Summer controversies in Europe

While we here in the U.S. are caught up in the euphoria surrounding the ‘Battle of Chicago’ and the live TV broadcasts from the Germany-Poland game, there are of course things going on in handball in Europe also in the middle of summer.

One of my recurring topics last year was [b]Gunnar Prokop and HYPO[/b], regrettably mostly for negative reasons. Now it seemed that the only commotion surrounding Prokop was going to be his recent 70th birthday… And any notion that there would be a separation between Prokop and HYPO seemed like a ridiculous one. But that’s where we now suddenly are. Prokop is gone, and true to his character he did not go quietly and happily, something that one might have wished him after all his years of enormous efforts for women’s handball and HYPO.

I do not claim to know the inside story, but Prokop always seemed obsessed with success, personally and for his team. And he knew that success in the Champions League does not come without an all-star team these days. So when he found that he had formally signed up four top players but that at least a majority of the club board vetoed this acquisition, presumably for financial reasons, then this was too much for Prokop. He felt that both he and the players had been treated in a disgraceful way.

The players (Gitte Aaen, Carmen Amariei, Kristine Lunde-Borgersen and Mette Meldgaard) are fortunately sought after due to their star caliber, despite the fact that most top teams had finalized their building for the coming season. Nevertheless, the players are obviously upset and want to take legal action. However, here they were surprised to find that the EHF had to refer them to civil court, as the signed contracts had never been taken to the point of being ratified by the EHF. The Danish Federation raises strong concerns about the fact that such procedural details could leave the players without protection.

The [b]transfer market for the top women’s clubs in Denmark [/b]has been more turbulent than ever in recent months. The main cause seems to be that, while some clubs seem to be doing quite well, economic realities have forced some others to make tough choices and cut back, something that has forced an exodus of a number of strong players. For instance, a good number of Swedish players are now returning to clubs in their home country, something that should at least contribute to an immediate strengthening of the Swedish league,

In the third Scandinavian country, Norway, there is also [b]some controversy. Larvik[/b], a club with high ambitions and strong resources, yet again failed its goal to win the Champions League. So the club that is already loaded with international stars is now further upgrading. The latest acquisition seems to be the famous goalkeeper, Cecilie Leganger, who will be competing with Danish national team goalie Lena Rantala. Understandably, other Norwegian clubs are concerned about this ‘hoarding’ of stars, arguing that it will ruin the Norwegian league and make it uninteresting. Of course, the response from Larvik is simply that ‘business is business’ and they will do what it takes to reach their goal. It is then up to the other clubs to obtain the necessary resources and players to become competitive, instead of complaining.

Who knows, perhaps a continuing polarization among the super-rich and the not so wealthy clubs will eventually pave the way for what is openly being advocated at this time by Ciudad Real’s wealthy president and sponsor, namely [b]‘the introduction of an NBA style handball league in Europe’[/b]. The timing of this unilateral statement may be a bit surprising, coming so soon after the highly touted forming of a Forum for European top handball clubs and for the collaboration between clubs and the EHF. One might have thought that a pronouncement about a European league would come only after careful considerations through these formal channels. Could we even envisage a situation where both men’s and women’s clubs are moving in this direction?

Finally, there was a somewhat anticlimactic verdict from the EHF’s Court of Arbitration, on[b] the appeal from the German top referees Lemme/Ullrich [/b]regarding their suspension by the EHF. Both parties may have hoped for a final resolution in a more substantive way, either clearing the referees or bringing out the names of other guilty parties into daylight. However, the case was brought to an end on pure formalities. The ECA concluded that the EHF had started its proceedings against the referees too late in relation to the time of the debated game, under the EHF rules in effect at the time. This is somewhat ironic, as the EHF in the meantime has changed its regulations precisely to avoid that such important cases will be become time-barred, especially as it is not unusual that suspicions or evidence may only come up long after the event. So the only ‘winner’ at this point is the German federation that will now get its money back for the protest fee they had paid on behalf of the referees.

And now on to CHICAGO!!