USOC Handball NGB Applications (My Review and Some Questions)

(Disclaimer: Bogdan Pasat is one of the other editors for this website and a key member of the ATHA bid. You’ll have to judge for yourself as to whether this has added some unfair positive bias into my review. Although, if you’ve been following our running dialogue in the comments section under my earlier blog post on “A professional League in the US?” you might even think that I’m inclined to a negative bias.)

Well, I’ve reviewed both applications. I see elements in both proposals that I like and elements that I don’t like. And then there are some sections that simply have me saying, “Huh?” Here’s my analysis and some questions I hope that are asked at the Open Hearing on 30 August.

[b]Organizations That Applied[/b]

American Team Handball Association (ATHA)
Utah Team Handball Foundation (UTHF)

I find it somewhat confusing that a Utah organization is applying to be the NGB for an American sport. Additionally, the UTHF proposal repeatedly refers to “USA Team Handball” the name of the former decertified federation. Maybe this confusion can be resolved at the Open Hearing.

[b]Board of Directors Scheme (Long Term): [/b]

ATHA: 10 members (4 elected by regions, 2 elected by athletes, 3 appointed independents, and 1 appointed by affiliated organizations)
UTHF: 9 members (5 appointed independents, 2 appointed at-large, 2 elected by athletes/approved by the nominating committee)

The key words here are “appoint” and “elect.” The UTHF Board will be a majority “appointed” board selected by the Nominating and Governance Committee and with 5 independents it will likely be strongly influenced if not controlled by the businessmen that are selected. The ATHA bid is a majority “elected” board with only 3 independents. This means that the independent board members will have a voice, but Handball people (the 4 elected regional and 2 athletes) will likely have a greater say. How you view these schemes depends upon your perspective. I, for one, prefer a BoD with Handball people on it. I think there are enough capable Handball people out there, that with some good independent voices added to the BoD, they can get the job done. The appointment system also rubs me the wrong way because quite simply, I prefer voting as opposed to some wise governing committee dictating who will be in charge. The folks at the USOC, however, might feel somewhat differently: “After all, those Handball Federation members elected a clown like Mike Hurdle, what’s going to prevent them from doing that again in the future?” In other words, the handball faithful in the eyes of the USOC, have demonstrated that they are not ready for democracy.

[b]BoD Qualifications: [/b]

The most eye-popping element of either proposal is easily the UTHF’s requirement for 7 of the 9 Board members to donate $50,000. On top of that, Dieter Esch has guaranteed to front the $350,000 until those 6 other members are found. That’s an impressive commitment and it’s pretty hard to have a problem with that. (Makes the $3,000 funding issue that the early board had look rather petty.) But while I like commitment, I have got a couple of issues with this aspect of the UTHF’s proposal. First, philosophically, this is a price which excludes the vast majority of Americans. Do we really want to make substantial personal wealth the key requirement for Board of Director membership? My gut reaction is no, but hey, if it’s going to give Handball in the US some much needed revenue, why not? But this is where my 2nd problem comes in. Just where are they going to find 7 people in the United States to altruistically plunk down $50,000 to sit on this Board of Directors? $25,000/head for the regional boards? I’m skeptical and what do you do when all those Handball Sugar Daddies don’t materialize? (In other words, is the UTHF over promising to simply win the bid? Granted, the $350,000 is guaranteed, but one of the appeals of the proposal is bringing in a constant stream of membership funding. When those funds never actually materialize, will they just say, “Oh well, Sorry. Thanks for making us the NGB though.”

The second notable issue concerns US citizenship. The ATHA requires directors to be citizens, while the UTHF also allows Permanent Resident Aliens to be directors. Personally, I think American citizens should sit on the Board. While this might eliminate some good candidates, this is a BoD for an American Handball Federation and it shouldn’t be too big of hurdle to find qualified Americans.

[b]Board of Directors (Interim):[/b]

Before the new boards are selected/elected each bid identifies an interim Board of Directors which will guide the new NGB until the new BoD is seated. The composition of these boards is pretty important as these individuals will not only run the show during the interim period, they will also play a pivotal role in the election/selection of the new Board. And in the case of the UTHF proposal they will essentially decide who 7 of those 9 Board members are. Additionally, these boards will decide who gets hired as the CEO to manage day to day operations.

1) Mariusz Wartalowicz, Chair
2) Bogdan Pasat, Secretary
3) Mark Ortega, Athlete
4) Tomuke Ebuwei-Holmes, Athlete
5) Christain Zaharia
6) Christopher Springer
7) Alex Vaida
8 ) Silvian Vlad Grama
9) Reddy Gustine
10) Affiliated Organization (Vacant)

This is a cross section of representatives from some of the more active clubs (Chicago, Miami, Houston Stars, West Point, Salt Lake Stars) in the US. I’m not so sure about Real United HC (Indiana) and Corona THC (California), but I’ve been living overseas for five years too. Also, several members have lived overseas and are familiar with the European way of things. This European perspective can be a good thing, but it could also lead to group think. This concern is somewhat alleviated by a West Point representative, but as Air Force Academy grad you might want to chalk that up to my military bias. Several of these individuals have also shown that they are committed to the sport with their efforts to build clubs in their local area. They’ve gotten their hands dirty with the difficult grunt work that involves and it gives them an appreciation for grass roots development that you can only get by having experienced.

Dieter Esch, Chairman
Amir Haskic, President
Other members ??

Probably, the most important question that has to be answered with either proposal is: Just who is Dieter Esch? As the de facto Chair of the Board of Directors and interim Chief Operating Officer he would wield all the power. Should the keys be turned over to him? More specifically
– Why is he willing to front $350,000 to develop Team Handball in the USA
– Has he ever been involved with the sport in the USA? If not, why not? (Hey, that funding could have come in handy a long time OK!)
– Does he have too many other interests to adequately run USA Team Handball?
– What’s the deal with the fraud charges against him in his native Germany?

I know Amir Haskic has been a referee for several years, but that’s about it. The proposal also doesn’t list anyone else. I’m guessing that Dennis Berkholtz is involved, but this information should have been in the proposal.

[b]Day to Day Management Structure:[/b]

Both sides indicate that a CEO/COO will be selected by their BoD . This position, is essentially, the one Mike Cavanaugh has held for most of the past 20 years. Additionally, both proposals outline hiring a designated marketing person on the staff. The ATHA also identifies 3 positions (Marketing & Communications Director, Finance & Administration, and a Professional Fundraising Manager). The ATHA proposal calls for hiring a CEO by 1 Jan 09, with the possibility of an interim CEO in 2008. A professional fundraising firm would be hired in 2008 and the marketing and finance positions would be hired in 2009-10

The UTHF proposal also identifies a Chief Financial Officer, Program Director and Regional Development Managers. According to Page 41, Section 14.1 of their proposal their COO was to be hired by 1 Jul 07 and the CFO is to be hired by 31 Dec 07. In the interim, until these positions are hire, Chairman of the BoD, Dieter Esch, would fulfill both of these roles without compensation.

[b]Budget Numbers:[/b]

I’m pretty skeptical of the projected numbers in both proposals. Generally, the expenses appear reasonable, but the revenues are overly optimistic. Both bids overestimate sponsorship and the UTHF bid greatly overestimates membership generosity. (Hey, it can be tough to get handball players to buy a round of beer, good luck getting them to buy even a Level 4 Membership: $500/year). The reality for the near term is that the only likely funding stream (aside from the UTHF $350K from Dieter Esch) will be from the USOC. Hopefully, the marketing representative will turn that around, but it’s going to take awhile. Also of note, the USOC will surely like the UTHF’s request for only $125K, $150K, $200K, and $300K for 2007-10) Very self-sufficient of the UTHF, but why not ask for at least the same level of funding as before?

[b]Strategic Plans:[/b]

The ATHA has outlined a fairly comprehensive Strategic Development Plan which emphasizes developing a strong grass roots program as the foundation for a stronger National Team Program. It first lays out the “why” for the plan and then details the who, what, where, when and how. There are clearly defined goals, objectives and key performance areas outlined with sufficient detail so that the reader can see that there is a path to get from here to there. This all being said I don’t agree with a lot of what’s in the plan. I’m skeptical that the goals laid out can be achieved in the time frames indicated and I don’t think they are going to have the resources to accomplish much of what is outlined. In short, I could dissect a lot of what’s in their plan, but for space and time I will just point out one area that is radical in terms of a “change in philosophy:” This is the concept of no resident programs for the National Teams. While the resident programs used in the past had only marginal success, I think that the gap between the US club system and International competition is simply to great to be rectified by periodic National Team training programs. (outlined on page 17 of the ATHA Strategic plan). I may not agree with this and other aspects of the proposal, but credit the ATHA for outlining a plan.

The same can not be said for the UTHF. Essentially, their 1 page plan is Attachment HH on page 65. And this one page simply outlines goals and the staff they would hire with no real “how.” While, I could poke plenty of holes in the ATHA plan, they actually have a plan. With no real plan or strategy identified, the UTHF is essentially saying, “We’ve got some money to get started and you can trust us.”

[b]Dekalb International Training Center (DITC):[/b]

The Atlanta Condors website has posted an email chain that Peter Siskind, a former BoD which raised the issue of the DITC contract with the USOC for a National Team Training Center. The concern being raised is that this contract provides the UTHF proposal with an unfair advantage in its bid to become the NGB. The USOC has given assurance that the contract does not give the UTHF an unfair advantage, but has not provided the contract for review. At the Open Meeting on the 30th of August I hope the USOC further clarifies the nature of this contract and whether the ATHA could also count on DITC support for Nation Team Training Programs.

[b]Dates of Proposal Submittals:[/b]

I found it interesting that the UTHF proposal has a submittal date of 27 December 2006, well before any call for proposals was submitted by the USOC. Whereas, the ATHA proposal was submitted on 20 July 2007, shortly before the deadline. The ATHA proposal’s strategic plan highlights that they had to hastily put together a proposal after a “very surprising announcement from the USOC about accepting application for recognition as the NGB.” The sequence of events suggests that UTHF was privy to inside information, but credit the USOC for formally announcing applications, even if it was a tight timeline.

[b]How will the USOC Decide? What‘s the Criteria?: [/b]

I asked Eric Parthen, the USOC’s Director of NGB development, this question via email and got the following response:

“The USOC Board ultimately approves NGB recognition following a recommendation from USOC staff
(USOC CEO Jim Scherr and the Membership Working Group). The criteria that will be used will be our confidence in the organization's ability to fulfill the roles, responsibilities and requirements of NGBs as laid
out in the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act and the USOC Bylaws. This particular process is somewhat more difficult with respect to team handball because there aren't existing organizations that we can evaluate so our evaluation has to be based more on our confidence in the organization's leadership and ability to deliver on its plan.”

[b]Who wins?[/b] Well, if the principal criteria was each side’s overall plan, I’d have to go with the ATHA proposal. While, I don’t like everything they have in their plan, they have a plan. The UTHF proposal is simply a list of goals with no path identified on how to get there. Really makes you wonder which was the bid put together hastily and which one was submitted early. But…. $350,000 gets my attention and will get the USOC’s attention. Money can’t buy you love, but it can buy equipment, pay for salaries, etc. But even more important than money or a plan, will be the people behind the proposals. The USOC will be evaluating the respective boards and assessing whether each group is someone they can work with. As such, the presentations and the personal interaction that will take place on the 30th of August could be the most important factor.

5 thoughts on “USOC Handball NGB Applications (My Review and Some Questions)

  1. I would like to point out a few things:

    1. President Hurdle was a lot of things. I had him crawl from under a rock! But a clown he was not! There were plenty others wearing the goofy red nose. I think he deserves a bit more respect.
    2. While there are many holes to be poked in everything, I would like to point out a few more:
    a: You (like others) have taken the UTHF $350,000 to be guaranteed? What type of guarantee does the USOC have that that money will come? Because they were "pledged" in writing on an official piece of paperI WHAT makes it a sure thing. The ATHA could have come up with a whacked up sum of money as well. The $350,000 promised is just that! A promise. Not to mention the fact that said pledge comes from a rather suspect individual. The last thing the USOC needs is another headache to the tune of the INTERPOL calling up the USOC offices in Colorado Springs. Yikes!
    b: This is a very significant point I am about to make. When one submits an application for anything, the least she/he can do is ensure that the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed. To submit an NGB application the way the UTHF did, containing nothing but USATH references in it, shows how unprepared, thoughtless and disrespectful towards this sport its authors were. This is certainly more clownish than anything else…
    3. There needs to be another correction made. You had the ATHA again associated with Dieter Esch and his $350,000 pledge. As much as the ATHA would love the $$$ association, we'd rather keep it real. With the ATHA what you see is what you get. And the buck WILL STOP there.

    If you were to take the ESPN approach to "KEYS TO WINNING" and award POINTS to every AREA you evaluated, the ATHA is the hands on favorite to win.

    While the USOC decision may very well come down to intangibles – which it should not – your review has been very objective, considering the limited amount of info you were privy to. Furthermore, your article will provide a new forum of discussion for those interested in setting the record straight.

  2. "After all, those Handball Federation members elected a clown like Mike Hurdle, what’s going to prevent them from doing that again in the future? In other words, the handball faithful have demonstrated that they are not ready for democracy."

    Actually, I think this spoke volumes that the faithful are, in fact, ready to get involved more and vote. Think what you will of Mr. Hurdle's methods, he accomplished something that NEEDED to be done a long time ago…and that is to disrupt the status quo, wake up the handball enthusiasts and generate discussion on how to improve a sport that has been languishing in the U.S. for 20 years. A message was sent by those that voted. The next NGB (whoever it is) should take note of it.

  3. This is in direct relation to what everyone has been posting on the earlier forum discussion. The more educated and well informed one is, the more dangerous he/she becomes to the establishment. Exchanging ideas, seeking answers, questioning decisions, investigating and holding responsible anyone representing another's interests – is the key to democracy.

    Only then those who intend to take the power away from others to feed their own egos and personal needs will realize the responsibility that has been bestowed upon them.

    Lack of information and transparency is what led to the general apathy of the US team handball faithful. Misinformation and deep rooted personal interests is what motivated certain (not all) leaders.

    One could argue that the same regime has been controlling US team handball for decades. Success had nothing to do with it. What else could it have been?

    Educate, inform, prepare. Share the knowledge.

  4. – I've rewritten the "clown" reference to more clearly reflect my intent which was to highlight what the "USOC leadership" likely thinks of the Mike Hurdle presidency.
    – I've corrected the ATHA – UTHF discrepancy
    – I'm sure the $350,000 guarantee/promise/pledge will be an item for USOC discussion. Hopefully, it will become clear just which of those 3 (guarantee/promise/pledge) it is.

  5. John, I think you have made as unbias a review of both proposals as anyone could. And you have very properly noted when personal bias could effect your assesment. Good job. I really look forward to seeing more questions answered in the USOC review process, hopefully in a very open way. Now is the time for everyone in the USA interested in what happens to handball in this country to "sit up and take notice", and make sure they express their positions and opinions in this important process.

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