Perhaps much can be forgiven when the World Champion, Norway, manages to win the gold medal game through a thoroughly convincing performance. Perhaps one should also emphasize the mostly enthusiastic and inspiring performances by the Spanish team. And pleasant surprises in individual games caused by Angola, Iceland and Japan would also have to be seen as positive experiences.
But probably this is overshadowed by several disappointing performances and a generally rather mediocre standard, even if in some cases the unusually weak team performances were caused by injuries and by players missing for other reasons. For instance, Denmark managed to show glimpses of its traditional strength, but in several games the team looked a bit lost and uninspired. Russia looked formidable in the early going, but in some of the subsequent games the team seemed to play on ‘autopilot’ despite Coach Trefilov’s admonitions. Korea seems to be in a rebuilding phase and was a shadow of its strengths in the past. Sweden was not anywhere near its level of a year ago in the European Championship.
Why am I not mentioning France? Well, the silver medals were probably deserved, but I must confess I was happy they did not win gold. I really do not like the ruthless and excessively physical style they showed. Taking advantage of your physical strength is one thing, but cynical and dangerous fouls without much respect for the opponents, no thank you! And there was also a reminder of the unpopular style of the French men’s team from some ten years ago, when all the emphasis was on clutching, grabbing and pushing as a method of preventing the opponents from moving the ball.
Brazil lost a tough quarterfinal against Spain, but then they won two games to gain the 5th place. With some luck, they could have placed higher, but it probably goes to show that it takes some time to get established among the perennial medal contenders. They enjoyed good support from their home crowd, but not unexpectedly the very poor spectator situation was otherwise a contributing factor to the lack of emotion and excitement around essentially all the other top games. This is of course a known risk when a country like Brazil gets to host, but the reality is that good crowds can only be expected in a relatively small group of countries.
In any case, the IHF tries to say the right things about making a special push for women’s handball. But ‘talk is cheap’ as the expression goes. Real action is mostly missing, and the traditional attitudes are often shining through. A mediocre conference on women’s issues was held, but there were few women in attendance, and there was no notion of any tangible result coming out of the talking. A number of women had been nominated for the important jobs of match delegates, but some of the choices were baffling and there was no serious training offered. It seemed like a conspicuous but fake attempt to convey an image that is not really true. The way that the small number of women referees in the event was treated reinforces the negative image.
Another telling fact is that the group of referees for this event could and should have been stronger. There are several top couples who are not nominated for next month’s European Championship who could have been used. Now some of the nominations looked quite ‘political’ in nature, and in at least one case the well-known personal preferences of the IHF President could be spotted. The Women’s World Championship requires and deserves a stronger focus on quality. As it now happened, the choices were really limited for the top games at the end, for instance with the same couple refereeing both a semi-final and then the final, something which is undesirable and has traditionally been unthinkable.