Embarrassing outcome for PanAmerica in Junior Championship

Iran and Algeria - levels above Canada and Venezuela

For the first time in a World Championship of any category, PanAmerica was entitled to have five participants in the recently concluded Men’s Junior event.  Perhaps some in the PanAmerican Federation felt some pride in this.  But as has typically happened in the past, whenever PanAmerica had more than the automatic allocation of two or three teams, the additional number only served to highlight to the handball world the weaknesses of the PanAmerican continent.

During many years now, we have been used to seeing Argentina and Brazil put in strong, or at least respectable, performances.  But rarely has another team managed to avoid getting a final ranking at the bottom.  This is also what happened to the other three PanAmerican participants.  Only the weakness of the team from Benin saved PanAmerica from occupying the last three places.  Now we saw Chile as 21st, Canada as 22nd and Venezuela as 24th.

 I am not saying that it is a surprise, because I had not expected much better.  The story of Canada’s truly amateur team has been reported here earlier.  And Venezuela had to fill in at the last moment, as a replacement for Uruguay, and their completely inexperienced team had no chance.  But it is really revealing that a continent with more than 30 member federations continues to be in a situation where it does not have more than two teams that are competitive internationally.

And to make it worse this time, Brazil and Argentina had their worst showing in many years.  After Argentina’s strong performance in the senior World Championship earlier this year, it is a bit surprising, and worrisome for the future, if the ‘under-21’ team cannot do better than a 20th place, ranking behind teams such as Iran, Algeria and Qatar.  Brazil managed to qualify for the 1/8-finals but finished in a modest 11th place.  By contrast, Tunisia and Egypt qualified for the bronze medal game, where the Tunisians turned out to be the strongest.

Clearly it is a disadvantage for most countries in PanAmerica that the caliber of play at the national level is too weak to provide strong development opportunities for the younger talents.  And the opportunities for continental events are very infrequent, moreover with the typical scenario of Argentina and Brazil being superior and the remaining teams finding it difficult to gain much useful experience.   Regrettably, it is going to be a very slow process before any change can be seen in this situation.  

The young European players have a much more favorable situation, both nationally and at the continental level.  The European Championships and qualifying events in the junior and youth categories are grueling and constitute a tough and beneficial preparation for those who qualify for a World Championship.  A wild idea would be to try to put together some kind of ‘non-European’ championship for the top 4-5 countries from each continent to gain some similar experience.  

However, when one sees the success of Tunisia and Egypt this time, these other continents may see little merit in such an idea, which in any event would be difficult to finance (although of course it would deserve the support of the IHF).  The North African countries and the Gulf States have an advantage financially, and they also have a closer proximity to Europe with better opportunities to develop players and team through more frequent interaction with the Europeans.  The risk is that PanAmerica will gradually fall further behind.