Are the Stars Aligning for a 2028 LA Olympics that could Transform Handball as We Know it in the USA? 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti: “My dream is not so much just to bring the Olympics here, but is to bring youth sports for free to every zip code.” (Did Mayor Garcetti just set in motion the transformation of handball as we know it in the USA?)

Several recent news reports are signaling that the International Olympic Committee will likely be awarding host city rights to both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics.  Initially, reporting indicated that it was a tossup as to which city, Paris or Los Angeles, would host first in 2024 with both cities insisting that they go first.  Earlier this week, however, the Wall Street Journal indicated that the IOC was leaning towards Paris in 2024 and L.A. in 2028.  And, just yesterday LA Mayor Eric Garcetti confirmed that the IOC had asked both Paris and LA what it would take to entice either city to consider delaying Olympic hosting to 2028.  Mayor Garcetti’s response:  Funding now from the IOC to develop youth sports in Los Angeles.

Why I prefer a 2028 L.A. Olympics

While I’m generally inclined to take a sooner than later approach to most things here’s why (from a parochial handball viewpoint) waiting 11 years to host an Olympics is greatly preferable:

  • 7 years isn’t enough time to build competitive national teams. If you’ve read a few of my commentaries and analysis this should be painfully obvious.  The current talent pool of available players in this country is ridiculously thin and our grass roots programs are too small to create a talent pool of world class athletes in 7 years.
  • A 2024 Olympics will force spending towards the top of the pyramid. Because the U.S. can’t possibly build a competitive national team through its current talent pool and grass roots in time for the 2024 Olympics an inordinate amount of resources will be spent at the top of the pyramid.  In other words an aggressive campaign will be launched to identify, recruit and train talented cross over athletes in the 22-25 age range.  As, I’ve written ad nauseam this is an outdated, short sighted strategy that is currently working very poorly for USA Team Handball.  A guaranteed Olympics, though, should improve recruiting and change “very poorly” to either “poorly” or “passable.”  The U.S. won’t win any medals, but it’s possible that teams that won’t embarrass too greatly could be built.
  • 11 years provides more time to work grass roots and potentially transform the sport in this country. Eleven years might be just enough time to implement a targeted plan to develop a talent pool, fan base and set the sport on a trajectory of further growth.  Of course, more time will be needed for a soccer or lacrosse expansion across the U.S., but 11 years could set things in motion.
  • The stars may be aligning to push USA Team Handball in the right direction. With near term Olympic qualification unlikely and 2028 qualification guaranteed it becomes even more logical to focus on grass roots efforts that will support efforts to build a quality 2028 team.  Herculean efforts to qualify near term simply won’t make sense.  Further, with the LA Mayor calling on the IOC to provide funding for youth sports in exchange for delaying to 2028 grass roots efforts just got further impetus.

The Outline of an 11 Year Plan

It’s early yet, but I can already see the outline of an 11 year plan to transform the sport in L.A. and eventually the rest of the country.  Here are some elements that might make up such a plan.  (And, if this looks familiar that’s because I’ve outlined similar possibilities before:  The Iceland Strategy)

  • USA Team Handball aggressively moves on Mayor Garcetti’s youth sports dream and a plan to develop youth handball in the Los Angeles area is adopted. It won’t be idle talk to talk up the possibility of LA’s youth eventually making an Olympic handball team for an LA Olympics.
  • IOC support is used as leverage to secure additional funding from the USOC, Olympic sponsors, the IHF and other handball entities
  • Youth leagues are re-established with the Boys & Girls Club of Southern California
  • The LA Unified School District agrees to sanction team handball as an official sport
  • Middle School and High School leagues are funded and established
  • A Southern California college league is funded and established
  • Partial scholarships are awarded to encourage high school athletes to continue playing handball
  • Top players from around the U.S. move to the L.A. area to further their development as players
  • A regional training facility is established in Southern California. Top players from each age group receive additional training to supplement their club/school practices.
  • Top players are given assistance in the placement of clubs in Europe (The first batch of players arrive around 2022)
  • The U.S. Men and Women close the gap with Argentina and Brazil such that they start qualifying for the WC, but fall sort of Olympic Qual for 2024
  • A handful of top players advance toward the upper professional ranks
  • The U.S. fields rosters at the 2028 Olympics with roughly half their athletes as full time professionals

And, I haven’t even included what might be done regarding beach handball…

Yes, this is an ambitious strawman plan for eleven years time. Yes, it can’t be done without substantial funding.  But, I don’t think it’s a pipe dream because thanks to Mayor Garcetti’s dream it just might be doable.

Interesting interview with Ralf Uhding

A few days ago, the German web site Handball-World published an interview with Ralf Uhding. http://www.handball-world.com/o.red.c/news.php?GID=1&auswahl=26283 He is a member of the Supervisory Board of the German Bundesliga and he is also on the Board of Directors with USATeam Handball. In other words, he brings a wealth of handball experience but he has also taken a very special interest in the task of developing handball in the U.S.

The interview has a strong emphasis on the much anticipated exhibition game between Germany and Poland in Chicago on July 17. But there is also a focus on the overall situation for handball in the U.S., and it is then reassuring to note that Ralf Uhding clearly has made an effort to get to understand the realities of the situation in the U.S., which is very different from what he has been used to in Germany.
In the past it has been more common that handball experts from abroad have offered ideas and solutions without first taking the trouble to understand the basics.

This is obviously very important in a situation where USA Team Handball has concluded that bilateral agreements with top European handball countries is a much more realistic way of obtaining support than the seeming illusionary approach of hoping for a serious collaboration with the IHF.

USA Women to Compete in Div I PATHF Championship

USA Team Handball has announced that the USA women will compete in the upcoming Pan American Team Handball Federations (PATHF) Div I Championships. The competition is scheduled to be held in Mexico City starting on the 22nd of November. USA participation had been uncertain due to financial and resource limitations involved with the start up of the new Federation.

The first and second place teams from this tournament will qualify for the 2009 PATHF Championship next spring. At this time it is uncertain which nations will participate in the Div I tournament. In addition to the USA and Mexico other potential nations participating include Cuba, Greenland, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and Chile.

USA Team Handball Announcement: http://www.usateamhandball.org/news/index.html?article_id=41
2009 World Championship Qualification: http://teamhandballnews.com/page25.html

U.S. 2009 Championship Tournament Planning

USA Team Handball has announced that it is accepting bids for it’s 2009 Championship tournaments. In doing so, potential dates for those tournaments have been revealed. The Club Championship tournament has been scheduled for 1-3 May and the Collegiate Championships have been scheduled for either 3-5 April or 10-12 April.

USA Team Handball GM, Steve Pastorino, also confirmed to Team Handball News that the 2009 Club Championship will be open tournaments with no pre tournament qualification. Qualification is planned to be fully implemented for the 2009-2010 season. Pastorino also indicated that he met with several city representatives at a recent USOC sponsored conference for hosting National Governing Body (NGB) events and is optimistic that the Federation will receive 2-3 competitive bids.

USA Team Handball Bid Announcement: http://www.usateamhandball.org/news/index.html?article_id=40

Sharks' Ortega signs professional contract

[link=http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.590]As reported a few weeks ago[/link], former marquee Miami Sharks and USMNT centerback Mark Ortega, was offered a professional contract from the recently promoted Norweagian first division club, ALTA.

From the [link=http://www.miamisharksteamhandball.org/]Miami Sharks website[/link]:

"Miami Shark center back Mark Ortega has signed a contract to play for Norwegian First Division team Alta IF. Ortega will begin his second season with a professional squad after playing one season in Spain with a club out of Santander. Ortega was one of the first members of the Miami Sharks squad and Head Coach and owner Cristian Zaharia has helped him develop into an all around player. "Mark is a very good athlete and he works hard," Coach Zaharia said. "I am very proud of him and I look forward to seeing him succeed with Alta IF. Mark is a fine product of the Miami Sharks organization, where grass roots are very important and hard work, discipline, dedication and team spirit are criteria we are based on. All our members should be very proud of this achievement, because without his teammates, Mark would not have been able to progress as he did."
Ortega has also been a member of the United States National Team, competing in several International Competitions."

Congratulations are in order to coach Zaharia and Mark Ortega. Two genuine proefssionals.

USA Team Handball General Manager Blog

Steve Pastorino, the new General Manager for USA Team Handball, has started a blog on the USOC's new teamusa.org site. In his first post he highlights some of the Federation's recent startup activity and indicates that they should have a new website up soon. He also indicates that he intends to use the blog to regularly update the USA Handball community on Federation activities.

Steve Pastorino on Handball Blog: http://handball.teamusa.org/blog/blog/143

And, if you'd like to get an idea of the new General Manager’s interests outside of handball you can check out his personal blog here: http://notjustahatrack.typepad.com/not_just_a_hat_rack/

Minutes from St. Louis.

For those of you who missed the big team handall "summit", [link=/docs/Minutes.pdf]here are the minutes[/link] from the historic meeting.
Upon reading these minutes you may find yourself frowning, smiling, rolling your eyes over, pondering, chuckling, cursing! Whatever you do, know that you had the choice to be there.

There was no drama at the Omni Hotel in downtown St. Louis. JR has summed up the meeting excellently in his article. It was indeed a meeting of the minds as promised and advertised. Everyone had the opportunity to express his or her feelings.
Texas was well represented by Dede Piankova, Nathalie Dorner, Bogdan Pasat, Riyo Shigihara and Oscar Grisales. Chicago sent Florin and Felix, Santa Clarita had Karl (who also had the back of all the Cali clubs), West Point had two reps. Even the DITC had one representative to Berkholz's delight!:)

WNT had Dawn, T and Sarah. THN had JR and me. Nobody from UNC, ATL, NY.

Other than Steve Pastorino's General Manager and Amir Haskic Techincal Director's positions, the rest of them (paid or otherwise) are on standby – until further notice.

How is that for a teaser? Wink.

USA Team Handball Summit Invitation.

[center][b][color=#ff0000]ADVERTISEMENT[/color][/b]

[link=/docs/Invite.pdf] [img]/docs/Invitea.jpg[/img] [/link]

[b]Dear Handball Friends,
Mr. Dieter Esch, President, USA Team Handball, invites you to attend the inaugural
Team Handball ”THE FUTURE IS NOW” Summit, to be hosted in St. Louis, MO., June 13-15.
The Summit will be a meeting of the US handball community. It will address the future
direction of the sport. The Summit is open to everyone; from club representatives,
coaches, referees and players, to friends of the sport interested in the challenges ahead.
President Esch requests that if there are any issues that you would like to discuss, to
please forward them to [link=mailto:amirhaskic@gmail.com]Amir Haskic[/link].
Additionally, please RSVP to [link=mailto:amirhaskic@gmail.com]Amir Haskic[/link] as well.
Plan to arrive in St. Louis by 4:00 PM on Friday, June 13.
Plan to depart after 2:00 PM on Sunday, June 15.
Summit details will be forwarded shortly, including hotel information and Summit agenda.
Make your flight reservations ASAP!
See you in St. Louis![/b]

[b][color=#ff0000]ADVERTISEMENT[/color][/b][/center]

Dieter Esch: The Handball Missionary from Germany

Below is a translation (courtesy Bjoern Brembs) of an article that appeared in the German publication Handelsblatt:
http://www.handelsblatt.com/News/Karriere/Koepfe/_pv/_p/200811/_t/ft/_b/1428928/default.aspx/der-handball-missionar-aus-deutschland.html

The Handball Missionary from Germany

By Hans Weymar, May 13, 2008

COLOGNE. If the often so critical German publication "Manager Magazin" describes someone as "one of the most illustrious and probably one of the most successful corporate personalities of the last decade", then one would think that the public would remember his name. In the case of Horst-Dieter Esch, this did not happen.

The lines hyping Esch's success were written in 1982. Esch's r ise as the son of an engineering fitter-machinist to CEO of the construction-machine corporation IBH in Mainz earned him the image of a prodigy. IBH was buying and buying and the "Economist" called this expansion "Esch-pansion".

One year later everything was over. IBH became bankrupt in one of the most spectacular cases of post-war Germany. At the end all that was left was about a billion Deutschmarks of debt, and the private Bank Schröder, Münchmeyer & Hengst which had lent about 900 million to IBH almost went down with it. In 1984 a regional court in Koblenz found Esch guilty of fraud and sentenced him to six and a half years. In 1988 he was released and shortly thereafter he emigrated to the USA. There, he bought the modeling agency Wilhelmina and did well. Super Models such as Linda Evangelista were among his clients. Germany? Far away.

In the coming months Esch's name may be heard in his home country once again. The man who now calls Park City, Utah his home is looking to drum up support for the Teutonic game of handball from corporate sponsors to conquer the world's most important sports market. "I have decided to make handball popular in the US" said Esch to the Handelsblatt.

The first leg, says the 65 year-old with some pride, has already accomplished: "For the last two weeks I've been the president of the US handball federation". Esch, who claims to have played field-handball as a goalie for club TV Weingarten, suggests in the phone-interview that the handball-scene has been waiting for someone like him: "the handball community here is breathing a sigh of relief".

Well, maybe not the entire community. His past did provoke some rather hefty debates on the few fan-forums. The US Olympic Committee is quoted on the online news-service, Teamhandballnews, that they vetted Esch in two separate background checks: "In this process, Mr. Esch was completely open and transparent and more than cooperative concerning all the necessary information."

A year and a half ago a friend told him of the desolate state US-handball was in: "As a good German, I of course immediately asked: where are the structures? Where is the federation?" There was very little of that. The USOC was merely managing the third rate national teams. Esch now wants to build everything from the ground up, starting with a meeting of all concerned parties from June 13-15 in St. Louis.

Esch is not the first one trying to build enthusiasm in the US for handball. The efforts by the world-federation IHF have all miserably failed. The problem: "Team Handball" as the sport is called in the USA, is as exotic there as the German/Dutch sport of bosseln ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klootschieten ) is here. The German still believes he has a chance: "In the summer, the big Basketball arenas are empty". One would need to convince owners and investors to let people play handball there during this time. "There already is quite some interest in this idea".

Esch's partner Dennis Berkholtz, a member of the 1972 USA-Team at the Olympics in Munich, is estimating that eight million dollars would be needed to get a professional league going for two years, featuring European players. "The German players should play for New York and the Polish for Chicago", says Berkholtz. Esch adds that eight million dollars will not be enough, it's only a start.

The question is, who would invest so much money? Handball sponsors from Europe, both Esch and Berkholtz affirm. Especially sponsors from the handball heartland Germany: "Once we have managed to get the appropriate structures running here, I will focus my attention towards Germany and Europe", says Esch. Adidas, Nike and Puma are supposed to be the first targets.

If these corporations will commit to such a risky investment is doubtful, given Mr. Esch's past. Esch, however, affirms he doesn't want to make any money from handball: "Handball is not a business for me, Handball is my hobby".

Editor's Note: Feel free to discuss this topic in the Forum

USA Withdraws from Men's Pan American Championships

According to email correspondence obtained by Team Handball News, the USA Men's team will not be participating in the upcoming 2008 Men's Pan American Championships in Brazil. The email correspondence is between US Handball officials and Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) officials and has been confirmed by reliable sources.

The reasons for withdrawal, however, are unclear and Team Handball News is awaiting an official response from the new USA Team Handball Federation.

USOC: Dieter Esch Thoroughly Investigated Prior to Certification

Dieter Esch, the leader of the new USA Team Handball Federation, has been a successful business, both in Germany and the United States. This successful business career, however, has not been devoid of controversy and allegations. Team Handball News spoke recently with Mr Esch concerning two allegations which will turn up on different internet pages if you do a simple Google Search on “Dieter Esch.”

The first allegation relates to his “arrest” for defrauding a Saudi Arabian company by not making it clear that his company, IBH was bankrupt. According to Mr. Esch, he did in fact plead guilty in Germany on a charge related to the bankruptcy, but the law was shortly thereafter rescinded and his record has been expunged in Germany.

The second allegation relates to the Wilhelmina Scouting Network (WSN) which was an independent entity separate from Wilhelmina. The WSN apparently charged prospective models questionable fees for their services. According to Mr. Esch, Wilhelmina withdrew their license and was instrumental in putting WSN out of business.

Team Handball News has not independently investigated these allegations, but did contact the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) as to whether they had investigated Mr. Esch’s background. Eric Parthen, the USOC director of NGB Organizational noted the following:

“The USOC did conduct a thorough investigation into Mr. Esch's past which included two separate background checks (domestic and international). One was conducted at the USOC's staff direction as part of our initial review and the other was requested by the USOC Board of Directors prior to their approval. Throughout the process, Mr. Esch was completely open and transparent and was more than cooperative in providing any information requested.”

Editor’s Note: Comments have been turned off for this article, but readers can discuss this topic (if they must) in the Forum section.