IHF Memo Misleads and Fails to Address Key Issues

The recent IHF Memo http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.719 purports to inform the Presidents of National Federations “of the situation that now prevails concerning the governance of handball worldwide. But, if its intent was to truly inform, it falls far short of doing so.

Instead, the memo partially addresses some of the charges, obliquely refers to others and flat out ignores the most damning one. In the extended post, I go through the memo line by line, pointing out the contradictions, omissions and in some cases even provide a courtesy translation.

In short, the memo fails in the following ways:
1) It fails to identify specific allegations. Instead there are oblique references to allegations that are then simply categorized as rumours or false information. In reality, the basic facts surrounding many of the allegations are not disputable. If the IHF wants to state that “something” is false, they should clearly state what that “something” is.
2) In regards to the Muhlematter presentation, the Federation Presidents are essentially being told, “trust the IHF Council, everything was misleading”.
3) It flat out ignores the IHF leadership’s direct involvement with the most egregious controversy; namely the improper assignment of referees for the fixed Kuwait-South Korea Olympic Qualification match and it’s follow on failure to proactively address the controversy.

What I also find somewhat amusing is the, “blame it on the press” mantra of the memo. It’s not as if the press is a collective organized body that woke up one morning and said “Let’s go after the IHF.” Reporters and bloggers don’t speak with one voice (at least in most countries). Pick any controversial issue and you can generally find reporting that slants to either side of the issue. There are exceptions, of course, and rest assured if only one side of an issue is willing to address questions suspicions arise. If the Federation was truly interested in transparency they should hold a press conference and answer questions until reporters got bored and left. Sending a one sided dictate with no real information isn’t fooling me and it shouldn’t fool anybody.

For my detailed analysis of the memo see the extended post.

Memo text is in Black, [color=#ff0000]Commentary is in Red[/color]

Basle, 27th March 2009

To the Members of the Council,
To the Member Federations

Dear President, Dear handball friend,

“It is not customary for us to address you directly on IHF matters.”
[color=#ff0000]Commentary: Why on Earth would it be “not customary” to address the Presidents of the national Federations directly on IHF matters? One would think that regular dialogue would be routine and relatively frequent in this modern age of electronic communication. [/color]

However, as a number of those we have met recently have asked us questions about reports and articles published in the press over the last few months, we find it necessary to keep you informed of the situation that now prevails concerning the governance of handball worldwide.
[color=#ff0000]Translation: We’ve been getting a lot of critical questions about reports and articles in the press. Rather than responding to those reports by engaging with the media either through interviews or a press conference we’ve written this memo which will selectively address some of the charges, obliquely refer to others and flat out ignore the most damning one.[/color]

Already at the time of the Women’s World Championship 2007 some German papers and magazines had published attacks against the IHF, its President and its Treasurer.
[color=#ff0000]Translation: Some German papers published some articles concerning the Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament scandal in Japan. Not to mention the embarrassing TV videos (German and Korean) which clearly showed the likelihood of a fixed match having taken place. Additionally, some allegations concerning finances at the IHF started to surface. [/color]

The source of this information was not known then and the Council, meeting in Paris in December 2007, expressed its approval to the way IHF business was conducted by those in charge.
[color=#ff0000]Translation: It was bad enough that there was no way we could sweep the Olympic Qualification scandal under the rug, somebody with inside information was adding fuel to the fire. Reluctantly, we had to agree to a replay tournament. Apparently, everybody in the Council thought that this whole thing would eventually blow over if we simply corrected the situation.[/color]

Again, on the occasion of the Men’s World Championship 2009, held in Croatia, attacks against the IHF appeared in the German and Swiss press, thus partly deflecting attention from a very successful competition to focus on rumours concerning the governance of handball worldwide. This time it was clear that the Secretary General of the IHF was the source of the false information conveyed to the media.
[color=#ff0000]Commentary: The choice of the words “attacks”, “rumours” and “false information” is clearly in the eye of the beholder. Some of the information contained in the numerous articles is not disputable, while the veracity of other information is open to debate. In particular, no one is disputing the events surrounding the Olympic Qualification Tournament and the CAS report http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.535 is pretty thorough in its breakdown of the IHF’s involvement and culpability. In terms of finance allegations, Dr Moustafa doesn’t deny that he didn’t provide receipts for $500,000 worth of travel, he just maintains that it’s simply not required. The doping related allegations are open to some interpretation. I don’t think anyone is maintaining that several players on the Egyptian National Team were not mysteriously scratched from the roster in a Pre Olympic tournament in Athens when they found out that they were going to be drug tested if they played. I also, have a hard time believing that the two doctors that resigned their membership of the IHF’s doping committee are liars when they said that their commission was not adequately funded and it is interesting to note that this funding has now reappeared.[/color]

As a consequence, it was decided that the Council of the IHF, meeting in Zagreb on the last week-end of the World Championship, would devote as much time as necessary to a clarification of the situation.

For four hours the Secretary General had the opportunity to present all the arguments and documents he wished, to prove his point that the IHF executives were not properly fulfilling their duties particularly in the fields of
– Financial matters,
– Administration,
– Anti-doping policy,
– Staff management.

The former managing director of the IHF was called in to attend this four-hour session as most of the facts and situations happened when he held office. Mr. Mühlematter produced a file of documents and, in his presentation, concentrated mainly on financial issues. [color=#ff0000](Commentary: Not sure why the focus was on financial matter; a full accounting of the Asian Olympic Qualification circumstances might have been a little more revealing.)[/color]

The Council members first expressed their deepest regrets that the Secretary General of the IHF should have chosen to go to the press to express his grievances without ever mentioning them in an official IHF meeting. [color=#ff0000](Commentary: If, in fact, Mr Muhlematter never expressed these grievances to the Council prior to going to the press, then that was indeed a breach of protocol.)[/color] Second, they rapidly realized the misleading nature of the documents presented. In particular, it appeared that only the expense side of certain financial transactions was made available, thus creating an impression that was completely reversed as soon as the corresponding income side was shown. [color=#ff0000](Commentary: If you’re going to make a point on something like this, you need to provide a concrete example. This is essentially a meaningless statement without any further context provided.)[/color]

The Council members repeatedly asked the Secretary General to produce at least one financial document that would prove convincing – this was never done. Concerning financial questions, it was finally underlined that the accounts of the IHF were regularly checked by internal auditors, by a professional supervisory firm and presented on the occasion of every IHF Congress and that none of them had ever found any fault. [color=#ff0000](Commentary: OK, without receipts for business travel, just exactly how is an auditor to determine whether funds were spent properly? I believe in the trust, but verify philosophy. Without receipts you can’t verify.)[/color]

Though no oral presentation was given by Mr. Mühlematter on administrative issues, the Council members underlined the misleading nature of the documents they had been supplied with. Once again only partial information was provided and totally taken out of context. [color=#ff0000](Commentary: Again, without more detail concerning the documents you aren’t really proving anything. Trust us, the documents were misleading. Sorry, I saw the Kuwait – Korea tape, seeing is believing.)[/color]

At the end of this four-hour session, the Council considered that the allegations conveyed in the press were unfounded and that they had seriously damaged the image of handball and that of the IHF. They therefore invited Mr. Mühlematter to offer his resignation. This was refused, as in the IHF Bylaws no provision exists that makes it possible for the Council to force a member into resignation. [color=#ff0000](Commentary: I much prefer the use of the term “allegations” but, again there is no reasoning or justification as to why any of the allegations are unfounded.”)[/color]

A motion was then produced by the Council expressing condemnation of the action conducted by the Secretary General and stating the above-mentioned facts. In the ensuing vote the President and the Treasurer abstained, being considered as targets of the attacks launched by the Secretary General, they could not pass judgement on themselves. The final result was one vote against the motion (Mühlematter), all other votes in favour.

After this meeting, when it seemed that the situation had been clarified and after the Council had clearly expressed its disapproval of the method of communication used by the Secretary General, Mr. Mühlematter gave an interview to a Swiss television channel where he once again expressed unfounded accusations against the IHF and presented himself as the “white knight” of international handball. [color=#ff0000](Commentary: Why doesn’t Dr Moustafa find someone (anyone) within the press establishment to respond to the allegations. When only one side appears willing to talk people are inclined to think that the other side has something they’d rather hide.)[/color]

Among the accusations that have been fed to the press, the one concerning doping is potentially extremely damaging and we also wish to supply you with information on this point.

Basically, the IHF was accused of not fulfilling its obligations concerning anti-doping measures and quite understandably, journalists, during the Men’s World Championship kept asking us questions about this issue.

It must be absolutely clear that the IHF is fully committed to a clean sport and to the global anti-doping strategy prevailing worldwide. This commitment finds its financial translation in the 2008 budget whose line concerning anti-doping amounts to 45000 CHF.
[color=#ff0000]Commentary: So were Dr Holdhaus and Dr Kastrup lying when they said that they were not adequately funded? Or maybe, just maybe, their speaking out resulted in the money miraculously reappearing in the budget.[/color]

There is, however, a technical difficulty that concerns all team sports and which the IHF is currently trying to overcome. In partnership with the IOC, ASOIF and WADA and upon our express request, we are trying to design a control system applicable to team sports and that respects the athletes’ individual liberty. This approach on our part is the clear sign of our commitment to a worldwide struggle against doping and in favour of a clean sport and we very much regret that on this question again, totally wrong information should have been supplied to the press by the Secretary General.

In addition to the above-mentioned, it seems that the IHF Secretary General is collaborating with Mr. Gerd Butzeck, former member of the IHF Commission for Promotion and Public Relations, who was dismissed from the IHF due to infringement. Mr. Butzeck in his position as the General Manager of the Group Club Handball EEIG, raised accusations in a press release, most of which are similar to those groundless ones brought up by the IHF Secretary General during the IHF Council meeting in Zagreb (CRO) and which had been rejected by the Council.
[color=#ff0000]Commentary: Sorry, for the broken record here, but most of the facts surrounding these accusations aren’t really open to debate. Certainly, it can be argued as to whether the Olympic Qualification tournament was handled properly, whether it’s OK not to keep travel receipts and whether the drug testing program was being adequately supported, but you can’t just dismiss the arguments as groundless.
Oh, and another point, the IHF neglected to point out that this wasn’t a one man’s opinion press release. The GCH press release indicates that it was a unanimous opinion of the leaders of the 24 top professional clubs in Europe. OK, IHF can you explain how these 24 clubs all got duped by these allegations?[/color]

The General Manager of the Group Club Handball EEIG planned to form a private handball league and got into conflict with the European Handball Federation. The IHF is deeply frustrated about such harmful initiative and supports the European Handball Federation against this gentleman. Both Mr. Mühlematter and Mr. Butzeck are in direct contact with journalists in Germany, France and Denmark to publish their false information.
[color=#ff0000]Commentary: OK, as an American who lived in France for 5 years, I don’t know if Europeans are quite ready for a true super league where night after night the world’s best players play each other. Who wants that when we can get Kiel-Essen and other mismatches on a regular basis in tiny arenas? So, I don’t see that necessarily this as a “harmful initiative”. But, that’s beside the point and the basis for another commentary. This whole EHF-GCG diatribe is pretty irrelevant to the supposed point of this memo. But perhaps it was needed for an EHF signature? [/color]

A number of you have strongly recommended that the IHF should take advantage of the Swiss law that makes it possible for an association to make one of its responsible office-bearers leave office having caused damage to the association. We have no doubt that we are clearly placed in such a situation. However, we consider that we should stick to our Bylaws and let the Congress decide how it wants world handball to be governed.
[color=#ff0000][b]Commentary: Here! Here! I’ve found common ground with the IHF. The election in June is exactly how this should be handled.[/b][/color]

As you may imagine, this is not a pleasant letter for us to write. We, nevertheless, have the feeling that it was our duty to keep you informed of the situation prevailing inside the Executive Committee of the IHF. (Translation: As you may imagine, we would prefer that these allegations never saw the light of day. It’s our hope that this obliquely written letter which doesn’t really address anything will fool enough potential voters into 4 more years) We can assure you that our sport has shown its worth to the world again on the occasion of the World Championship in Croatia, and we have no doubt that, on the basis of our joint efforts, it will continue its fantastic progress in the years to come.

Dear President, dear friend, we thank you for your attention and send you our best regards.

Dr. Hassan Moustafa, President, International Handball Federation
Tor Lian, Vice-President IHF, President EHF
[color=#ff0000](Commentary: Frequent readers to this website will not have a hard time finding praise for the efforts of the EHF to promote the sport. They have an excellent website and the marketing insight to provide products like EHFtv for free. I’ve often wondered where Handball would be positioned internationally if the IHF office was managed by the EHF staff. Because of this, I am totally at a loss as to why the EHF leadership has aligned itself with the current President.)[/color]
Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, Vice-President IHF, President AHF
[color=#ff0000](Commentary: For more on the Sheikh, be sure to read the CAS report http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.535 on his phone calls with Dr Moustafa regarding referee assignments for the Kuwait- Korea qualification match)[/color]
Mansourou A. Aremou, Vice-President IHF, President CAHB
Manoel Luiz Oliveira, Vice-President IHF, President PATHF
[color=#ff0000](Commentary: Manoel Luiz Oliveira deserves a lot of credit for transforming Brazilian handball into one of the best non-European programs in the world. His handling, however of a number of PATHF issues related to qualification tournaments has been found wanting by this North American.)[/color]