Modest Investment:  This would be a modest investment in the neighborhood of $500K to 1.5M/years to beef up support to the residency programs.  This investment would be used to improve the Residency Program with partial college scholarships, stipends for athletes and travel support for multiple trips/year for overseas competition.  This should improve recruiting and also improve the development outcomes for those new athletes.  Overall, this would be roughly comparable to the U.S. residency programs of the 80’s and 90’s, particularly as you get closer to the $1.5M end of the scale.

Robust Investment: This would be an investment of $1.5-3M/year and would be an all in effort to fully maximize the performance of our teams in time for the 2023 PANAM Games.   The Residency Program would be further improved with select athletes receiving full scholarships and/or salaries.  A full time recruiting director would be hired.  Top athletes would be placed overseas via training arrangements with top European clubs.  This would be an unprecedented level of support perhaps comparable to what Olympic Sports currently under the NCAA umbrella receive.

Taking those 3 possible investment scenarios into account here’s how I would assess the likelihood for USA qualification in 2024.  (You’ll see that for illustrative purposes I also include the odds for 2020 and 2028)

USA Women


Excepting, Brazil and to a lesser extent Argentina, the competition in Pan America is relatively weak.  This means that a modest investment if properly executed could put together the 2nd best team in Pan America fairly quickly.   The U.S. would still not be nearly as good as Brazil, but capable of pulling off a 1 in 10 upset of Brazil in a one off Gold Medal match.  If more resources are provided with a robust investment I could see that being upped to a 1 in 5 upset possibility.  However, I don’t see it going higher because 6 years, regardless of investment, is just not enough time to put together a roster of that caliber mostly from scratch.



Recall from Part 1 that Olympic Qualification for the USA Men, in most scenarios would require successfully beating both Argentina and Brazil.  That’s very likely to still be true in 2024.  For our current team this is really daunting and for 2020 Olympic qualification would require winning two 50-1 upsets or a 1 in 2,500 proposition.  For 2024 I think a modest investment would improve our team such that odds of an upset would be in the neighborhood of 10-1, but again the double whammy is a real killer meaning the odds of doing it twice are still 1 in 100.  A robust investment would further improve our National Team, but as with the Women, 6 years is just not enough time to reach Argentina and Brazil’s level.  We could improve our odds for an upset to perhaps 1 in 5, but again that means performing a double upset which would be about a 4% possibility.

Significant Investment for Minimal Gain

So, if we have no further investment to beef up our residency programs we face really, really long odds.  And, if we do provide additional investment we essentially change “really, really long” to “really long”.  With the Men’s program such an investment would have almost no value.  Spend a little or spend a lot, it just won’t move the needle much. With the Women’s program there is some small value, but it’s certainly nothing to get excited about.

Bottom Line: Significant investment directed at improving our National Teams with the intent of securing a 2024 Olympic Qualification slot makes very little sense.  Even our current investment is highly questionable.

Now, if Los Angeles had been awarded the 2024 Olympic Games, the whole dynamic changes.  “Really long shot qualification” replaced with “automatic qualification”.  The discussion would then become how do we put the most competitive team possible on the court in 7 years time?  And, that would logically lead to a near term strategy with some really aggressive recruitment.  And, even I would advocate some investment in such a strategy.   But, 2024 didn’t happen.  LA got 2028 and that reality should lead to a totally different approach and strategy.

Why it All Matters

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time outlining the long odds.  And, sure as the sun comes up every day, I will get some grief along the lines of “Why are you always so negative about things?  Why always, with the glass half empty?”

My response is that I’m an analytical guy.  I’ve looked at the data and I’m sorry, there’s just a lot of reasons to be negative.  The glass isn’t half empty.  There’s barely any liquid in the glass at all. Quite frankly, if you’re all sunshine and roses about our prospects for qualification in 2020 and 2024 you’re either lacking information to understand the big picture or kidding yourself big time.

There’s a time and place for optimism.  Certainly when you’re getting dressed in the locker room against a superior opponent it’s appropriate to be optimistic.  To go out there and give it your all.  The odds be damned.  Certainly, that was my attitude in my brief and unspectacular national team career.

But, when you are trying to map out a future for the sport in this country?  Sorry, Optimism must take a back seat to reality especially when you take into account all of the shortcomings the sport in this country needs to address.  Every dollar spent, every man hour directed toward near term national team support is a dollar and man hour that could have been spent on development and the building of a player base that could actually make the U.S. competitive in 2028.

Further, while USA Team Handball’s current incoming revenue is minimal (2015 was only $348K) that should change.  Sponsorship support will increase with the lead up to the Olympics.  The IHF could even kick in with funding support.   Am I concerned that way too much of that funding will be directed towards near term National Team support?  Propping up Residency Programs that are way too austere.  That our once in a generation Olympic opportunity will be squandered?  Yeah, I’m concerned.  Big time.  And, so should you.

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal and a High Stakes Vote in Turkey

The IHF President Proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation in two and still on the agenda for the upcoming IHF Congress.  A major vote that could change handball in Pan America for decades to come.

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal

In Part 1, I outlined the IHF’s proposal to split the Pan American Federation into two separate federations.  In Part 2, I look at the overall merits of the proposal, the curious politics behind it, and a looming high stakes vote at the IHF Congress in Turkey.

Not a Perfect Deal, but One that Makes Sense

As discussed in Part 1, there’s a lot of pros and cons to the IHF proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF) in two.  Personally, I took some offense to the lack of World Championship qualification slots.  1 slot only for Youth and Jr Championships.  And, essentially half a slot for Sr. Championships.  While it may reflect the current competitive status of North American/Caribbean Handball it’s still quite a snub.  But, once I got over the snub and weighed the cost savings and the opportunity to create truly regional competitions I started to warm to the proposal.

And, the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve warmed up to it.  The reality is that it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for all that travel back and forth across the equator.  All that money spent paying airlines will be roughly halved… forever.  Those costs are different for each nation, but make no mistake there’s some real big savings over time.  And, there are just too many Pan American events right now that are for all practical purposes simply South American events.  The recently completed Women’s Club Championships are a prime example:  8 clubs- all from South America.

I think the New York City Team Handball Club Men’s team is only side from the North that has ever participated in a club championship And, yes club handball is not very well developed in the North, but bet your bottom dollar, if this championship was ever staged in the North, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba would be far more likely to attend.  And, then maybe only one team from Argentina and Brazil would make the trip up north.

And, this is not likely to ever change in a Federation that spans from Greenland in the north to Tierra Del Fuego in the south.  Club Championships, Jr and Youth Championships will continue to have limited participation due to travel costs.  Only Sr Championships will be truly North/South affairs.

Whereas, if you split the federations there’s a real chance that the North will see legitimate growth in participation to all those events.  Ideally, it could turn into handball’s version of the FIFA CONCACAF.  Not the strongest Federation, but a competitive one with good participation in all events.  And, perhaps even the South will see growth with the 5 primary nations (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile) focusing on and encouraging growth in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Central America.  In theory, they could create a legitimate handball CONMEBOL.

And, I’m not even factoring in the contentious issues that roiled the Federation 10 years ago.  Major issues that were resolved with devastating impacts to Canada and Greenland.  Things have been more agreeable the past few years and it’s nice to see some championship events coming north for a change.  But, with a split?  Well, those issues would never rise to the fore again because the disagreeing nations would be in separate federations.

But, a Deal that’s Being Unanimously Rejected?

Well, while I may have warmed to the idea of two federations, the PHF nations soundly rejected the proposal at an Extraordinary Congress held on 7 October.  As stated on the PHF website:

  • Se trató la propuesta presentada por el Presidente de la IHF de dividir al Continente Americano en dos Federaciones (Norte y Sur) y la misma no contó con ninguna adhesión positiva.

Or, in Google Translate :  “The proposal presented by the President of the IHF to divide the American Continent in two Federations (North and South) was discussed and it did not have any positive adhesion.”

As to why it was rejected, no rationale has been provided.  Speculation on my part, but I would surmise that many nations are resistant to change or are concerned with qualification slots.  Regardless, while the proposal merited only one sentence, this proposal was the reason why a PHF Extraordinary Congress was held and it wasn’t just discussed, it was discussed at length.

It surely would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall of that meeting, but I’ve heard next to nothing (on or off the record) as to what was discussed.  Nobody’s talking and for something like this with major potential repercussions that is a bit surprising.  Yes, the PHF appears to have quite a bit more discipline then the leaky Trump White House.

The Curious History and Politics Behind the Proposal

What’s really curious about this proposal is that it was initiated by the IHF.  This in many respects would be sort of like the European Union proposing to Spain that it split into 2 countries, Spain and Catalonia.  As an organization it’s fairly easy to see it from the PHF perspective: “Mind your own business, would ya?  If we want to split the PHF, we’ll figure out that ourselves and then we will put forward a proposal to the IHF for consideration.”

And, what makes things curiouser and curiouser?  A similar proposal was submitted by the U.S. back in 2009 and it was rejected by the IHF.  Former USA Team Handball Board President, Dieter Esch, later voiced his displeasure with IHF President Moustafa’s lack of support to his proposed breakaway federation.  Indeed, it was a factor in Esch’s decision to step down and discontinue his generous financial support to USA Team Handball.  And, now Dr. Moustafa is taking up the mantle for a North American Federation?  And, USA Team Handball is rejecting the proposal?

It should have you scratching your head.  But, then again, USA Team Handball has entirely different leadership now and having known USA Team Handball CEO, Mike Cavanaugh, for around 30 years, he’s not one to prone to rock the boat unless it is absolutely necessary.

Additionally, as I discussed in my interview with Handball de Primera, it’s possible that some nations in the PHF were/are reluctant to speak out openly, out of fear of future repercussions should the proposal not come to fruition.  For sure, it would be awkward to attend future PHF meetings after having previously voiced support for leaving the PHF.  And, it would only be natural for future issues and decisions to be weighed negatively against the “traitor” in their midst.  Yes, often it is better to be quiet and tactical in such a situation.  But, to be honest I’ve got little insight as to what the nations are thinking and this is clearly speculation on my part.

The Way Ahead: Drama and High Stakes in Turkey?

Well, you might think that this issue is over.  After all, the PHF nations unanimously rejected the proposal.  The IHF wouldn’t force the PHF to split if they don’t want to? Right?

Well, apparently that’s not the case as the proposal is still on the agenda for upcoming IHF Congress in Antalya, Turkey on 11-12 November.   And, you can even read the proposal which in a rare moment of transparency is readily available on the IHF Congress website.  This wording is virtually identical to the IHF Council Meeting Minutes except for the omission of information regarding WC qualification slots (which I outlined in part 1).

So, assuming this proposal stays on the agenda, the IHF Congress will vote on the motion to split Pan America in two.  For passage, the motion will require a 2/3 majority.  This may seem like a steep hurdle, but President Moustafa who is running unopposed for his 5th term as IHF President generally knows how to count up the votes.  The IHF 2013 Congress had 163 attendees and the 2015 IHF Congress had 139, so one could assume that the 2017 Congress will have similar attendance.  Perhaps even more as additional nations have joined the IHF.  Further, the IHF has been known to pay airfare and hotel for developing nations to attend, which often endears support from those representatives on key votes.

If there are 160 voting members, the measure would need to have 107 voting in support to beat the 53 voting against.  And, one can do a whole lot of speculating as to where the votes might come from for either bloc.  Key questions to be asked and answered in Turkey:

  • How many nations will show up and how many are attending on the IHF’s dime?
  • How strongly will the IHF President push this motion? Will he be content to let the Congress decide or will he see its non-passage as an affront to his leadership?
  • How will the different continental federations discuss this proposal at their meetings prior to the IHF Congress? Michael Wiederer, the influential EHF President voiced his support for the proposal stating that he is in favor as it would help to strengthen handball in the economically important country of USA. How might other IHF Council members lobby their respective continents?
  • Can the PHF member nations effectively lobby other nations with the rationale that this proposal shouldn’t be forced upon a continental federation? (i.e. The message being that your continent could be next)
  • Are the PHF member nations truly united against this proposal or will some take the opportunity of a secret ballot to vote in favor?
  • And will some renegade PHF nations even go further? Actually lobbying for the proposal in private or with a wink and a nod in a semi-private discussion in the hotel lobby or at a coffee break?
  • What will USA Team Handball say or do? As this proposal is in part focused on U.S. development a few choice words in public and/or private could make a real difference.

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions which makes the outcome all the more interesting.  In another life, as a NATO Staff Officer I attended dozens of meetings with the flags around the table.  With very few exceptions these meetings were snoozers with little doubt as what would be decided… because anything important had already been decided before the meeting.

But, this might very well indeed be the rare case where an International Meeting takes place with the outcome to a major issue in doubt.  There might even be impassioned discussion at the Congress right before the vote takes place.  Something rarely seen or heard.  And this discussion should even be available for viewing on a live web stream on the IHF Congress web page.  An unprecedented possibility that should have every handball fan in Pan America on the edge of their seat.

Yes, mark your calendars.  11 November 2017 could be the date that seals Pan America’s fate one way or the other.

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 1):  The Pros and Cons

The IHF is proposing to split the PHF into 2 separate federations.

This past summer I began hearing rumors of a possible split to the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF).   A couple of postings on the PHF website have indeed confirmed that the rumors are true and I’ve now seen an outline of the actual proposal.  Surprisingly, the proposal actually came from the IHF as opposed to a PHF member nation.

For reference, here’s an overview of the current PHF nations and qualification paths:  Link

Detailed Map of PHF Handball Nations: Link

The proposed IHF split would do the following:

  • Split the PHF into two separate federations: A North America and Caribbean Federation and a South America and Central America Federation.  So, unlike soccer it would be a CONCA and not a CONCACAF.
  • For Jr and Youth World Championships the North/Caribbean would receive 1 qualification slot and the South/Central would be awarded 3 slots just like Asia, Africa and Europe. The new North/Caribbean slot for the Jr WC would come at the expense of the reigning Youth Champion and the new Youth WC slot would come at the expense 2nd best continent at the preceding Youth WC.  So, in practical terms the new North/Caribbean slots would likely mean that Europe would lose 1 of their ~12 slots for Junior WC and that Africa, Asia, or South America would lose a bonus slot for the Youth WC.
  • For Sr World Championships the IHF borrows a bit from FIFA World Qualification formats and essentially gives the North/Caribbean a ½ slot and gives South/Central America 2 ½ slots. With the ½ slots being decided by a playoff between the North/Caribbean Champion and the South/Central 3rd place team.
  • For the Olympics the IHF proposal only states that “the qualification process for the Olympic Games shall be discussed later.”

The IHF listed several rationales for this proposed split to include

  • Improved organization as each Federation would be focused on serving fewer nations
  • Cost savings particularly due to smaller travel distances
  • Greater participation from nations that currently don’t have a realistic chance of making the PHF or IHF championship events
  • Opportunities for beach handball growth in the Caribbean

Assessing the Pros and Cons

There’s certainly some positive aspects to this proposal along with some shortcomings.  Here’s an assessment of the Pros and Cons


Cost Savings:  If this proposal were to be approved there would be some significant cost savings in travel.  Here’s some back of the envelope calculations based on a sampling of flights from Atlanta to different destinations.  In broad terms travel to cities like Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires is twice as expensive as it is to go to the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico.  Around $600/person cheaper per flight.  If a team contingent is 18 and a Federation makes an average of 1.5 North to South (or vice versa) trips a year that’s $16,200 in costs that would disappear.  Right now there are about 12 active Federations in the PHF so that would be $194,400 in total savings/year.  And, if one does a simple x10 calculation that would be $1.94 million dollars over a decade. Admittedly that’s some very rough analysis, but while we could argue about the numbers, there’s no denying this would save a lot of money over the long term.  A lot of money for resourced starved nations that could then be spent on development instead of airline travel.

Greater Participation:  Directly tied to the cost savings is the possibility that more nations would participate in more events.  Somewhat established nations like the U.S., Canada and Mexico would be more likely to participate in Jr and Youth events.  Less established nations in the Caribbean and South America might see an upsurge in participation as well.

Independence Would Eliminate Issues of Fairness:  I was really pleased with recent PHF developments to award Greenland the Men’s Sr PHF Championships and the U.S. the Beach Championships.  But, I also remember some major injustices meted out by our friends in the South.  Not trivial little things either.  Canadian Handball was on the verge of a renaissance a decade ago when they qualified and participated in the 2005 WC, but due to arcane rules they weren’t even allowed to participate in WC qualification in 2006.  And, then Greenland was demoted to Associated Membership after they went to the WC in 2007.  The U.S. might very well have qualified for the 2007 PANAM Games if the 2nd chance tournament hadn’t been moved at the last minute from Puerto Rico to Chile.  Yes, these events were a decade ago, but I’ve got a long memory.  Of course, there are bound to be conflicts within any organization, but given the distances between the North and the South I suspect key decisions in the future will continue to gravitate towards a north/south split in opinion.  I also like to think the level of disagreement won’t reach the heights that it did a decade ago, but make no mistake there will continue to be contentious issues.

No Major Change to the WC Slot Status Quo:  For all practical purposes while the North is being short changed on WC slot allotment it wouldn’t result in much change to the current status quo.  In some respects it’s even better for the North as several times we’ve failed to send any team to the World Jr or Youth Championships either because we didn’t place high enough or failed to send any team at all. And, for last 5 Sr tournaments the North for the most part has missed out on the semifinals and the opportunity to play for 3rd place and the last WC slot.  (Cuba and Puerto Rican Women in 2015 being the exception).  Under this format the North champion would be guaranteed a chance to qualify for the 3rd slot.  Further this playoff could even be a marketable event.


The Oceania Treatment: While it’s true there’s no change to the current status quo, if one looks at this proposal from a WC slot allocation perspective, the proposed North/Caribbean Federation is pretty much being treated as another Oceania.  Nothing against our friends from the Pacific, but give us a little respect will ya?  The U.S. has been in a downward cycle for the past 20 years, but with an Olympics we will surely improve.  The Greenland men knocked off Argentina at the 2016 PHF Championship.  Cuba has several pros playing in Europe and when properly resourced they can be very competitive.  This split should come with more WC slots or at the very least there should be some clear benchmarks given to the North/Caribbean Federation as to how those slots can be increased.  And, really how many European teams do we need at the World Championships?  Yes, maybe one of the performance slots should be given to the North/Caribbean champion.

Weaker Competitions:  Splitting into 2 Federations will mean that each competition will be weaker.  In particular, the teams from the North will no longer get the experience of playing the Brazilian Women and the Brazilian and Argentine Men.  While matches against those sides have recently been blowouts it’s still very beneficial for weaker nations to get a yardstick as to where they stand against top competition.  And, even the South tourney will be degraded with sides like Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay missing out on matches against peer nations like Greenland, the U.S. and Canada.

The 8 Nation Rule: Underlying possible concerns with this split is a recent IHF competition rules requirement for federations to have at least 8 nations participating in World Championship Qualification events.  While Pan America may have around 30 full and associate members, the level of participation varies dramatically.  Perhaps around a dozen nations have fairly active programs, regularly participating in Sr events and to varying degrees Jr and Youth events.  Then there are around 6 nations that are somewhat established and sporadically play in qualifying events.  And, finally there around a dozen nations in Central America and Caribbean that are really fledgling nations.  I think for some of them the IHF Trophy tournament just this past year was their very first official competition.

So what does all of this mean?  Well right now the PHF can easily meet the 8 nation rule for Sr events, but doing so relies on participation from the established nations from both the North and the South.  The South could probably meet the 8 nation requirement independently, but it would need to coax nations like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Central America nations into participating to ensure that it’s met.  And, doing so for Jr and Youth events would be even more challenging.  The North/Caribbean Federation would have even a harder time coaxing the fledgling nations of the Caribbean to participate.  Perhaps there could be a Caribbean championship and also maybe the French Departments of Guadaloupe and Martinique could participate.  (Side note: Trinidad & Tobago is one of the fledgling nations.  Will some future USA National Team have to travel to Port of Spain to ignominiously go down in defeat in a handball WC qualifier?)

While it’s true that the shorter distances might allow greater participation both of the new Federations might find themselves short of numbers and accordingly losing their WC slots.  Perhaps the IHF will provide a grace period for growth requirements.

So there’s a rundown on the pros and cons, as I see it.  But, what about the PHF nations and the IHF as a whole.  What do they think about the proposal? In Part 2, I’ll take a closer look at the history of Pan American Handball and the politics behind this proposal.