President Moustafa proposals for new IHF Statutes would legitimize his dictatorship and despotism – who will stop this madness??

(Yes, this is long, but it is so important that you do need to read it!)

We have criticized the European Handball Federation (EHF) in recent time for refusing to stand up to the IHF President when he has brought the IHF and world handball in disrepute through scandalous actions. My colleague, John Ryan, even asked Tor Lian and Jean Brihault some time ago to “quit hiding and speak out.” I will not rehash now all these issues, but here are the links to reports about ‘IHF Payments to President and Council members,’ Moustafa’s attack on the Court of Arbitration in Sports (CAS), revelations about the conflict of interest caused by the President’s personal contract with the IHF TV rights holder, and the mysterious and secretive hiring of an Egyptian crony and her subsequent elevation to the position of Managing Director. And this just in past few months…!

So now surely it must have gone far too far, when the EHF leaders send protest letters to the IHF and to all European member federations, warning about outrageous changes in IHF Statutes proposed by the President and the disastrous consequences such changes would have![/u] Indeed, any intelligent person can see what the President is up to, when the proposed changes would give him the full legal authority to do the many things that he has previously done without authority and/or without the necessary consultations. The problem is that not enough persons, not even among the delegates at the upcoming Extraordinary IHF Congress, may have sufficient awareness and background information to see the implications!

I will not try to cover here the entire spectrum of problems with the proposals; it would simply be a far too extensive text. Instead I will focus on three aspects:

1. major examples of the expansion of his personal power that Moustafa is trying to achieve;

2. indications of the one-sided and heavy-handed shift of power to the IHF from all levels and members of the international handball family;

3. the amazing arrogance and incompetence demonstrated when somebody puts forward a proposal for Statutes, the most fundamental and essential document in any organization, that is so poorly written, in part incomprehensible and in part totally ambiguous; it amounts to a sick joke that an IHF Congress would actually have to try to comprehend the details of the text and be asked to vote on it!

1.a. The proposals keep emphasizing that as the President is now a ‘professional, available full-time at IHF Headquarters and thus with full insight in the operations’, he is now the best person to take all urgent decisions personally, and he is supposed to have full authority do so ‘between meetings of the Executive Committee’, meetings that will only take place three times per year. This means that, de facto, there is always an excuse for the president to take unilaterally any decision he wants. The statements about the type of decisions that normally would be taken by the Council are so vague that they can be interpreted as the president wants. And despite the easy access to quick and convenient consultations or decision-making through electronic communications, the entire document contains no provisions for any such efforts. But as insiders know, the president ‘knows that he knows best’, so why should he not decide alone!?

b. It is proposed that the position of an elected Secretary General should be abolished. The explanation is that it is, suddenly, made redundant by the powers vested in an employee, the Managing Director. But the only thing that has changed in that position is, of course, that it is now awkwardly filled by the president’s long-time, fully loyal confidant. The position of Treasurer has been spared. But it is emphasized that the Treasurer is mainly responsible for ‘establishing and controlling the budget.’ The Council has no role in establishing the budget (which of course is a way of determining priorities); the only scope for Council decisions is ‘within budget constraints.’ By contrast, the responsibility for ‘controlling financial transactions’ will rest with the President. Moreover, the IHF President is also automatically president of the separate entityIHF Marketing Inc. As a further ‘exclusivity’ for the President, it is also proposed that he, separate from the rest of the Executive Committee, be given the right to present motions to the Congress.

c. It is repeated over and over in the document that the president ‘is’ or ‘must’ be a ‘professional’, meaning essentially that he must be given a huge salary. The vague explanation is that this is due to the rapid development of world handball. Why this requires a ‘professional’ president, as opposed to full-time duties for other elected officials or true professionalism on the part of Managing Director and staff, is not explained. While, as a practical matter, an already elected president could be converted into a paid employee, this combination is completely awkward and inappropriate as a requirement in the Statutes. It is clearly necessary to have the position of President filled on the basis of an election. Then it creates totally undesirable limitations and inequities for future elections, if there is a requirement that only full-time incumbents who are prepared to become ‘de facto’ employees can be considered.

2.a. There is a strong theme throughout the proposal that the IHF is in charge of a pyramid of ‘stakeholders’, which include groupings such as continental and national federations and clubs, as well as individuals such as trainers, referees, officials, players, and medical staff. The document is full of provisions to the effect that these other stakeholders must be respectful and cooperative, above all fully complying with IHF Statutes, regulations and decisions. There are clear indications of punishments for non-adherence. The entire focus is on requirements and duties, not on rights and privileges. Unmistakably, it is a top-down approach, where IHF tells all other stakeholders what is right or wrong, not a more logical situation where those who are the active stakeholders in our sport can count on a bottom-up approach with federations and especially the IHF functioning as an ‘umbrella,’ serving the active stakeholders and with their best interests in mind!

b. There are also complications and confusion arising from the inclusion of both organizations and individuals among the ‘stakeholders’. The discussion in the proposals is a traditional one, with relevance to continental and national federations, where the issues, and the rights and duties, do not really fit individuals. The relationship between the IHF and the individual categories of stakeholders is less clear and convincing. Except in a negative sense, there does not seem to be much of a concrete role for the IHF. And in a way that totally undermines a genuine opportunity for these stakeholders to be heard, it is demonstratively stated that no groups will be recognized by the IHF, such as associations of players, referees, clubs etc. How does one realistically expect a dialog and a level playing field for all these individual stakeholders without such channels?

c. The treatment of continental and national federations in the proposed Statutes is totally paternalistic. It goes from absurd and capricious formalities to the most fundamental issues of sharing of rights and responsibilities. Somehow the IHF wishes to refer to the continental federations as ‘confederations,’ but surely that should not require all the well-established continental entities to change their specific names… More important is that after the Statutes have simply defined continental confederations as ‘groups of federations that belong to the same continent or geographic regions,’ they go on to specify which particular entities will be recognized by the IHF. Clearly, the Statutes must allow for the possibility that such ‘groups’ may change over time, as long as they meet the definitions. Moreover, capricious changes are being introduced as regards the minimum number of countries required for a ‘continent’ to exist and for such a continent to have one or two members of the IHF Council. Again, no sensible rationale is being offered.

d. But given the history of the matter, the most conspicuous attempt for the IHF to grab power involves the assertion that the IHF will now become the owner of all rights emanating from IHF competitions. A recent legal battle involved the qualifying events for World Championships and Olympic Games. Whether intended or not, the wording of the existing IHF By-Laws was deemed to give such rights to the respective continents. The only remaining issue was that the IHF needed to assert and retain the right to supervise such events, to ensure full compliance with existing IHF regulations and the absence of corruption and manipulations. It appeared that this was a settled matter, but the IHF now unilaterally completely removes all rights from the continents, except of course the work involved in physically organizing the events. This is really outrageous!

e. The international competition calendar, as it relates to excessive demands on the top players, has been a matter of intensive dialog lately, with both IHF and EHF attempting to bring the relevant parties together in a search for solutions. Now, however, the proposed Statutes suggest a ‘top-down’ approach also on this issue, as it is specified that the IHF will initiate an 8-year calendar, leaving it to continents and nations to adapt and plan accordingly. There is also a blunt statement to the effect that ‘all stakeholders shall not boycott official IHF competitions’. A benevolent interpretation would be that non-participation as a form of political demonstration or as a form of discrimination is not tolerated. But apparently that is not it, because in a different place one finds the completely astounding statement that members ‘have the obligation to take part in competitions organized by the IHF’. On what basis could the IHF ever force a federation to send a team if it does not have the quality or the resources to do so???

f. The proposal contains a provision that any kind of [u]corruption, bribery or undue influence is forbidden and punishable. This is in itself fine, but again there is a lack of symmetry or responsibility on the part of the IHF. There is [u]no indication of the responsibilities that the IHF will assume for clear policies, protection of referees, effective monitoring etc. Moreover, in the light of recent events, corruption is not limited to other stakeholders and to game-related situations. What will the IHF do to ensure a corruption-free internal environment, including at the top? There is a mention of an Ethics Commission, but this appears to be a mere after-thought, without any real substance. It is more disturbing than reassuring that such an idea can be just thrown in, without any prior focus on role, procedures and composition. Given the heavy emphasis on duties and demands on various stakeholders, and a dictatorial IHF decision-making, procedures for recourse and appeal become critical. However, the scope of tasks for the Arbitration Commission and the type of issues anticipated for referral to the Court of Arbitration for Sports seem as intentionally restrictive as before.

3. The document with the proposed Statutes is essentially full of problems with ambiguities, contradictions, poor wording and even incomprehensible statements. In a 38-page document one could easily find several hundred (!) examples, but it would obviously overburden this article to try to capture too much of that. Instead of focusing on the many laughable language problems, I will mention only a few particularly important topics where the problems in the text make it useless or dangerous in a substantive way:

– The basic statement of the ‘Purpose and Objectives’ of the IHF is so unclear as to what the IHF actually intends to accomplish and how it will go about it, so that the statement is rendered meaningless;

– Together with the Executive Committee, Council and Commissions, the IHF Anti-Doping Unit is a key entity in the entire organizational structure and obviously needs to be regulated in the Statutes. However, except for an indirect reference when the Medical Commission is discussed, there is no mention whatsoever about the status, role, procedures and composition of the ADU;

– There is a statement that through Council decision, “the IHF may open branches and subsidiaries in Switzerland and abroad”, “to deal with certain matters;” this broad, puzzling, and ominous authority is totally lacking in justification, and one begins to wonder about a second headquarter in Cairo or a secret bank account in the Cayman Islands…

– It is declared that is the Congress that makes the decisions about accepting new member federations; but this is contradicted by another statement that gives the Council the power to decline or accept new members;

– The proposal contains a list of ‘Rights and Duties’ for the continental federations; apart from the earlier indicated bias in favor of moving power to the IHF, it is of course inconceivable in a governance document that one combines rights and duties in this way, so that the result is a total confusion for each item, what is a right and what is a duty;

– The Council is said to ‘have the right to suspend stakeholder that violates its obligations’; stakeholders, by the definition in the documents include clubs, individual players, referees, trainers and so on; most of these operate exclusively at the national level and not in IHF events; from a practical and a legal standpoint, what could conceivably give the IHF the right to take action against these stakeholders who are clearly under the jurisdiction of their national federations;

– It appears that, after the Congress has used its prerogative to award World Championships to specific member nations, the Council can simply set aside such decisions, ‘if there are discrepancies’; this is a totally nonsensical clause, seemingly intended to create a power to override the Congress without any justification at all;

– Under the heading ‘Executive Committee’, there is a totally cryptic and dangerous clause providing that ‘any additional powers of the President shall be included in the internal organization regulations of the IHF’; what unspecified powers are intended, and what is meant by the unknown concept of ‘internal organization regulations’??

In a normal organization, it would not be tolerated that a proposal for changes in Statutes would be developed and presented in this way; the proposal would simply be dismissed, and it would likely cause a widespread demand for the resignation of those responsible. In the IHF, by contrast, the President moves ahead with this kind of initiative in the full expectation that he can convince the membership or that they will be blind to what he is trying to achieve. For the sake of the image and future development of world handball, one can only hope that this time there will be enough people who understand what is happening and who will show the determination to put a stop to it!

Just in case it might occur to you to say that it is too easy to criticize, let me remind you that a number of months ago I presented, in three parts, a careful analysis, and constructive specific ideas of what are the type of changes that are really needed and desirable. Here are the links: