Some comparisons between handball, basketball and volleyball

In a ‘Report on the 26 core sports for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad’, the IOC offers some interesting information in a standardized format on each of the 26 sports. This could provide an indication of how handball stacks up in relation to some other relevant sports, such as basketball and volleyball, in some particular areas. Clearly such information could offer some food for thought when handball tries to develop strategies and methods to increase its competitiveness in relation to other sports. In this posting, I will not try to attempt an analysis. Primarily I will point you to the source, and suggest some aspects which may need our attention. Beyond that, you may discover other numbers of interest.

One basic overview shows the number of member federations in each continent. Basketball and volleyball have a total of 205 and 204 member countries respectively, while handball has 165. Where is then the discrepancy? The answer is obvious: the big gaps are to be found in America and Oceania. Basketball and volleyball both have 42 members in the American continent, while handball has 26. The corresponding situation in Oceania is 17, 17 and 5. Of course, this fact is well known in the IHF, and we also have an ‘excuse’ in the sense that by tradition handball is a ‘non-Anglo’ sport, so this automatically affects some countries. Progress has indeed been made in America, and Venezuela is a fantastic example, but much more needs to be done and more rapidly. So the question is what more IHF can do and also if the PanAmerican Federation has the resources to do enough.

A more telling statistic indicates what proportion of the federations is active enough to take part in Continental championships. In basketball, the percentages in Africa, America and Asia were 72, 89 and 84. In handball the corresponding percentages were 17, 33 and 29. This does not say much about the quality of the participants of course. But it suggests that while the ‘grassroots’ numbers are not so bad in handball, the ability to seriously compete at the continental level is not so widespread. This may be largely a question of money, but it may also depend on what the international federation can do to facilitate a broader participation. The new emphasis on Challenge Cup is important and promising for handball, but it may still be a slow process to get this countries fully integrated in true continental events. Of course, if the Challenge Cup is turned more fully into ‘continental qualifying’, then it may become more a question of ‘cosmetics’ or semantics.

Another interesting comparison involves the average number of daily visitors to the web sites of the international federations, both during an entire year, and during a World Championship. The numbers for handball were 2.200 and 19.500, completely dwarfed by basketball with 15.000 and 600.000, and also overshadowed by volleyball’s 28.000 and 71.000. This may say something about the perceived quality of the web sites (also after the attempted improvements in handball) but it is more likely to reflect the differences in interest on the part of the worldwide audiences. And the question then arises, could one find out what explains these huge differences and then do something about it!? And why is there such a contrast to the much better comparison in terms of the average number of TV viewers globally for each minute of coverage of the respective sport: handball 23 millions, volleyball 23 millions and basketball 33 millions.

Finally, a set of numbers that beg some explanations, because on the surface they are not so flattering: The proportion of anti-doping tests in 2007 that resulted in discovered violations: handball 0.9%, basketball 0.2% and volleyball 0.03%. Not only does the comparison look bad, but the 0.9% figure also seems mysteriously high. One would hope there is some aberration here that helps explain that the real number is not so bad? If so, the IHF should investigate and show a correction, because the image is important.