Several media reports suggest that a ‘dispute’ has arisen between the European Handball Federation (EHF) the Danish top club AG Copenhagen. It is all about the missing sleeves! AG Copenhagen played in sleeveless shirts last season in Danish competition. They would very much want to do so also in the 2011-12 Champions League, but the EHF does not agree. The EHF has a contract with key sponsor Velux regarding the advertising rights for the sleeves of the player shirts. Similar contracts are normal also in IHF competition and undoubtedly in many national leagues.
Of course, the EHF is entitled to have such contracts and to have special regulations for the Champions League which all the teams that want to participate are required to respect. So unless there is some ‘loophole’ under those regulations, or unless some compromise solution can be found, it seems that AG has no choice.
But it raises the interesting question: how far could or should a federation go in requiring a specific uniform design. If you ask players or spectators in today’s handball, they will all say that the norm is to play in shirts with short sleeves. This is different from when I started in handball some 50 years ago, when the standard was long sleeves for the players (and also for the referees) in indoor games. BUT, the fact is that the official worldwide playing rules do NOT provide any guidance or any restrictions whatsoever.
The playing rules simply talk about a ‘uniform’, as if it is universally understood what this means, or as if teams have the right to decide what they mean by a uniform. There is not even a mention of shirt and shorts; the only specification involves sports shoes, and of course the colors and the numbers of the uniforms. In fact, the only dispute or issue I can remember is the desire raised by Muslim women’s team regarding permission for uniform designs that match their religious concerns.
So clearly the playing rules do not require that player shirts have sleeves, or that the sleeves should be short. Teams cannot be prevented from wearing sleeveless shirts (in ‘basketball style’), unless the organizing federation has introduced a regulation that specifically or implicitly (through agreed space for advertising) requires it. But my interest is not in interfering in the ‘dispute’ between EHF and AG.
Instead I want to raise the issue, what do we think should be the norm in handball? Has the time come to change universally to the habit of playing in sleeveless shirts? Does it look more ‘athletic’ to use shirts without sleeves? Are there any esthetic considerations? Do we want to continue to market handball as something different from basketball by virtue of insisting on sleeves? Etc. Etc.
I am interested in opinions from all of you; although I must say that on this issue I would really give more weight to what the players themselves think. What makes them more comfortable? I suspect that, as is often the case, there will be an inclination to resist change, but perhaps the players would soon find a sleeveless shirt more comfortable. The only opinion that I myself would venture is that it would not look so attractive to see a mix, meaning one team with sleeves and the opponents with sleeveless, or some players on a team with sleeves and others sleeveless. But perhaps that is an old-fashioned way of looking at it… Opinions, please!