Sensational news: IHF and EHF in merger negotiations!

According to well-placed and corroborated sources, when the IHF President recently invited the EHF leadership to a meeting, it appears that he had a secret purpose in mind: proposing a merger of the two organizations. This is really an incredible development, especially against the backdrop of the recent accusations back and forth between the IHF and the EHF regarding the seriously flawed proposal for new IHF Statutes. However, it seems that it was precisely the EHF pressure that caused the IHF President to think that this would be a smart initiative in order to gain more control. The EHF, for its part, initially seemed offended by the idea, but appears to have begun to see it as a beneficial move along the lines of the old expression: ‘if you cannot beat them, then join them!’ And now some IHF insiders have even been heard fearing that it may in the end become more of an EHF ‘takeover’ than a neutral merger.

The ‘official’ justifications are more along the lines that the senior managements of the IHF and the EHF have come to realize that it is really a waste of resources, with a good deal of duplication of efforts, to run two separate but very similar organizations. Synergy could be achieved through joint efforts in many areas: marketing and contracting about TV rights and sponsoring, development efforts in small or new handball countries, and relations with national federations, clubs and players. Recent debates regarding the competition calendar have also brought the IHF and EHF top managements together.

Non-Europeans and younger handball fans may not realize that a combined IHF/EHF is not as farfetched as it may sound. While continental federations existed in other continents much earlier, the European Handball Federation (EHF) did not come into existence until 1991. Previously, European matters, including the organization of competitions such as the European Cup (the forerunner of Champions League) were managed directly by the IHF. It now seems that this evolution is coming full circle!

The precise timing of the merger remains to be settled. The IHF Extraordinary Congress later this month will be asked to ratify the arrangement, but then the EHF will also need to obtain the formal acceptance from its membership. Ideally, the merger will take place ‘on paper’ later this year, while some of the practical and physical aspects will not be ready until about a year from now. The competition side will be fully modified only after the completion of the several IHF and EHF events that have already been awarded to specific countries.

Obviously there are many sensitive issues that still require careful negotiations. This includes the critical issue of harmonizing IHF and EHF pay levels for executives. The discussions regarding a suitable name for the new organization seem temporarily stalled. ‘The Global Confederation for Handball’ was suggested as a prestigious-sounding name, but this apparently caused protests from a Dr. Gerd Butzeck, on behalf of the already existing ‘GCH’. A new logo will be designed by a yet-to-be-named consulting firm, following a carefully orchestrated contracting process based on ‘sealed bids’.

By contrast, tentative agreement already appears to have been reached regarding a neutral location for the new Headquarters. Several sites in convenient proximity to at least three continents have been considered, namely Malta, Cyprus and Sicily. All these alternatives would also fit the distinct Mediterranean flavor of the current IHF Executive Committee. (PanAmerican arguments in favor of the Canary Islands, partly for language reasons, appear to have fallen on deaf ears). IHF top people are said to be advocating Sicily, possibly due to the easy local access to experienced specialists in financial and administrative matters. In the end, however, it seems that Cyprus may win out, perhaps because of its strong traditions with sharing agreements among divergent partners.

On the staffing side, it seems to have been concluded that the IHF and EHF bring complementary skills, with the EHF focus on technical and sports matters and the IHF emphasis on office administration. At the top management level, it seems the complete merger will lead to the creation of one joint executive group, with current IHF and EHF top officials presiding on a rotation basis until after the first joint elections. Below this top group, there will be a European Department and a Non-European Department, working in a matrix format with the technical/sports staff and the administrators.

As regards the impact on the competition calendar, the preliminary agreements appear to suggest the following in each 4-period: the Olympic Games, one World Championship, one year with a European and a Non-European Championship, and one year for ‘regional’ events. Each of the existing continents, including Europe, would be divided into two regions, partly for political reasons and partly due to travel considerations. It is also expected that the Non-Europeans will eventually want to organize their own Champions League.

Messrs. Moustafa and Lian have declined requests for interviews, and for the moment this is all the information that is available. THN will endeavor to keep you updated as further details become available. In the meantime, we would very much welcome your reactions in our ‘Forum’ or on Facebook!