HBL President Witte: Handball Olympic Status in Jeopardy

In articles recently published in several German publications, German Bundesliga President is quoted as saying “If nothing changes, handball’s Olympic status will be in jeopardy in Copenhagen.” Witte is referring to an IOC meeting later this year where the IOC members will not only vote on the host city for the Olympics they will also vote on whether to add new sports to the Olympic Program.

The cause of this heightened concern are more detailed allegations concerning the IHF’s misconduct in regards to doping controls. Two former IHF Medicine Commission member, Austrian Hans Holdaus and Danish Professor Inge-Lis Kastrup who resigned their post are now speaking out. In the articles, the former commission members detail how funding for the commission has not been provided and how the IHF leadership wanted to be informed prior to any pre-event testing in obvious violation of World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) regulations. The article further highlight a 2004 pre-Olympic tournament when half the Egyptian team were move to the stands when it was announced that drug testing would occur for players

ZDF Sports: http://sport.zdf.de/ZDFsport/inhalt/1/0,5676,7504577,00.html?dr=1
German Financial Times: http://www.ftd.de/sport/:Skandal%F6se-Zust%E4nde-Dopingstreit-%FCberschattet-Handball-WM/460076.html
Frankfurter Rundschau: http://www.fr-online.de/in_und_ausland/sport/aktuell/1658514_Handball-Weltverband-schweigt-sich-zum-Thema-Doping-aus.html?sid=94a02b9e2ceac60a8901b76107241d63

An English language text similar to the articles in these German publications has been provided to Team Handball News by the “Campaign Committee for Clean Handball”. The complete text is available in the extended message.

Hamburg. Is handball in danger of being thrown out of the Olympic Programme? Reiner Witte certainly thinks it is possible. “If nothing changes, handball’s Olympic status will be in jeopardy in Copenhagen,” says the concerned president of the German National Handball League (HBL). The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will be meeting in the Danish capital at the start of October 2009 to consider among other things the future of the Olympic Programme. There is plenty to suggest that handball, an Olympic sport since 1972, will be excluded, causing it to sink into obscurity. The reason lies with the International Handball Federation (IHF), which will be organising the 21st men’s world championships in Croatia from January 16, and which is still not fulfilling fundamental Anti-Doping requirements. An urgent letter sent by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and seen by this publication, has so far been ignored by the IHF.

The Olympic status is “absolutely at risk” confirms Hans Holdhaus. The Austrian Anti-Doping expert has for now suspended his role within the IHF medical commission so as not to endanger his excellent scientific reputation. What he has to say on the matter sounds truly incredible. The medical commission’s budget for 2008 was simply scrapped by Egyptian IHF president Hassan Moustafa and Spanish treasurer Miguel Roca, Holdhaus explains. On top of that the IHF leadership decided at short notice to disband the IHF Anti-Doping unit. “Nobody knows the reason. It’s incomprehensible,” says Holdhaus.

Even more alarming however is the fact that to date the IHF has not allowed a single pre-competition doping control, as is confirmed by the WADA letter. “The president wanted to be informed about every single test which was planned before competitions,” reports Holdhaus. His attempt “to explain to the president that this would contravene the international standards in the fight against doping” failed. The Danish professor Inge-Lis Kastrup, a further member of the medical commission, confirms all the criticisms levelled by Holdhaus. “Independent doping controls” cannot currently be guaranteed. “It makes no sense to continue working in these conditions,” says Holdhaus, describing the IHF leadership’s current Anti-Doping policies as “crazy” and “a fiasco.”

The IHF administration in Basel denies the charges. IHF director Ekke Hoffmann says he is “unaware” of the aforementioned events. “In Croatia we will have Francois Gnamian and Ridha Mokni from the medical commission on board, everything is already organised, there will be doping controls,” says Hoffmann. He testifies to the excellent reputation of Holdhaus. “It would be a great shame if such a specialist was to no longer work for the IHF.”

The IHF is clearly not a pioneer in the fight against doping. While barely 100 athletes were tested during the 2003 world championships in Portugal, the number had sunk to just 72 at the 2007 edition in Germany. The scandal at the pre-Olympic tournament in Athens in 2004 was just as remarkable. When it was announced that routine testing would take place there, the Egyptian team leaders removed half of the team to the public seating area. Furthermore the circumstances surrounding this affair contradicted all public statements (“Medical matters are very important to the IHF”) made by IHF president Moustafa concerning his seriousness about dealing with the doping problem. “You idiot, all doctors are fools,” Moustafa insulted the former head of the IHF medical commission Gijs Langevoort at the top of his voice. The Dutchman, who was considered an committed specialist in the fight against doping, was dismissed at the following IHF electoral congress. In his place the unknown Ivorian Gnamian suddenly found himself at the head of the medical commission. An apparent protégé of Moustafa, Gnamian was elected in absentia, at a time when is reported to have been serving out a prison sentence in Ivory Coast.

WADA and the IOC, whose president Jacques Rogge has always underlined the massive importance of the fight against doping, have not however overlooked the previous Anti-Doping policies of the Egyptian president. WADA president John Fahey promised to cast a “strict eye” over the association in November 2008 while imposing a final deadline. All WADA Code requirements will have to be met by May 2009. Otherwise the suspension of an individual sport can be enforced before the 2012 London Games. Moustafa and his colleagues at the IHF are playing a dangerous game, and one which threatens the existence of an entire sport.