Asian Men’s Championship starting on Saturday

Beirut is hosting this event that gets underway on Saturday and will go on for two entire weeks. Twelve games in six days is the modest pace during the preliminary round. Following, the suspension of the Kuwait Olympic Committee and then also the Kuwait Handball Federation, as discussed more in detail in a recent article, the groups are as follows: A: Saudi Arabia, China, Syria; B: Japan, Bahrain, Iraq; C: Rep. of Korea, Qatar, United Arab Emirates; and D: Iran, Lebanon, Jordan.

There has been speculation that Kuwait might be reinstated up to the very last moment. The Kuwaiti government has been in a position to take the legislative measures that would satisfy the IOC, but apparently this has not been feasible. As discussed previously, there was also the question as to whether the IHF had actually been [u]forced[/u] by the IOC to suspend Kuwaiti handball, or whether this was a [u]voluntary[/u] action. Mysteriously, the IOC keeps being very cryptic. They refrain from answering this question, and simply say that the individual sports ‘were informed’ about the reasons for the IOC suspension and that then, as of this moment, eight out of 20 sports federations, among them the IHF, have suspended Kuwait in their respective sports, while 12 have not followed the lead of the IOC. Perhaps we will obtain clarity at some point.

In the absence of Kuwait, the groups now look fairly balanced, and the competition for the three qualifying spots for the 2011 World Championships may be more open than it seemed before. Most of our sources in Asia are ready to believe that Korea and Iran will be strongest teams on their half of the draw, with good chances to qualify, but Qatar should never be underestimated. They have made good progress in recent years. The other half may be more difficult to predict. China is likely to have benefited from its Olympic experience. Japan and Bahrain can always be expected do well, but both of them tend to be a bit unpredictable. Perhaps Saudi Arabia should be seen as the ‘dark horse’.

As noted in an earlier article, the main thing this time is really the expectation of fair and honest competition. On many previous occasions, this was not the case. There are too many sad examples to mention here, but one of the more conspicuous ones is explained in the following THN article from the 2008 championship, incl. a YouTube video clip: Asia needs to shape up its handball image, in the same way as the quality of the teams has kept improving. THN intends to follow the event closely and hopes to be able to provide occasional reports.