Dialog with the EHF Leadership in the aftermath of the ‘Extraordinary’ EHF Congress

Following the recent EHF Congress, I contacted the EHF Management in the hope of obtaining some substantive comments on a number of issues that seemed to have particular relevance in the context of the Congress agenda. Here are the responses to my questions that have now been provided by Messrs. Lian, Brihault and Wiederer. We thank them for their willingness to respond.

[i]1. One of the issues for the Congress was the format for qualification events for national teams; what are your main objectives when you now consider changing the format again? [/i]
A new qualification system, with home and away matches, has been implemented for the first time for the 2010 championship. When the decision had been made it had been decided to assess this system and propose adaptations. This is what was done at the last congress. The global idea is to preserve home and away matches, to offer every nation the possibility to be involved and to mobilize public and press interest. This will be achieved through the two-phase organization which should make it possible to avoid – or at least greatly reduce – the number of uninteresting games for which TV coverage was difficult to obtain and costly. To summarize, we will see 7 groups of 4 nations with 2 teams qualifying from each group to play together with the organizer and the defending champions at the EHF EURO 2012

[i]2. What are your expectations for the 2009-10 edition of the Champions League? If one compared with the more streamlined situation in football, is there any risk that the large number of different club competitions for both men and women could detract from the focus on the Champions League? [/i]
It seems that the CL is clearly identified as THE top club competition and other cups do not enjoy any comparable prestige. The advance booking for the final four is going extremely well and we shall have to analyze the final result. Clearly the new formula (reduction of the number of participant teams, last sixteen, quarterfinal, final four, global concentration) has made the competition more exciting and easier to understand.

[i]3. You had an interesting proposal for a ‘Strategic Forum’ for all stakeholders, but unfortunately it did not gain the necessary majority; what do you plan to do to obtain stronger support for such an initiative in the near future?[/i]
The outcome of the EO congress will be analyzed at the next executive committee meeting. It is the firm intention of the leadership of the EHF to continue in the same direction concerning what has to be achieved, but a pedagogical approach has to be adopted to make the nations understand that they are not being deprived of any power, quite the opposite.

[i]4. Your focus in recent time has been on a dialog with federations, clubs and their representatives: how do intend to ensure that you get a similar dialog directly with the players and their representatives, and what would you hope to get out of such a dialog?[/i]
Players have over the past few years expressed a wish for this dialogue and we tried to implement the concept of athletes’ commission as understood by the IOC. Clearly this has not been very productive. It may be hoped that the new concept will convince the players that it is indispensable for them to be involved. With them, the EHF will have to design an appropriate form of communication and an adequate structure.

[i]5. In the aftermath of a flurry of revelations about bribery attempts and other forms of corruption, you have acted fast to create a structure with guidelines, expectations, reporting channels etc. What do you now anticipate: will this effort alone help make federations and clubs come to their senses so that the problem cases fizzle out, or will the existence of clear reporting channels make it likely that we will see relatively more revelations? [/i]
It may work both ways: more discipline because of our vigilance, but also more revelations for the same reason. It seems that the first signals have been understood and approved by a majority of national federations. It is still too early to anticipate on the final outcome.

[i]6. Personally I agree with those who feel that the main deterrence comes from very tough action in those cases that are discovered; do you now have a more explicit set of guidelines for penalties in your Regulations and do you intend to take a tougher line in future cases now that everyone has been so firmly forewarned? [/i]
It seems that the new guidelines are quite tough as may be judged from the comments after the first punishments have been imposed. This is quite clearly the type of situation where we have to observe the new developments and adapt. The fact that we have signed on an independent professional expert may help.

[i]7. It appears that handball is more and more becoming affected by betting, unfortunately then with a risk for the emergence of illegal betting activities such as through the notorious Asian gambling mafia; how do you weigh the potentially good and bad impact of betting, and do you really feel equipped to handle the negative side, especially in view of EHF’s vast competition structure?[/i]
We are working on the issue with other team sports that have implemented an alarm system concerning betting.

[i]8. From your vantage points, with two of you holding senior positions in both organizations, how would you characterize the co-existence between the EHF and the IHF at this point in time? Mostly strains due to different objectives or a lot of synergy? [/i]
The two perspectives differ and we are working together in order to articulate them.

[i]9. The IHF has announced an intention to ‘beef up’ its web page, and an increase in transparency would certainly be healthy. From the experience of the EHF in the areas of PR and communications, what advice would you be able to offer the colleagues in the IHF?[/i]
Advice has not been requested, if this becomes the case, it will be forthcoming.

[i]10. The IHF will soon have an extraordinary Congress to deal with possible changes in the By-Laws, and a working group is being formed. I was a bit surprised to see that the EHF is not represented, but I assume this does not mean you are without opinions and preferences on the matter. Could you tell us about some changes that you think would be particularly important? [/i]
Clearly the leadership of the IHF has decided to put legal experts in charge. One of the issues at stake certainly is the definition of a more satisfactory articulation between the IHF and the continents. This, however, is inevitably connected to the various degrees of development of handball on the various continents.

[i]11. Finally, going back to the EHF: with the recent Congress as an opportunity to take stock, what do you see as the main challenges for the EHF moving forward? [/i]
The EHF has to get its members to understand that due to the efforts of each member federation and the work of the EHF, handball has changed greatly from what it was when the EHF was founded; hence a whole series of new questions like qualitative demands for the organization of main events or even participation in such major competitions as the CL, articulation with the stakeholders, workload for players, attempts at corruption, etc. At the end of the day our challenge is to articulate a high level of expertise with a democratic philosophy.