Chicago’s first round exit in its bid to host the 2016 Olympics was a major blow to USA Team Handball. Gone is the automatic qualification that would have come with the bid as is the millions of dollars in sponsorship funding and other ancillary benefits. But, it is not the end of the line for USA Team Handball. Here is my attempt to find some silver lining in Rio’s selection and Chicago’s defeat.
1) Brazil, as host nation won’t factor into 2016 Olympic qualification for the PANAM region. Brazil has been the Men’s and Women’s PANAM region representative for every Olympiad since 1996. In recent years the number 2 and 3 teams, Argentina and Cuba, have been near peers of Brazil, but clearly if I had to choose one nation to avoid it would be Brazil. (Of course, this may be academic if a new North American Federation is created and given an Olympic berth.)
2) Olympic Channel back on track. The proposed US Olympic Network (USON) was put on hold at the request of the IOC. http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.811 With the U.S. now on the outside looking in, don’t be surprised if it is soon pursued with more vigor. After all what’s the IOC going to do now to punish the USOC?
3) Loosening of USOC strings. While the Olympic connection is a financial and marketing boon, it also can be a crutch with strings attached and sometimes unrealistic expectations. The USOC will continue to support USA Team Handball, but their support is likely to be half-hearted. As such, there’s even more incentive to pursue non-Olympic related support from the IHF, HBL, Liga Asobal and others. In the long run if we can convince those entities to fully pursue Handball in the USA we could become like some other USA sports federations, who see the USOC and the Olympics as simply one element of their many pronged activities.
4) No freebie qualification for 2016 means more intense focus on earning a spot. We won’t have to worry about any complacency in terms of National Team preparation. Back in the 1993 time frame I had the distinct impression that USA Team Handball was in a bit of a holding pattern before they got re-energized with a full-fledged program move to Atlanta. Perhaps a year or two of preparation and focus was lost with the realization that there was no way we weren’t participating in the 96 games. That’s not to say that sort of thing was going to happen again, but any kind of holding back is simply a non-starter when qualifying is a matter of “do or die.” And sometimes that predicament is the little extra edge and motivation a team needs to take it to the next level.
5) Not hosting in 2016 means 2020 is now a possibility. I’ve been waiting patiently for a glimpse of USA Team Handball’s long range plans for National Team development. I can speculate as to what those plans are and I’m sure that fielding strong teams for 2016 were and still are a big part of it. But, while seven years may seem like a long time to prepare, it really isn’t if you’re starting a program from nearly scratch. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to think that the U.S. could put together a medal caliber team in 7 years time, but with 11 years to work with even a cynic will admit that it’s at least feasible. Project kids starting out with the sport at ages 13-17; in 2020 those kids will be 24-28 and theoretically in their prime. Now the scenario could be qualify in 2016, have that core group of athletes continue improving for another 4 years, then pull off a medal in 2020 on home soil.
So there’s my attempt at a silver lining and surely it’s a futile one. There’s no denying that I’d much rather be writing about how to capitalize on an American Olympics. But, there’s also no denying reality. It’s time to move on.