A World Championship serves many purposes, so there are inevitably conflicting objectives and views regarding the best format. Almost any format will help us determine the medal winners in a fair manner. But beyond that, there are many different opinions.
Some argue that a World Championship with x teams should have as it overriding objective the participation of the x best teams in the world. (It seems to me that football could argue that they come close to that, but no one has explained how this could be easily achieved in a sport like handball). Others note that the main thing is to have close and exciting games between evenly matched teams, for the sake of attractive TV coverage and good PR for our sport. But many remind us that we are talking about a [u]World[/u] Championship and that all continents must have a chance to participate fully.
Unfortunately, there has been too little debate about how these seemingly conflicting objectives could come together under one particular format. Most of the ‘debate’ has focused on whether 24 teams should be divided into 6 groups of 4 or into 4 groups of 6. Sorry, but this is just a bit too ‘myopic’. If experienced people came together, surely many interesting ideas could come out of a thorough and uninhibited brainstorming. I am prepared to offer one particular idea, without any claims that it is the ‘best’ idea, let alone the only idea. But at least it shows that one can find ways of combining objectives.
The teams from the non-European continents want to participate in THE World Championship. They do not want to be told to go and play in a ‘B’ World Championship. They want to see and learn from the top teams. But they are sometimes a bit naïve: I read that the players from Thailand saw it as’ the best thing that had ever happened to them’ that they had had the chance to play against Russia, even if they lost 8-45. I am afraid that nobody else is interested in, or helped by, such a game. This is not why we organize a World Championship.
But there are stronger teams, ‘just below the top’, from all continents, who genuinely want to have a chance to play against solid teams from other continents, where the winners advance to the final stages and games against the real top teams. These teams deserve such a chance. And it should happen within the framework of one big event.
The top teams, who often also have many of the top individual players, who are already ‘stretched to the limit’ in their club teams, probably would not mind an event that is somewhat shortened for them and where they avoid some of the most one-sided games. So what does this point to?
The idea would be to keep 24 teams (qualifying in the same way as the 24 teams who are now in China) but to allow 8 top teams to go directly to a ‘main round’, saving 4-5 days for them. These would be the highest-seeded teams, but with the caveat that Africa, America, and Asia would need to be represented among the 8, so typically there would be the top 5 Europeans and 3 Continental champions.
The teams ranked 9-24 would play in 4 preliminary groups of 4, with more or less the current seeding procedures, so that the teams would get to play teams from the other continents. The best two in each group would advance to the main round, while the lowest two would go to a President’s Cup for the places 17-24, ensuring them enough games in total to make the experience worthwhile.
In the ‘main round’, there would again be 4 groups of 4, with 2 of the 8 top teams in each group, together with 2 each of the other 8 teams that had just shown (the days before, not one or two years before) that they were the most competitive ones of the remainder, deserving an opportunity to play against the top teams for a chance at the absolute top positions. This ‘main round’ format with 4×4 teams then lends itself to many different possibilities for the final stage, with quarterfinals, with 2 semifinal groups or whatever you want.
This gives ALL the 24 teams a chance, not just to play until the end, but to move towards the final round IF they really are good enough. It eliminates some of the worst one-sided games and conversely, it leads to proportionately many more games where the result is extremely important. Again, I have no vested interest in this specific approach, but I do believe it shows that new, useful ideas can come up if one only really tries.
Feedback would be appreciated, including your own alternative ideas!
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