There is no “WE” when it comes to the global interests of Handball

Competing interests often keep Handball from growing in popularity

Christer Ahl wrote a commentary recently that addressed whether there are too many events like the European Championships on the quadrennial calendar for Handball.  In his view it all came down to the basic question:  For whom and for what purpose do we organize these Championships? And he does a pretty good job summing up the pros and cons along with the basic problems of an overly crowded schedule and the impacts to the players.  That being said he comes up short in a couple of areas that I’d like to further address.

The first area relates to Christer’s liberal use of the pronoun “we”.    In some follow up dialogue, Christer acknowledged that in the interests of time and space he used the word without defining contextually who the “we” was.  In broad terms Christer’s “we” refers to dedicated Handball enthusiasts who enjoy watching the sport and would like to see the sport become more popular.  This is probably a fairly large constituency even if there is no particular organization that directly speaks for these interests.  But, as you delve further into the article, Christer’s bias as an American and former IHF official with a very global view are pretty apparent.  Not to mention, he has a pretty sympathetic ear to the interests of the players.

When all is said and done, it’s pretty obvious that there is simply no “we” when it comes to Handball.  Instead it’s a complicated game of tug of war between competing organizations and interests with alliances that rotate back and forth based primarily (some would say, solely) on the best interests of those entities.  For the uninitiated here’s a primer on those entities.

IHF (International Handball Federation)
– Income sources:  World Championships, Olympics, TV rights and sponsorships
– Power and influence factors:  Controls two prime money making events and the legitimacy of an international federation

EHF (European Handball Federation)
– Income sources: European Championships, Champions League, TV rights and sponsorships
– Power and influence factors:  Controls two prime money making events and the represents the continent with the overwhelming greatest number of fans

Other Continental Federations (Africa, Asia, Pan America, Oceania)
– Income sources:  IHF grants, National Federations
– Power and influence factors:  These Federations to varying degrees have bundled national federations votes for IHF elections

National Federations (Europe)
– Income sources:  National Team competitions, National Club cup competitions, Government backing and sponsorships
– Power and influence factors:   These Federations control the national teams which are the primary products of the top revenue events

National Federations (Rest of World)
– Income sources:  IHF grants (often filtered down through Continental Federations)
– Power and influence factors:  These nations each have a vote in the elections for IHF positions and collectively they can out poll Europe

National Leagues
– Income sources:  Clubs, TV rights for league matches and sponsorships
– Power and influence factors:  These leagues represent the clubs in their leagues.

Top Handball Clubs
– Income sources:  Club matches and sponsorships
– Power and influence factors:  These top Handball clubs pay the bulk of the salaries for the World’s best players

Other Handball Clubs
– Income sources:  Club matches and sponsorships
– Power and influence factors:  While fewer top players play for these clubs these clubs provide the competition for the top clubs and are necessary for the National Leagues to function

– Income sources:  Clubs, also additional minor compensation for national team events and sponsorships/advertisements
– Power and influence factors:  The players are the product.  Without the players there is no Handball

Now, I’ll be the first to state that this is a simplified summary of the different entities that collectively are involved in the Handball world.  It just scratches the surface and even within these different entities there are competing interests.  For instance the German Bundesliga competes against other national leagues and it can hardly be said that every European National Federation is on the same page on a number of issues.

About the only thing that all these different entities agree upon is that it indeed would be a good thing in Handball was more popular.  And I suppose all involved also like watching a good handball match.  But, it’s hard to see common cause going much further than that.  And as with many things in life and politics, these divisions pretty much all boil down to money and the reality that there is only so much money to be divided up.

If you take the specific question Christer asked, “For whom and for what purpose do we organize these Championships?” and ask each of those entities you’ll get a substantially different answer from every single one of them.  That’s because staging a European Championship or World Championship has a tremendous impact with pros and cons for each of these entities.  Changing the status quo, could radically diminish (or even eliminate) some of these organizations.

So, if the current state of affairs is that there is a tangled web of competing interests does that mean this status quo will be maintained on into the future?   Or is there a real potential for some radical change to the status quo.  For change that would increase the popularity of the sport and result in a better product for fans world-wide?

Yes, it’s possible and that will be addressed in a follow up commentary.   If you’re looking for a hint, look at the common thread inherent in each of these entities and then follow the money.