In search of a Handball Invictus

The sports movie is as American as apple pie. American football has Brian’s Song and Remember the Titans. Baseball has Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and the Natural. Basketball has Hoosiers and Hockey has Miracle! and Slap Shot. Soccer has Goal! and Victory. And now Rugby has Invictus.

Invictus (Latin for unbeaten), opened in theaters this weekend in North America and South Africa. The film depicts South Africa’s 1995 Rugby World Cup championship and Nelson Mandela’s statesmanship in using his support of the “whiteman’s game” to help bring his country together. The film is directed by Clint Eastwood and stars Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as the South African team captain, Francois Pienaar. It’s a wonderful story line and there is already talk of it being an Oscar contender.

Aside from the movie itself, the promotional impact for the sport of Rugby in the U.S. will be massive. Commercials have been frequently promoting the movie during NFL and college American football games. Literally, millions of potential fans/players will see the movie either in theaters or DVD in the coming year. For youngsters not familiar with the sport, they will soon be asking where can I play this game. For old timers with misconceptions, it will be their first real exposure to the sport and it will squash whatever notions they had that rugby is merely an excuse for college kids to drink beer. Follow on effects will be more players and more customer demand for matches on TV. Add in Rugby 7’s (a modified version of the 15 a side game) recent inclusion to the Olympic program and you could not ask for a better publicity blitz.

Right now, one can only dream of a Team Handball movie with the kind of star power and promotion Invictus has behind it. There have been a couple of films with Handball themes. Korea’s “Forever the Moment” chronicles the 2004 Women’s Olympic team and did pretty good business in that country. The independent film “Machan” tells a fictionalized version of the phony Sri Lankan Handball team that used handball as a ploy to emigrate to Europe. These are nice films, but you really need major studio backing to have an Invictus like impact.

You also would need a compelling story and right now I’m not aware of any Handball story that could be sold to a major studio. Maybe an Iceland Gold medal in Beijing would have fit the bill, but it lacks the inner conflict that South Africa had in 1995 or the USSR-USA rivalry backdrop that USA hockey had in 1980. Maybe Bosnia & Herzegovina could go on an improbable run to an Olympic medal with a multi-ethnic team of Bosnians, Croats and Serbs playing side by side. Certainly, that would be an achievement, but still it would be tough to sell a sport even less well known than rugby.

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VIDEO: Invictus Trailer
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