Following the IHF Council meeting on January 27, there was a sense of ‘deja vu all over again’… Just a couple of months ago, Qatar surprised many, and angered some, by winning the rights to host the World Championship in football 2022. Now the IHF President was getting ready to reveal the name of the host for the 2015 World Championship. French representatives seemed tense but hopeful – surely it would be enough to rely on recent years of successes on the court and a reputation for being able to organize events!?
But, au contraire, out of the envelope came the dreaded 5-letter word: QATAR! A philosophical French representative was heard mumbling: c’est la vie… but the more typical representatives were instead commenting to the French media in terms of ‘deception immense!’ (Note: deception in French means disappointment) ‘How could this have happened’, they seemed to ask. ‘What did they do to avoid this defeat’, might have been a more relevant reflection.
Two other candidates never seemed to be in the running, namely Poland and Norway. The Norwegian bid was heard being described as lacking in conviction. And the Poles seemed to have done a great job of explaining in writing everything that might have been needed to answer serious questions. But had they done any ‘selling’? Yes, technically speaking, the only ones voting on the matter are those Council members who are not from one of the candidate countries. But in this day and age of constant bombardment of advertising through a multitude of media, is it not obvious that a serious contender needs to create a ‘hype’, an ambience of having the winning product?
So what did the French do, en route to the final decision-making in Malmoe. Well, they relied a lot on reputation, they used their proud French team as the ‘poster boys’ par excellence, and they seemed to feel it would be a bit too ‘gauche’ to do any heavy selling of their bid. This may have been a major faux pas. By contrast, the Qatari spared no effort (or riyal) to draw attention to their bid and to what would be special about a Championship hosted in their country. The rented a banquet room and hosted a reception in what looked like a large-size Bedouin tent, with Middle Eastern food as the piece de resistance, but also with plenty of sophisticated advertising material and some small souvenirs available.
Of course, advertising and appearances are not the only considerations. In a global sport there are different ways of enhancing the growth outside the traditional handball countries. One of them is to allow a non-traditional, non-European country to host the Men’s World Championship every now and then. After four consecutive events in major European handball countries 2007-2013, perhaps it is ‘comme il faut’ that one of the few non-Europeans that is likely to have capacity for such an event gets a chance in 2015.
Moreover, when Spain applied for 2011 (and later on were rewarded for 2013) they argued rather awkwardly and arrogantly that they should get the votes for 2011 simply as a major handball country that had never organized the event. At least they were correct on the fact. But France organized the Men’s Championship as recently as in 2001 and the women’s event in late 2007. So are they really overdue for another chance?
I do not personally know if Qatar ‘deserved’ to win, whatever this means. But I have the sense that just because there were/are some concerns about football and 2022, it may be too easy to taint handball and 2015 with the same brush. Also, the ‘noveau riche’ do not tend to get much respect. But just as we accept that our teams are winning and losing, I think it now behooves the international handball family to rally around this event and do everything to ensure that it creates the global propaganda that we all are hoping for and that our sport needs.