IHF Council misses its chance for an “I am Spartacus” moment

The recent Group Club Handball (GCH) press release http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.695 was mostly a rehash of several irregularities that have allegedly taken place over the past few years under the leadership of IHF President Hassan Moustafa. One aspect of the release, however, was particularly striking to me and that was news that the IHF Council had [u]unanimously[/u] voted to censure Secretary General, Peter Muhlematter. Muhlematter has been leading the charge in recent months to publicize the allegations of irregularities and this obviously has not sit well with the IHF leadership. The GCH release goes further to state that the leaders of the top 24 clubs in Europe unanimously agreed that Moustafa, not Muhlematter, is the problem.

What’s to make of all this? Well, I can’t vouch for the veracity of all the allegations, but as the saying goes, “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.” And one of the allegations, the Asian Olympic Qualification scandal, can be considered fact as far as I’m concerned, since it is very well documented in the independent CAS report. I would challenge anyone who has read the report http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.535 to not come to the conclusion that President Moustafa’s actions and inactions were scandalous and not what one would expect from the President of an International Sport Organization. Quite frankly, maintaining the integrity of the sport is the #1 responsibility of the IHF President. Simply having something like that happen under your watch is grounds for replacement. Actively taking part in its actual occurrence is unconscionable.

So, it’s not surprising to me that President Moustafa would seek to silence Mr Muhlematter. But it is bewildering that it was not just Moustafa, as the IHF Council unanimously agreed to seek his resignation. The Council membership (see below), includes several representatives that know or should know better.

[b]IHF Council[/b]
Dr Hassan MOUSTAFA (EGY), President
Mansourou A. AREMOU (BEN), Vice-President Africa
Bader AL-THEYAB (KUW), Vice-President Asia
Tor LIAN (NOR), Vice-President Europe
Manoel Luiz OLIVEIRA (BRA), Vice-President Pan-America
Peter MÜHLEMATTER (SUI), Secretary General
Miguel ROCA MAS (ESP), Treasurer
Christer AHL (USA), PRC President
Naser ABU MARZOUQ (KUW), CCM President
François GNAMIAN (CIV), MC President
Carin NILSSON GREEN (SWE), CPP President
Nicole Christiane ASSELE (BEN), Representative Africa
Yoshihide WATANABE (JPN), Representative Asia
Jean BRIHAULT (FRA ), Representative Europe
Mario Garcia DE LA TORRE (MEX), Representative Pan-America
Source: IHF: http://www.ihf.info/front_content.php?idcat=109

A lot of analogies and references to popular culture strike me as appropriate: The Emperor’s new clothes: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_emperor_has_no_clothes and ostriches with their heads in the sand http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2006/11/02/1777947.htm are a couple. Perhaps the best one is the climactic scene in the movie, Spartacus, (video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOCsNrzlV2k&feature=related) where the slaves are offered leniency if they turn in Spartacus. As Spartacus, rises up to turn himself in someone else calls out that he is actually Spartacus. Others join in and a chorus of “I am Spartacus” ensues. Only those that attended the Council Meeting can fully attest to what occurred, but it’s pretty clear that “Spartacus” was turned in at this meeting as no one joined the chorus. The other IHF Council members when given a chance to stand up for what some of them surely felt was right, stayed quiet. And even worse, they took the other side.

Why? That’s the question I’m asking. Most likely, the underlying reason, is that the Council members believe that despite the irregularities, President Moustafa is not going anywhere, anytime soon. There may be a IHF Presidential election coming up in June, but it appears that he has the requisite votes for re-election. And with the deadline (4 March) for candidates to apply fast approaching and no one stepping forward as an alternative his re-election could be a foregone conclusion. Faced with this ”inevitability”, one can infer that the Council members decided that they would rather have a seat at the table than follow Mr Muhlematter out the door. There’s a number of reasons why someone might rationalize such a choice. One reason, could be the personally selfish one to continue the benefits that IHF Council membership provides. Sure, there’s work involved, but attending premier handball events for free is a pretty nice side benefit. Undoubtedly, there are also organizational concerns and continental representatives want to continue to ensure that their regional interests are served. Finally, others probably feel that maybe they can be a force for good on the inside and that if they leave, someone worse will take their place.

I can understand the rationale for these reasons, but at some point you just have to say, “Enough is enough. Can we really not do any better than this?” What’s more, if there’s more than one lonely voice out there, more people will usually speak up. Say what you want about the Spartacus analogy, but I’ve seen versions of it play out in both my personal and professional lives. Sometimes the majority is silently waiting for someone else to speak first or even more critically for a couple of respected individuals to “second” what the original voice has started. And then once that critical tipping point is reached everyone starts wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.

Call me naïve, but I have a hard time believing that a qualified and respected member of the International Handball community couldn’t win an election against the current President. Heck, such a candidate should be able to win on a simple pledge to keep continental qualifying events clean and to fill out a travel voucher with receipts on every trip. But perhaps I am naïve, as no such candidate is stepping forward. And more importantly some individuals who should be looking for and supporting such a candidate are instead complacently lining up with the current President.

Be forewarned IHF Council Members, you reap what you sow.