Interview with Laszlo Sinka – President of the Hungarian Handball Federation (HHF)

Laszlo Sinka is one of the most well-known handball profiles in Europe. In addition to having been the key figure in Hungarian handball for many years, he is also a member of the EHF Executive Committee (and also the Chair of the EHF Beach Handball Commission).

[i]CA: Laszlo, could you tell our readers a bit about your handball background, before you moved into these top positions in the HHF and the EHF![/i]

LS: I played as an “all-round player” for nearly two decades at different levels in my home town, Százhalombatta. My wife was also a handball player, in the Hungarian 1st division. After my retirement, I played at charity matches, often representing the Hungarian Masters Selections. If I could, I would still like to train and play ,but due to chronic injuries I had to stop.

[i]CA: Hungary is not one of the largest countries in Europe, but it has always had great sports traditions; and for a long time, handball has been able to stay at a high level, both with the national teams and the club teams; what is the secret to this success? [/i]

LS: Yes, we are proud of our handball history (nearly 80 years old) and we try to pass on this great heritage to the upcoming generations. But we are also looking ahead and working hard to keep up with the world’s elite. The HHF is a well respected body and has working relations with domestic and foreign associations. Handball is the second most popular sport in Hungary (after soccer of course); last year a total of 83 million viewers watched matches on TV.

[i]CA: in some European countries, the men’s side dominates very strongly, but in Hungary the women’s handball has perhaps remained even more stabile and strong at the international level; what is the reason for this?[/i]

LS: Handball is the most popular team sport for women in Hungary and plays an important part in our entire education system. Based on the large quantity, we have an extensive competition system at the developmental level with different age categories. This nurtures quality players for our strong National League from which our national players are mostly selected.

[i]CA:. I would imagine that you were not entirely happy with the result of your men’s team in the EURO2010; what do you see as the main reasons for this result, and what are your expectations for the near future? [/i]

LS: I could not identify one main reason for the result. Rather, the team’s performance was greatly influenced by the coincidence of a few components: the relatively short preparation time, a lack of tournament fitness, injuries and late rehabilitation, unavailability of some key players, and perhaps mental weakness hampered us. Yes, it was a painful experience for us but at the same time the early exit from the ECh provided us with the opportunity to analyze, regroup and work out a strategy in order to qualify for the WCh, by winning tough games against Slovenia.

[i]CA: when one follows Hungarian club teams in Champions League on the webcasts, it is always apparent that there is a very enthusiastic spectator support; what is it that leads to this strong support and does it exist also for the lower levels of matches?[/i]

LS; Handball provides excellent entertainment for the majority of the population. In certain areas of Hungary, generations have grown up with handball and pass this passion onto their children. Of course, our National Men’s and Woman’s Teams are the most popular and always play in front of a full capacity crowd, at home. Many spectators are watching the 1st division matches for both genders, and our Champions League teams from Veszprém and Győri attract the most supporters. But generally speaking we have a good attendance even in the lower divisions.

[i]CA: it seems that many of the best teams come from cities and town around the country and not from Budapest; does this have a special explanation?[/i]

LS: The most successful clubs were situated in Budapest until the last two decades. After the changing of the political system at the end of the 1980’s, the big Budapest clubs lost their government supported “mother companies” and there was not enough private enterprise replace the financing. But in the smaller cities around Hungary people are more fanatic about their ‘home’ teams and there is less competition with other sports for local support. So places like Debrecen, Győr, Veszprém, Békéscsaba and Székesfehérvár became our ‘strongholds.’.

[i]CA: over the years I have observed that you have always been able to come up with new strong coaches for your teams; what programs and efforts do you have in place to be so successful in the area of coaching?[/i]

Coaching education is an important part of our organization and has a special place in the long-term strategic plan of the HHF. We have a good working cooperation with different institutes and organize coaching education courses along with them. We have a strict licensing system. It is part of our strategy that we encourage our retired yet experienced payers to continue their activity in handball, as coaches or referees.

[i]CA: yes, what about the area of refereeing? you have strong traditions in Hungary; what do you do to encourage young talents to get interested in refereeing?[/i]

LS: We think the referees’ education is just as important as that for coaches. In fact, we strongly believe that the two can and should go hand in hand. It is based on our philosophy that tries to keep everybody within the game. So we encourage retired players to do a referee course and start whistling. Talented young couples with enthusiasm and desire then can take a step forward, entering the EHF Young Referee Project. We also test other referees every year.

[i]CA: there is currently an intensive debate about the pressures on the top players, due to the competition calendar for clubs and national teams; what solutions do you see to this problem?[/i]

LS: Everybody agrees that the number of matches top players have to play are already too many and to put more matches into the schedule is almost impossible. On the other hand, the media – TV in particular – and sponsors need these high quality matches in order to maintain the momentum of the sport, and this is in our common interest. So within the field of sports administration very little can be done… One area for improvement is perhaps the application of the most up to date sport science for players rehabilitation and better impact of training sessions.

[i]CA: of course, handball must compete with other sports and other activities in order to remain attractive for new young players, spectators, media and sponsors; how do you see the ability of handball to remain competitive in Hungary and more globally?[/i]

LS: A decreasing population results in less children and more new age attractions reduce the interest in sport. So the competition amongst the different sports for potential players becomes tougher and more aggressive. Our philosophy is to make handball accessible to everybody. So we start with mini – or as we named it after the ball they are playing with – “sponge” handball even at kindergarten level. We even organize competitions for the +45 age categories. Then we have the growing off-shoot of our sport, Beach Handball. It also depends on the game itself: we are lucky, because handball is a fast and spectacular team sport with lots of excitement and passion, – and this makes promotion easier.

[i]CA: from your long experience, do you have any specific suggestions for how handball could be made even more attractive?[/i]

LS: I think the existing playing rules are good, suitable for the public and fulfill the requirements of a game of the 21st century. However, there is room for improvement: the better application of the rules by the referees and the better utilization of the rules by the coaches and players. This is a natural process and it will bring the game forward until another change of the rules becomes necessary to adapt to how the game develops.

CA: On behalf of our readers, I want to thank Laszlo Sinka for making himself available for this very interesting and optimistic commentary on both the background and the future of Hungarian handball!