Asian Men’s Championship – fair play is the priority

While much of the international focus right now is on the upcoming EURO 2010, i.e., the European Championship for men, organized in Austria, it should be recognized that both Africa and Asia organize their continental championships next month. In the case of Asia, this involves the men only, while in Africa the men’s and the women’s championships are run side-by-side. Our web site continuously provides pages with the draws, indications of how these events link up with the Men’s and Women’s World Championships in 2011 etc. To see these pages, go separately to our links for 2011 WC Qual (men) and (women), or click here:

Several readers have contacted me regarding the Asian men’s championship. Many comments involve concerns about possible manipulations: in the draw, in the refereeing, and in the overall conduct of the games. Such suspicions may be understandable, considering the long traditions of manipulations, including outright corruption, with the qualifying events for the 2008 Olympics as the prime examples. The reluctance on the part of the IHF to carry out a firm and impartial oversight has also been part of the problem.

I may be too optimistic, but I feel there are reasons to believe that this time it will be different. For instance, as regards the draw, there have been comments to the effect that the 4 groups do not look evenly balanced. Well, first of all this often tends to be an issue everywhere, even when all formalities have been respected. Luck is an important component in a draw, and the results from two years ago, while correctly used for the seeding, may not necessarily be the best indication of the current relatively strengths. Moreover, a traditionally strong team such as Bahrain was placed last in the rankings last time, due to disciplinary reasons, so their place in the seeding suffers accordingly this time. As it now is, the top 4 teams from 2008 are indeed heading one group each, with teams 1 (Korea) and 4 (Iran) on one half of the draw, and with teams 2 (Kuwait) and 3 (Saudi Arabia) on the other half.

As regards the refereeing, Asia has fortunately participated strongly in the IHF’s ‘youth movement’ at the top level, and the best of these couples have shown their strength and received IHF training and supervision at recent World Championships at the senior or junior level. For more about the IHF referee training, see my recent article: It appears that, possibly with the exception of the representatives of the host country, Lebanon, all the participating Asian referee couples are from the younger, more consistently trained group, and not from the ‘old guard’. Moreover, the IHF has appropriately nominated one of its currently strongest couples as a ‘neutral’ couple to be available for key match-ups. Supervision during the event will also be provided by the IHF.

Moreover, I am hoping, and calling on the AHF leadership to ensure, that every effort will be made to restore faith in fair and corruption-free competition also in the Asian continent. So many bad things have been allowed to transpire in the past that surely the AHF leadership will now give priority to protecting the image of the handball sport and its own federation, rather than remaining preoccupied with the perennial ‘East-West’ battle of prestige and politics. The quality of handball is rapidly improving on a broad basis across the Asian continent. The handball world will be watching and will have high expectations. I have also consulted with federation representatives of many of the key participants, and there is indeed a spirit of optimism! May the best team win!