Asian Olympic Qualification: ICAS Ruling is a Split Decision

The International Court of Arbitration for Sport (ICAS) met yesterday to decide whether the results of the original or the replay Asian Olympic Qualification Tournaments would stand. In a split decision, the ICAS ruled in favor of the Asian Handball Federation (AHF) for the Women’s tournament and in favor of the International Handball Federation (IHF) in the Men’s tournament. The immediate result is that the Kazakhstan Women and South Korean Men will be Asia’s automatic representatives for the 2008 Olympic Games.

The controversy began last fall when the original Men’s and Women’s Olympic Qualification tournaments were held with surprising upsets taking place. South Korea were big favorites in both tournaments, but the women were upset by Kazakhstan and the men were upended by Kuwait. Following the men’s loss to Kuwait, South Korea took action to protest the outcome through IHF and IOC channels. At the heart of their complaint was alleged biased officiating by inexperienced Jordanian officials. Adding fuel to the fire was the inexplicable last minute decision by the AHF to replace a very experienced German pair with the Jordanian pair. As video of the match with numerous officiating mistakes circulated in Handball circles, a groundswell of opinion formed that strong action was needed to restore Handball’s credibility as an Olympic Sport.

In December, the IHF took action and declared that new tournaments for not only the Men, but also the Women should be staged under full IHF control. The AHF rejected this decision and only Japan and South Korea chose to participate in the replay tournaments. South Korea won both the Men’s and Women’s replay tournaments, but the AHF threatened legal action and the IHF and AHF agreed to resolve the issue through mediation at the ICAS.

According to the official ICAS press release, the ICAS met with AHF and IHF representatives from 0830 to 2400 hrs in a marathon session. The ICAS noted that the IHF decisions in December were invalid due to their failure to follow its own rules for protest as they had not given the AHF an adequate opportunity to respond to the charges. As the IHF and AHF, however, had agreed to address the issue “de novo” or like a new trial, the ICAS was empowered to rule on the decision independently.

Details of the rationale related to the decision were not provided, but it has been speculated that the video evidence and the last minute decision to switch officials made the case for annulling the original men’s tournament, much stronger. The ICAS Press Release indicates the full ruling will be placed on their website as soon as its available.

The ruling in favor of AHF Women’s original tournament has also created a logistical mess for the Olympic Qualification tournaments scheduled for 28-30 March. According to the IHF’s own rules, South Korea, Japan and Qatar should be assigned to participate in the qualification tournament to be hosted by France. The addition of South Korea and Qatar also should result in Congo and Spain being bounced from their tournaments, while Hungary and Croatia would move to different tournaments. In the case of Hungary it would also be a more challenging tournament with Poland as their likely adversary for 2nd place and qualification for the Olympics.

As the tournaments are only 8 days away this will give some teams little notice for travel arrangements, let alone adequate time for scouting and preparation. The IHF has indicated that they are reviewing their options and that further information will be published soon.

ICAS Press Release:
IHF Notice:
Earlier article assessing ramifications of ICAS ruling in favor of the AHF: