Poor judgment is par for the course at the IHF

Today the IHF President tries to deny any impropriety in the matter of his mixing personal business arrangements and his key role in the IHF business arrangements with the former TV rights holder of the IHF, Sportfive. Of course, when ‘conflict of interest’ appears to be an unknown concept to a person, then it is easy to deny any wrongdoing. However, THN will shortly come back to this matter, especially as new revelations are not unlikely. For instance, the new Sportfive management has stated that investigations continue regarding the dealings between their former director and Moustafa.

But this is not the only matter these days where poor judgment is reflected in the IHF decision-making. For instance, as has been proudly announces, the IHF will in a few days host a [b]'working group' meeting[/b] on the urgent issue of the strained [b]competition calendar[/b] and the strained relations between IHF/continental/national federations and clubs/players. But even when finally taking a first step on this important matter, the IHF does it in a way that has invited criticism. For such sensitive matters it is crucial not to put one’s foot wrong regarding procedures and participation, if one wants to get all parties concerned to feel ‘ownership’ of the outcome. Criticism has been heard on several aspects.

First, the focus is exclusively on [u]men’s[/u] handball. Clearly, the women’s handball suffers from the same problems regarding the congestion in the competition calendar and the pressures on the top players. Perhaps it may practical to have two separate meetings, but [u]if[/u] there is such awareness and sensitivity on the part of the IHF, then one indicates up front that ‘the corresponding issues for the women’s handball will be dealt with separately’. But there is no hint of that, so naturally this has caused claims of discrimination. Moreover, while clubs have been invited, there is no direct representation for the key persons in this whole matter, i.e., [u]the players[/u]. The usual mistake has been made in assuming the interests of the clubs and the interests of the players as individuals coincide. As recent THN articles have underscored, this is certainly not how the players view the matter.

Then one needs to ensure that there is no sense of a biased [u]hand-picking[/u] of participants. Croatia, France, Germany and Spain are the only countries represented, both for federations and for clubs. (As it happens, three of these countries are also represented in the IHF Executive.) The line must be drawn somewhere, and we are not suggesting that, for instance, the Irish or the Maltese should have been invited, but surely a somewhat broader inclusion genuinely strong handball countries would have been helpful to the process. Similarly, why would IHF get involved in hand-picking clubs, when there is a well-known and formal entity representing the top men’s clubs, namely the GCH!? Nevertheless, we can only hope that the IHF learns it lessons of politics and procedures as the effort moves along.

Another issue is the mysterious and secretive (although by insiders fully anticipated) appointment of a new [b]Managing Director[/b] in the person of Mrs. Amal Khalifa. The issue is not that the IHF has chosen to go back to the traditional method of having one person at the top, as opposed to situation of having two parallel positions of Head of Sports and Head of Administration. Following the most regrettable departure of Ekke Hoffmann, who found his situation increasingly untenable, it was a natural move to appoint a Managing Director. But while the President and the Executive have the ‘excuse’ that the By-Laws give them the right to be in charge of the IHF Office, it smacks of abuse of power, nepotism and lack of professionalism, when it just suddenly appears that the faithful old ‘servant’ of the President starts signing documents as Managing Director.

The ‘stealth’ involved is the same as when Mrs. Khalifa first arrived as Head of Administration, replacing Mr. Geissler who had been let go. For months, the IHF made no announcement, and in fact continued to give the explicit impression that Mr. Geissler was still in charge. For a position as vital to the IHF as that of Managing Director, clearly a genuinely professional and international search process is warranted. There is not likely to be shortage of highly qualified candidates, all of whom would be without the baggage of Mrs. Khalifa as a long-term ally of the President. Moreover, Mrs. Khalifa does not appear to have any of the background that would have matched an appropriate job description and advertisement. And then the final clincher: after the IHF Council had agreed that at some point the Managing Director position was going to be reinstated, they found themselves caught unaware by the specific appointment just like the rest of the handball world.

The third issue is one that normally never comes out in the open. It concerns the [b]monetary compensation[/b] granted to IHF officials. The president will now be earning a salary, but the amount has not been revealed. Apart from that, the compensation takes two forms: first there is an annual honorarium for all council members, in recognition of the work they are supposed to perform; this amount differs from one position to another, as it is taken into account that some positions carry a much heavier burden throughout the year. Of course, one really wonders how much work the continental representatives actually carry out on behalf of the [u]IHF[/u]. For the most part, they represent the interests of their respective continents and also carry out the bulk of their work in and for their respective continents/federations. The individual amounts are confidential.

In addition, each IHF official receives a ‘per diem’ for each day spent in meetings, conferences and especially World Championships (including the travel time). This is not a per diem in the sense that it is supposed to cover the expenses for hotels and food. This is provided separately. So the per diem is really nothing other than ‘pocket money’. The rate used to be the same for all categories, but some years ago it was increased for council members. It was explained internally that this was just another, less conspicuous way of providing money, in lieu of increasing the rates for the honorarium. Last December, however, the Council granted itself a hefty increase to 400 Sw.Frs. per day, whereas the rates for all other IHF officials, such as commission members, lecturers and referees, were set in the range 100-200 Sw.Frs., depending on the level of the event involved. This means that those who, generally speaking, do the least amount of work during a World Championship get substantially more than the ‘working people’.

Of course, when judging these provisions, one must keep in mind that that there is no compensation for the loss of the regular income of the individuals concerned. This argument may be less relevant for an official who was volunteered to be elected for a position, but it may be more so for those, like referees, who are brought in to do a very necessary job. But the fundamental concern is that of a lack of a clear rationale, transparency and accountability. Moreover, to the extent that some key officials in elected/volunteer positions do carry out a very large amount of work, not just during events but throughout the whole year, this may often be the result of a huge lack of professional, hired resources for technical positions at the IHF Office. This is another reason why the recent move towards a set-up with ‘one big chief’ and lots of ‘foot soldiers’ goes completely in the wrong direction.