Miami Tourney Sanctioning: A Pointless Confrontation (Part 2)

In Part 1, I sought to frame the argument by defining some key terms in the official complaint. Namely what it means to be a federation and what it means to be a sanctioning authority. In Part 2, I look below the surface in an attempt to understand what really is going on.

[b]Underlying Relationships, Possible Agendas and Playing Nice[/b]

[b]Underlying Relationships[/b]

To fully understand the dynamic of what’s going on here a little history lesson is in order. As most everyone knows, Team Handball in the USA has never had much success. In 2005, this lack of success and toxic infighting between Board Members and then USA Team Handball President, Mike Hurdle, led to the USOC’s decision to withdraw all its funding support and eventually decertify USA Team Handball as the sport’s National Governing Body (NGB). The USOC then took direct responsibility for the sport’s administration on an interim basis and in 2007 requested bids from organizations to become the sport’s new NGB.

Two camps submitted bids, the Utah Team Handball Federation (UTHF) and the American Team Handball Association (ATHA). The UTHF bid, which eventually was selected, was led by Dieter Esch. The ATHA bid, was more of a group effort and had three prominent spokesman, Marius Wartalowicz, Cristian Zaharia and Bogdan Pasat. And if all of those names don’t sound familiar here’s a short cheat sheet:

Dieter Esch: The current President of USA Team Handball
Mariusz Wartalowicz: The current Technical Director of USA Team Handball
Cristian Zaharia: The principal organizer of the Miami Tournament and ATHF Senior Vice President of Sports Operations
Bogdan Pasat: ATHF Member and one of the Editors/writers of Team Handball News

As I reported earlier, there were pros and cons for both bid packages. I felt that the ATHA bid had a much more developed plan, but that the UTHF had a greater likelihood of securing funding. In particular, it had Dieter Esch’s marketing connections and a promise of $350K (either 7 Board of Directors at $50K each or $350K of his own money). But as ATHA’s bid unraveled with Zaharia and Pasat resigning due a disagreement with Wartalowicz, it was (at least in my opinion) a foregone conclusion that the UTHF was the likely winner and this was confirmed with the USOC’s announcement in May 2008.

Since that time Mariusz Wartalowicz has been hired the new Federation… while Bogdan Pasat was not. This was at least partly due to a negative article he wrote on the new Federation in August of last year. If you check out the comments you‘ll notice his quotation of an email he received from Steve Pastorino: And, of course, most recently we have the announcement of a new Federation, the American Team Handball Federation (ATHF), which sounds curiously like the name of the failed bid, American Team Handball Association (ATHA).

[b]Possible Agendas[/b]

Now as I head into this section, I’m treading into an area that I try to stay out of for the most part. This is because, even if you can make a compelling argument, you can never prove what people are thinking.

[b]The ATHF Agenda?[/b]

Let’s start out with an interesting, “what if” scenario to contemplate what might be behind some of the ATHF motivation: What if we still didn’t have a new Federation? How would the USOC view an organization staging the Miami Tournament and how would that impact NGB selection? Clearly it would have given instant credibility to an ATHA resume which was long on handball experience, but pretty thin on business related management. Arguably, (and of course we’ll never know) it would have tipped the scales to the USOC selecting the ATHA as the NGB. Surely, the ATHA crowd has contemplated this timing at least at the subconscious level.

The reality is, though, that the Utah bid was selected and they’ve already become the NGB for USA Team Handball. Or as Cristian Zaharia, mentioned 6 times in the answers to the questions I sent him, they have become the “probationary NGB” for USA Team Handball. I guess there could be a number of reasons to fixate on the word, probationary, but one of those reasons might be to emphasize that USA Team Handball’s position isn’t permanent and could be taken away. And, if it was taken away by the USOC for poor execution, could NGB status then be bestowed on another organization…..? Perhaps an organization with proven Handball management know-how as evidenced by a flawlessly executed Miami Tournament?

Further fueling speculation on possible motivation are some of the answers to written questions the ATHF provided to Team Handball News shortly after it was established While the ATHF is set up as a for-profit Federation, many of the goals it sets for itself are towards developing the sport. While sports development is a worthy cause, it’s generally not a profitable undertaking. Additionally, it appears that the ATHF wants to go forward with these development plans with no coordination with the not-for-profit entity trying to accomplish the same end result. If you’re truly seeking to develop the sport, logic dictates that you would seek common ground with another organization with similar long term goals.

[b]The USA Team Handball Agenda?[/b]

The same “what if” scenario also applies when assessing USA Team Handball motivation. Perhaps USA Team Handball is also concerned with their probationary status and the slow start they’ve had since being established last May. Could they see the ATHF as a threat to their long term viability? Possibly, but my sense is that they probably already feel somewhat safe with the working relationships that they have established with the USOC. It would probably take multiple missteps at this juncture to have their NGB status stripped.

What then could be their motivation to insist on sanctioning and dissolution of the ATHF?

The stated reason that the ATHF muddies the water while they are trying to establish partnerships and sponsorships has some validity, but I would argue that potential partners and sponsors are smart enough to know the difference. Additionally, it doesn’t explain the negative attitude that USA Team Handball had with the tournament from the first inkling of its existence. I saw this first hand at the summit meeting in St Louis last year when comments that I made that the new Federation should embrace the tournament were not seen in a very positive light.

Furthermore, the new Federation saw to it that one of their first acts was to have the newly minted competition rulebook specifically address international tournaments in its own section. This section, Article VII, spelled out the need for sanctioning, numerous fees and gate percentage requirements. As a long time observer of Handball in the USA, I thought that the whole section was unwarranted and out of place. Why 5 years ago, no one would have even contemplated such a tournament even happening. The thought that we would actually try and set up barriers to make it less likely to happen was absurd.

As there was a comment period for review, I submitted the following comment concerning Article VII last September:
Rationale: I find this entire section troubling as it appears to be primarily directed at the Miami French Coupe de la Ligue tournament. Adding this section appears to be petty and symptomatic of the “not invented here” syndrome that has plagued Team Handball in the past. Quite frankly, USA Team Handball should be embracing the Miami tournament instead of creating new rules to try and undermine it. Besides my personal opinion of what seems to be underlying this section, I don’t think it fits into the basic construct of a “competition rulebook.” Not sure where it belongs, but it should be codified somewhere else.”

Needless to say this is one comment that was not accepted during the review process.

As I don’t find a whole lot or rational reasons for USA Team Handball’s negative attitude towards the Miami Tournament my gut feeling is that it is primarily a case of the “not invented here” syndrome in action. For the simple reason that the Miami Tournament wasn’t their baby an overtly and somewhat irrational negative posture has been exhibited.

[b]Playing Nice[/b]

So my basic premise here is that neither side in this conflict comes clean due to their underlying agendas. USA Team Handball appears to be against the tournament for the simple reason it wasn’t their idea and then writes a specific section in a new rule book to legislate against it. The Miami Tournament organizers ignore the sanctioning requirements and then create a new Federation to thumb their nose at USA Team Handball. USA Team Handball then seeks to go above the Miami Tourney organizers with mediation by the IHF and threats of further consequences.

As often is the case in a confrontation, each side has upped the ante as this has played out. What is frustrating to me as a somewhat informed observer is that this confrontation is truly pointless. Why is it pointless? Sadly, in life there are situations in which only one side can win. You win because you beat the other guy. This conflict is pointless because it doesn’t have to be that way. It really doesn’t take a genius to come up with a compromise which is a win-win for both sides. Case in point, this earlier blog post which highlighted one framework that was win-win. Surely, there are other constructs as well.

So why wasn’t a compromise reached? I suspect, and there’s really no way I can prove this, that either one or both sides are simply not playing nice in the sandbox. Steve Pastorino chose the “on the record” comment of being treated with contempt to characterize his discussion with the ATHF on this topic. Cristian Zaharia was pretty clear that they didn’t think they needed USA Team Handball permission to do anything. (If your position is 180 out from what the other side wants it’s a little harder to have a dialogue) My guess is that there wasn’t much conversation, if any, and this simple lack of conversation is exacerbating the problem. Maybe somebody like the IHF or the French Federation, even if their actual jurisdiction role is questionable, can get both sides talking to each other and then maybe cooler heads will prevail.

But, if cooler heads won’t prevail it’s important to remember that some battles aren’t worth fighting

Coming up
[b]Part 3: Some Battles aren’t Worth Fighting[/b]