The basic competition structure in PanAmerica consists of PanAmerican Championships in an Elite Division with eight countries participating, below which there is a ‘Division 1’ for the remaining teams in each category, men, women, junior, youth etc. From each Elite Division event, the two lowest placed teams are demoted and next time replaced by the top two teams in the corresponding Division 1.
On paper, this seems like a sensible system, with a fair and predictable way of ensuring that the best teams at any given point in time are in the Elite Division, while at the same time all other teams get an opportunity to compete against teams of a similar level. However, for this system to function properly, there is pressure on the PanAmerican Team Handball Federation to be well organized and to enable especially the new and weaker countries in Division 1 to have their events planned and organized properly. Many of these countries have limited resources and/or limited experience in handling their involvement in international events. Moreover, especially in the junior and youth events, it is likely that only a small number of countries will be able to participate in each Division 1 event.
A couple of weeks ago, the Division 1 event for Junior Men was scheduled to take place in Venezuela. It is unclear how long before the start of the event that the place and date was actually finalized. In any case, apart from the organizers Venezuela, registrations for this event were received from Canada, the Dominican Republic and Guatemala. For the Canadians this was a major sacrifice, as the Federation budget is so limited that essentially the young players personally have to absorb the cost of travel etc.
Accordingly, it must have been a bittersweet discovery when the Canadians, having already arrived in Venezuela, found that the other two teams would not show up. It has been suggested that the Dominicans were unable to obtain visas and that the Guatemalans found themselves without the necessary financial resources. What this meant was that Venezuela and Canada were automatically qualified for the next Elite Division, BUT that the expensive trip to Venezuela (for two meaningless games against the hosts) was totally unnecessary. If PATHF had received the notifications from the other two teams in time and then had notified the Canadians, the travel could have been avoided.
There are rumors that the final determination of dates and place for the event was made at a VERY late stage, and that this played a major role in the difficulties encountered by the two federations that withdrew. This would seem to add to the frustrations, as presumably also these teams feel that were suffering an injustice. Repeated attempts to get an official reaction from the PATHF have been met with silence.
What happened should be seen against the background of an unfortunate ‘tradition’: last minute decisions regarding place and date for events have not been unusual, a lack of clear deadlines for withdrawal (or disrespect for such dates, without subsequent punishment) has been common, and permission for teams to enter also after the deadline has been given. It may seem reasonable and pragmatic to be less bureaucratic, for the sake of encouraging maximum participation, but this tends to result in a lack of discipline to the detriment of teams that handle their affairs correctly and effectively. It would really be nice to see an improvement in decision-making, communications and clear procedures, for the benefit of everyone involved.