The Voice of the Players – Some Further Thoughts

My recent article on the inadequate opportunities for the players to be heard caused a lot of feedback, including suggestions for further aspects that needed to be covered. So here we go!

One point that was made quite strongly by some readers was that it is important to understand that the clubs can [u]not[/u] be relied upon to serve as the communications channels for the concerns and the ideas of the players. While the clubs depend on players for their success, the main issues and priorities of the clubs are still different from those of the players. It is more like the traditional interplay between employer and employees. In addition, club managers and coaches sometimes incorrectly tend to believe that they know and understand the issues of the players, perhaps even better than the players themselves. This is a dilemma that is important for national and international federations to recognize.

But the players themselves cannot then just sit back and rely on the benevolence of others. The players need to think of different ways to organize themselves so that their views are heard and so that the necessary pressure can be put on clubs and federations. This may argue for full-fledged ‘unionization’, or at least some other type of formal associations. Also, players need to think about the longer term, instead of being happy with their seemingly problem-free existence here and now. Many issues can arise over an extended career. Similarly, there needs to exist a strong sense of solidarity among all the players; not everyone has the stature and the ‘bargaining power’ of a recognized star player.

Federations need to be prepared to deal [u]directly[/u] with the players and their representatives, not just through the clubs and other intermediaries. Therefore, for instance, when the EHF now talks about the implementation of a ‘European Handball Strategic Forum’ for all stakeholders, including ‘Clubs and Players’, then it is important that clubs and players are seen as two [u]separate[/u] groups! Similarly, the IHF has an Athletes Commission, but only on paper. The athletes have had no real influence through this group. This must change, and perhaps a new format is needed, with a direct integration into the normal decision-making bodies of the IHF. I will come back to this separately, when discussing appropriate By-Law changes.

The necessity of listening to the views and concerns of the players should really be self-evident. Their collective role constitutes the ‘product’ handball; what clubs and federations provide is ‘just’ the structure or vehicle needed for the players to display their skills. But taking into account the views of the players is not just an obligation for the sake of the players. They have, individually and collectively, the kind of experience and insights that enables them to contribute with ideas and proposals in many areas of the operations and the decision-making of a federation. It would be crazy, and a matter of negligence, to ignore this resource!