I am sure some of you will react and say: what kind of crazy question is that? But I think the question is justified, when we now try to draw broad conclusions from the event. Without becoming too ‘philosophical’, I think it goes back to asking the basic question: for whom and for what purpose do we organize these Championships?
Of course, the Danes will have a very simply answer: to show that we are the best! And the Serbs and Macedonians who secured places in the Olympic qualifying will be pleased (although one perhaps did not need precisely this kind of event for that purpose). The local spectators, mostly Serbs and Macedonians, certainly enjoyed the event, as did lots of TV and web case viewers. At least if their main focus was on close and thrilling games and not so much on enjoying top class handball.
But I would insist that the main group for whose sake one would arrange a EURO is the players, their teams and their federations. They want to display their skills, they want to beat their rivals and get medals or a good ranking, and they want to make good PR for the handball in their respective countries. But how often and at what points in time is it necessary and positive to organize this kind of Championship, and indeed the whole set of World and Continental Championships in a four-year period that also includes the all-important Olympic Games?
Clearly there is a balance between (1) having enough opportunities for the players to be in the spotlight and for the federations to create PR and revenue, and (2) the burden it places on the players, their employers (the clubs) and also the federations who must make every effort to present their teams in the best possible light. The participation in a EURO or a World Championship does not come without a sacrifice, in terms of ‘wear and tear’, new injuries or worsening of existing ones, empty periods for clubs and leagues, extended periods away from families etc etc.
It was clearer than on other occasions that this time there really were players who had to think hard: Should I deal with my nagging injury or should I risk playing? Should I make myself available (perhaps towards the end of a long career) even though I really would benefit from the time off? And what about those family obligations that I must give up on if I go away for a few weeks, considering how stressful my handball life is for my family also during the rest of the year?
It also seems that even if the players do make themselves available, even if they are not (or do not become) injured, the overall burden on them does show up in the sense that many of them actually are not in top form, or they are not totally motivated. Put differently, if these events come too frequently or at an awkward time, the teams and the players cannot do themselves justice and keep showing top skills, new moves, new tactics, and full effort in every game.
And in another way the national teams also have a more difficult time than the club teams who have their players available almost around the year. In their situation it is less difficult to lose old star players, to integrate newcomers, to modify tactics or to introduce a new style of playing. But for the national team coach, there are very limited opportunities to bring the players together and make them function as a team.
And it is especially bad when a national team, as inevitable happens, faces a ‘generation change’ or at least needs to integrate several new young talents into the collective. Not to mention when a new coach takes over a national team and needs to get his or her style and ideas reflected in the way a mix of veterans and newcomers should play. This kind of adjustment may be realistic over a 2- or 4-year period, but constantly from one year to the next, with a big Championship every year, plus then the Olympics!?
So, is it realistic, is it desirable to have five big events in a four-year period? I think a lot of the people affected will say NO. They will say that at least we do not want more than one event per year. Perhaps we should even go down to three events in four years (including the Olympics) as is the situation in football, where furthermore they do not even take the Olympics very seriously. Is anyone really complaining that we do not have a Continental or a World Championship every year in football?
Of course, I know that there is ‘another side of the coin’. While in Europe it might be easier to get acceptance for a reduction, given the high level and the importance attached to the continental championship, the ‘EURO’, the situation is not viewed the same way in the other continents. Argentina and Brazil cannot be blamed for getting tired of the routines and the predictability of their continental top event. And the current and very recent Championships in Asia and Africa do not generate enormous publicity and excitement throughout the continent. Moreover, for the top countries in each continent the ‘big deal’ is to have a chance to measure themselves against the Europeans.
If only one could come up with a model with a supplementary opportunity for these countries to have that exchange more regularly without ‘needing’ a World Championship or the Olympic Games three times in four years. And with the recognition that from Europe there are typically about 12 participants in any World Championship, could one then not cut back on the frequency of the EUROs? In any case, quite frankly, while 16 teams get to participate in the EURO, the reality is that one would be hard pressed to find more than 10-12 top rate teams on each occasion. Perhaps, it would be beneficial, instead, to have more exchange between the top dozen and the next dozen, instead of these one-time home and away qualifying games (like for the 2013 World Championship) that will soon come up.
Having attended the 2011 World Championship for men, and having now watched a lot of EURO 2012 games on the internet, I am getting more and more convinced that the current competition cycle contributes to a dilution of quality, as an important negative factor in addition to those mentioned above. I do not have a great proposal to offer, and I am not prepared to put myself in the middle of an agitated fight between legitimate European and non-European viewpoints, but something needs to be done!