IHF Identifies Participants for Olympic Handball Qualifiers, but Fails to Recognize ICAS Ruling Impact

The International Handball Federation (IHF) has confirmed which nations will participate in the Olympic Handball Qualifiers this spring. The three tournaments for the Women will be March 28-30 and three tournaments for the Men will be May 30 – June 1. Each tournament will consist of 4 teams and the top 2 teams will qualify for the Olympics in Beijing.

Missing from the IHF release, however, is any consideration as to the potential impact of the Asian Olympic Qualifier controversy on the final placement of teams. The placement of teams from Asia is based on the results of the Asia Olympic Qualifier replay tournaments that were conducted by the IHF. The Asian Handball Federation (AHF), however, does not recognize the results of those tournaments and the IHF and AHF have mutually agreed to let the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) decide on the matter. If ICAS rules in favor of the IHF, the placement of the teams should stand as advertised. Should the ICAS, however, rule in favor of the AHF the tournaments will need to be reshuffled.

For the men the change would be straightforward. If the ICAS rules in favor of the IHF, South Korea automatically qualifies for Beijing and Japan participates in Tournament 3 against Croatia, Russia and Algeria. If the ICAS rules in favor of the AHF, Kuwait would secure the automatic ticket for Beijing and South Korea would take Japan’s spot in Tournament 3.

For the women the change is not so simple. Like the men, if the ICAS rules in favor the IHF, South Korea will automatically qualify for Beijing and Japan will participate in a qualification tournament. In its recent announcement the IHF places Japan in Tournament 3 against France, Hungary and the Congo. If the ICAS rules in favor of the AHF for the Women’s tournament, however, the solution can not be a simple swap out of teams like it was for the Men. This is because South Korea placed 6th at the World Championships and by precedence earns a spot in a qualification tournament by that route, rather than its 2nd place showing in the original Asian Championship.

Further complicating things is the fact that South Korea’s 6th place finish, the highest of any non European team, also resulted in Asia being awarded 2 spots for the Olympic Qualification tournaments. Prior to the decision to conduct a replay tournament this meant that both Japan and Qatar were assigned to those tournaments. With only Japan and South Korea participated in the replay tournament, however, there was no longer a 3rd place team from Asia. The rules that the IHF laid out did not specifically state what was to be done in this instance, but the IHF appears to have decided to award this spot to the 3rd place team (Congo) from the 3rd best continent (Africa).

Here’s a summary of the results from the two Asia tournaments and their impact on Olympic qualification:

[b]Original Tournament[/b]
1) Kazakhstan (Automatic Ticket)
2) South Korea (5th place World Championships)
3) Japan (2nd Place- Asia)
4) Qatar (3rd Place- Asia)

[b]Replay Tournament[/b]
1) South Korea (Automatic Ticket)
2) Japan (2nd Place- Asia)
3) Congo* (3rd place Asia spot given to 3rd place Africa)

So, if the ICAS rules in favor of the IHF the three tournaments will be:

Tournament 1: Germany (2nd WC), Spain (7th WC), Sweden (2nd Europe) Cuba (2nd PATHF)
Tournament 2: Romania (3rd WC), Croatia (6th WC), Cote d’Ivoire (2nd Africa), Poland (3rd Europe)
Tournament 3: France (4th WC), Hungary (5th WC), Japan (2nd Asia), Congo (3rd Africa)

But, if the ICAS rules in favor of the AHF the three tournaments should be:

Tournament 1: Germany (2nd WC), Croatia (7th WC), Sweden (2nd Europe) Cuba (2nd PATHF)
Tournament 2: Romania (3rd WC), Hungary (6th WC), Cote d’Ivoire (2nd Africa), Poland (3rd Europe)
Tournament 3: France (4th WC), South Korea (5th WC), Japan (2nd Asia), Qatar (3rd Asia)

And to throw yet another wrinkle into the mix, the IHF could also decide to swap the 2nd place teams from Africa and Asia. In an IHF press release shortly after the World Championships, this swap was indeed made. Speculation was that the IHF wanted to avoid a tournament with too many Asian teams, but requests to the IHF for clarification were unanswered.

Analysis: It’s not a fait accompli that the ICAS will rule in favor of the IHF. The ICAS decision could be based solely on procedural issues unrelated to the quality of the officiating at the matches in question. Additionally, there appears to be more evidence supporting the decision to replay the Men’s tournament, so it’s quite possible that a split decision whereby the Men’s replay would be recognized, but the Women’s replay wouldn’t could be a possible outcome. Making that decision is also “easier” in that South Korea should be a virtual lock to place either 1st or 2nd in Tournament 3. The end result would be both Kazakhstan and South Korea qualifying for the Olympics. And should that happen, the odd result of this Asian controversy would be Spain getting bounced out of the Olympic Qualification tournaments. Regardless, the ICAS needs to be pressed into making a decision as soon as possible, so that South Korea, if necessary, is ready to participate in the Olympic Qualifier in France on March 28th. Of course the IHF, could schedule some more replays, but I’m guessing that is something they’ll want to avoid!

IHF Tourney Pairings Announcement (Feb 08): http://www.ihf.info/front_content.php?idcat=57&idart=1021
IHF Tourney Pairings Announcement (Dec 07): http://www.ihf.info/front_content.php?idcat=218&idart=995