Atlanta DITC: USA Pan-American Championship Hosting was Withdrawn Due to Lack of PATHF Response

In February, the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) informed its National Federations that the USA had withdrawn from hosting the Men’s Pan American Championships this Summer in Atlanta and that they were now accepting new applications from member federations to host the tournament. The Atlanta Dekalb International Training Center (DITC) in suburban Atlanta, Georgia had planned on hosting the tournament, but their withdrawal of support had, in turn, forced the USA withdrawal.

Team Handball News spoke recently with Dr Marc Daniel Gutekunst, CEO of the Atlanta DITC to better understand the circumstances behind their decision. In short, Dr Gutekunst indicated that it was the PATHF’s failure to respond to several Atlanta DITC requests for information that ultimately led to the Atlanta DITC’s decision to withdraw their support to hosting the tournament. As the local organizer, the Atlanta DITC was seeking a formal letter clearly designating the Atlanta DITC as host of the event, as well as basic guidelines and requirements for hosting the tournament. These requests were never answered and without this information, the Atlanta DITC determined that they could not reasonably secure sponsorship to successfully host the event.

Dr Gutekunst also indicated that the Atlanta DITC had not been idle in its efforts to coordinate preparations for the tournament with the PATHF emphasizing that they had made 4 separate trips to meet with PATHF officials. In November of 2006 they travelled to Argentina to brief the PATHF Executive Committee of their plans. In April 2007, in conjunction with the Men’s National Team tournament in Chile, they met with the PATHF Treasurer Hector Fernandez. In July 2007 they met with Brazilian representatives in conjunction with an IOC meeting in Guatemala and in August they met with PATHF General Secretary Rafael Sepulveda in Puerto Rico. As one of the concerns raised for hosting the tournament in the USA were visa requirements (particularly for Cuba and Brazil) the Atlanta DITC sought and received personal assurances from Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice that visas would be granted for the tournament.

Conversely, Atlanta DITC requests for a simple letter confirming their designation as host as well as guidelines related to hosting the tournament went unanswered. In fact, the only written documentation indicating Atlanta DITC as host is Dennis Berkholtz’s (VP of North America) informal meeting summary from a July 2007 meeting. Additionally, for other athletic events that the Atlanta DITC has staged a “cookbook” has been provided by the parent organization to ensure that the event runs smoothly and all expectations are met. With no information being provided by the PATHF, the Atlanta DITC did not feel comfortable with hosting the event and soliciting sponsorship funding. The bottom line for the Atlanta DITC was that they were willing to host the tournament, but they were not willing to host the tournament without more interaction and coordination from the PATHF. With these expectations not being met, the reluctant decision was to pull out.

While acknowledging the disappointment and impact of not hosting the tournament to the Men’s National Team, Dr Gutekunst emphasized that the Atlanta DITC remains committed to supporting the Men’s National Team Program which is currently training at Morris Brown College as part of an agreement that was signed with the USOC in July 2007. Dr Gutekunst also highlighted that he is optimistic that the Atlanta DITC will be able to secure Congressional funding ($1M) to rehabilitate and upgrade the John H. Lewis Student Athletic Center where the National Team currently practices and International competition could be hosted. Finally, Dr Gutekunst is looking forward to working with a new Handball Federation and would like to see a Women’s program also started at Morris Brown College.

July 2007 PATHF Exec Committee (unofficial notes):
February, 5, 2008 USA Withdraws as Host:

[b]Commentary: [/b]It is not surprising that the Atlanta DITC discovered that the PATHF was not very responsive in providing a written commitment explicitly stating that they were hosting the tournament. This non-responsiveness fits a pattern that has been experienced by Greenland, Canada and the USA in trying to find out basic information related to attending upcoming tournaments. If past precedence is any indication, the PATHF could very well have changed the venue location arbitrarily. This was done to Puerto Rico for the 2nd chance tournament and it could have happened again. The Atlanta DITC was wise to request formal confirmation and when none was provided this was legitimate cause for concern.

But even if a mandate had been provided, the Atlanta DITC was also clearly expecting a much higher level of engagement from the PATHF. There’s certainly some logic to thinking that the PATHF would want to insure that a PATHF Championship event is well organized and staged to meet PATHF standards.

But anyone familiar with the PATHF’s less than stellar coordination and management track record would not have expected much in terms of support. And I’m not going to justify their less than stellar performance, but the PATHF is not exactly a resource rich organization to begin with. Despite this lack of support, however, several [i][b]National Federations [/b][/i]have been able to successfully stage championships. And we’re not talking about the richest nations in this hemisphere either. If the Dominican Republic can host the women’s championship, surely the USA can as well.

The USA, in theory, has the resources to stage a tourney, and indeed, has hosted tournaments in the past. I don’t know “who did what” for those tournaments, but it’s a pretty safe bet that PATHF involvement was minimal. My guess is that the USA Team Handball Federation did the lion’s share of the work in close coordination with a local organizing committee. And it surely is a considerable amount of work.

So, who’s to blame for this lost opportunity? Well, if there was a USA Handball Federation, they’d surely get the blame. One can only hope that a USA Handball Federation would have done everything it could to make sure that tournament was kept on USA soil. If the Atlanta DITC needs a commitment letter and the PATHF hasn’t provided it, you knock down doors and make phone calls (to the IHF, if necessary) to make it happen. Same goes for the logistics issues: the Federation facilitates and in some instances, steps right in to make sure everything runs smoothly. Hosting a tournament and qualifying for the World Championships is job 1: you do what it takes.

But in the absence of a Federation, assigning blame is a little bit more spread out. As evidenced by their coordination trips, the Atlanta DITC did not just sit idly by, but they probably [i][b]could[/b][/i] have done more. The key word here, of course, is [b][i]could[/i][/b] and as it became more evident that they were going to have to plan everything they decided that they weren’t going to step into a pseudo-Federation role. And if the Atlanta DITC wasn’t ultimately responsible and there wasn’t a Federation to be responsible, then the blame, in my opinion, goes to the USOC.

When the USOC decertified USA Handball, they took responsibility for USA Handball. And to the USOC’s credit, they allocated resources to give USA National Teams an opportunity to qualify for the Pan American Games and participate in Pan American Championships in 2007. A limited budget, but those teams did have a legitimate shot. Following the failures to qualify, the USOC then stopped funding and started a process for certifying a new Federation.

But while due diligence is prudent in selecting a new Federation, the delays in granting certification has resulted in a limbo situation that has gone on too long. With no one “minding the store” the USA Men’s Team will now have to travel to Brazil, instead of playing at home.

Beating Brazil or Argentina was unlikely prospect to begin with and beating Greenland, Canada or Chile for 3rd place would have been challenging in Atlanta; it will be far more difficult in Brazil. On top of that Cuba is much more likely to show up in Brazil then they were in Atlanta where the possibility of player defections might have kept them from coming.

Perhaps it is always darkest before the dawn. Hopefully a new Federation is only days away. They’ll have their work cut out for them, but the good news for them is that things can only improve for USA Handball at this juncture.

Feel free to pipe in your comments, but remember if you want to stray too far from the topic at hand start a new topic in forum area.