Serious concerns after IHF dismisses its Head of Anti-Doping

The International Handball Federation is required to abide by all aspects of the World Anti-Doping Code.  This involves, inter alia, educational programs, testing as prescribed by the Code, and taking appropriate measures on the basis of test results.  It clearly also entails strict adherence to the formal procedures under the Code, which includes issues such as complete confidentiality regarding planned testing efforts and strict privacy rules regarding all data pertaining to testing.

The standard procedure for a federation such as the IHF is to establish a specialized and separate Anti-Doping Unit (ADU), in a completely compartmentalized way and separate from the normal administration of the federation, so that all the necessary confidentiality can be ensured.  Financial resources and professional staffing has to be provided for the ADU.  The IHF has had such an ADU since 2006, all the time under the leadership of the Austrian Professor Hans Holdhaus, who has been supported by one specific assistant, seconded from the IHF staff.  The well-known competence and integrity of Holdhaus has served as a guarantee in WADA and IOC circles that the IHF would be in compliance.

The IHF President has indeed been heard to proudly talk about this status of compliance.  Behind the scenes, the reality has been different.   In 2009, as was reported by John Ryan for Teamhandballnews at the time, the IHF in fact refused to provide the necessary financing for the ADU, so that for instance out-of-competition testing became impossible.  Holdhaus and most of his colleagues on the IHF Medical Commission wanted to resign over this issue, but the IHF President came to his senses under the threat of IOC intervention.  Already back in 2005, the IHF President arranged for the dismissal of the person who was up for re-election as President of the Medical Commission at that time, essentially as a result of disagreements over anti-doping matters (see the final paragraph below).

What now happened in March 2011 was that the assistant of Holdhaus was summarily fired, as she correctly refused to pass on confidential ADU information to the IHF office manager Khalifa, the IHF President’s loyal crony, who acts as his whip and his eyes and ears on all matters and all people at the IHF Office.  (As a separate matter, numerous other IHF staff have resigned or been dismissed under the joint Moustafa/Khalifa regime).  The excuse subsequently presented was that it would be dangerous not to have anyone else aware of the information that the ADU assistant possessed…  That this notion completely flaunts the clear WADA rules apparently was unimportant.

The next episode was when Professor Holdhaus was scheduled to appear at the IHF Office to prepare and coordinate the arrangements for the anti-doping control at the recent Junior and Youth World Championships, together with some other pending ADU matters.  At the last moment he was informed that his presence in Basel was not wanted.  When requesting an explanation from the IHF President for this strange situation, he was simply told that the IHF President did not want to talk with him  – ever again!  When Holdhaus wrote to the IHF to note that he could not carry out his job in this fashion, in return he received a curt letter thanking him for his service!

Shortly thereafter, Holdhaus received a call from the IHF medical person who supervised the doping tests during the Junior Championship.  Apparently, the organizers did not accept to carry out the prescribed number of tests and referred to an agreement with someone in the IHF office.  Holdhaus dutifully tried to intervene but was unable to achieve anything.  Instead, a few days later, he was summarily dismissed from the IHF after 20 years of valuable service.

It now appears that the IHF President tries to pretend that nothing important has happened and that WADA compliance remains ensured.  It seems that the person now nominated is one of the only two on the medical side who has remained totally loyal to the IHF President, including the refusal to take a stand during the 2009 dispute.   He and the other remaining loyalist are also the ones designated to supervise doping tests at the IHF events.  Nobody who knows the situation will have any illusions about the notion that the compartmentalization and confidentiality of ADU matter will remain intact.   It could easily be expected that the IHF President will have the unlimited, but prohibited, access that he has shown in the past that he wants.

It remains to be seen whether the IOC and WADA will react.  Professor Holdhaus has simply informed them that he is no longer involved with the IHF.  It is also important for the rest of the international handball family to be alert and draw its conclusions.  The risk for serious repercussions for our sport is obvious.   The European Handball Federation (EHF) is rumored to have drawn the conclusion that it must now establish its own ADU, for its massive competition system, rather than relying on the IHF.  Indeed, it appears that the EHF has anticipated all along that it could come to a situation where the IHF could not be trusted; the recently established EHF regulations for punishments contain a remarkable phrase: ‘The IHF Anti-Doping Regulations apply to any EHF competitions, unless they are inconsistent with the WADA Anti-Doping Code’.  This is really telling, but it seems that the implicit suspicions were fully justified!

It would also not be surprising if suspicious people, also in the absence of any evidence, started to wonder about coincidences.   At a time when the IHF Anti-Doping Chief is removed from any influence over the Junior and Youth World Championship, the Egyptian teams were having remarkable successes at both events.  I surely hope that there is no connection at all, but the mere suspicions would be very bad for our sport.  And people would remember the situation at the 2004 pre-Olympic handball event, where testing was suddenly announced, unbeknownst to the IHF President and the participating teams.    After a verbal fight, where the IHF President tried to cancel the testing, half of the Egyptian team suddenly pulled out of the game before it started…  This was the key to the IHF President getting the then President of the Medical Commission ousted at the next opportunity.