Intriguing ‘power play’ regarding competition calendar and related issues

European web sites today report about interesting developments on several fronts. One of the hottest topics involves the competition calendar for the elite level and related aspects regarding the rights of players, clubs, national federations and the IHF/EHF. Clearly, both the IHF and the EHF are attempting to grab the initiative by organizing meetings with representatives of other stakeholders. Just recently, as reported by THN, the IHF got a ‘working group’ together for a meeting in Vienna during the EURO2010. As we also reported some time ago, the EHF will want to continue its efforts to create a forum for discussions about changes in the structure of European handball. A meeting will now take place at the end of this week.

In the IHF meeting, participants were handpicked, and Group Club Handball (GCH), the entity representing 19 top clubs in Europe was specifically excluded, not just quietly but with a slap in the face, in the form of a statement that IHF does not meet with entities that have no formal link to the IHF. Apparently, the EHF does not have similar concerns, as GCH is likely to play a key role in the upcoming EHF forum. This may be one reason why the GCH now reports, on its own web site, that a formal legal complaint that was lodged almost a year ago by GCH against IHF and EHF challenging their ‘monopoly’, may now be split up into two separate complaints. The purpose of this move would be to suspend temporarily the complaint against EHF, while the complaint against IHF remains in place. Clearly, the directions that the upcoming EHF meeting will take, will be crucial for the atmosphere on the European scene.

Right at this point in time, the President of the German Handball Federation, Ulrich Strombach, who has tended to be an ally of IHF president Moustafa, went out on a limb in an interview (as also reported, inter alia, on the GCH web site) with a series of ‘demands’. He wanted to see: a reduction of the number of teams in the German Bundesliga; a reduction of teams in the EHF Champions League; a re-scheduling of World and European Championships to the summer months; an abolition of the European Championship in Olympic years; and finally, a larger share of the IHF revenue for the national federations. At first sight, this list seems tilted in favor of the IHF, away from the EHF, as the critical question of reducing ‘from five to four’ big events in each four-year period is answered by removing one European Championship. However, much of the focus of federations and clubs has been on revenue-sharing and compensation for the time spent by players on their national teams, so the monetary side may weigh heavily.

One can only hope that the upcoming meeting will be a productive next step. It would also seem that, while the issues and the stakeholders by definition differ somewhat, the IHF and the EHF should have far more in common in this whole process than they have been able to demonstrate so far. Competing initiatives and actions colored by prestige are not likely to be helpful. Also, there is that lingering concern about an exclusive focus on men’s handball and a reluctance to give player representatives a seat at the table.