Following my article a few days ago about the serious problems in the proposed IHF By-Laws, which are being placed in front of the IHF Congress delegates this coming week, I have received several questions along the lines: but how can it be that such terrible proposals seem likely to be accepted by the Congress? And similarly, how can it be that there is an increasingly lack of patience and acceptance for the Mubaraks of this world, and yet someone acting in the same autocratic and outdated manner continues to be tolerated as a head of an international federation?
There are several explanations, mostly variations on the same theme: it is possible for an organization to be democratic on paper but autocratic in reality. Especially, if a large proportion of those who are entitled to vote are far removed from the inner circles and systematically kept uninformed about how the organization is managed and what it is NOT achieving. Those voters can then be made to think that there is no need for change!
It has to be recognized that, outside Europe, handball is largely a new and rather unknown sport, being developed locally by people who have limited understanding for the history and the potential of handball, and also generally have a modest understanding of sports politics and international affairs. Only about a dozen of the more than 110 non-European member federations could be seen as strong and well-developed by global standards. Their representatives do not know more about the IHF rulers than they see in very limited media reports or by attending IHF congresses. Moreover, as they have their travel to the Congress paid or subsidized by the IHF, this also encourages a sense of loyalty or obligation.
It would not have to be like this. The IHF has continental federations, which are potentially in a position to have a very positive influence on their respective member countries. But instead of educating and integrating their voting members, ensuring an unbiased understanding of the issues that are being voted on, these continental entities and their elected bosses tend to act just as autocratically as the IHF regime, controlling and further isolating the individual members. They have enough clout to be able to direct the votes of huge blocks of votes from their continents, on the basis of the false assumption that they act in everyone’s best interest.
But the problem is that often these continental ‘middle men’ are acting or directing more on the basis of their personal interests than for the benefit of the individual member countries. While part of this tendency could be ascribed to human nature, it is exacerbated by the need for these continental bosses to stay on the good side of the IHF regime. Their positions are very well remunerated, in fact quite excessively so, and there many advantages inherent in remaining appointed to these positions, such as comfortable attendance at major events, a modest workload and quite a bit of prestige. In short, they cannot really ‘afford’ to lose their positions, so they are under considerable pressure to bring in the votes.
It is also worth pointing out that the continent of Europe is not without blame in this discussion. A few days ago, I mentioned about the ‘realistic’ but very cynical decision of the European Handball Federation to refrain from opposing By-Law proposals which they fully recognize are very bad for the world of handball. Similarly, some of the stronger member nations in Europe, whose traditions and knowledge of international handball easily enable them to distinguish between right and wrong, meekly stay on the side line, or even support the IHF regime, for selfish reasons or for fear of retribution.
In summary, it should not be surprising that conspicuously bad proposals can find support, even if they require the votes of a majority among some 160 countries.