Bad PR for handball at the international/Olympic level

A style and image that are not helpful

It has been known for years that the IHF President is frantically trying to find a way to become a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). On the surface of if, this would seem harmless, or perhaps even a good cause; to have a sport represented in this prestigious body might be having some beneficial effect. But when gradually the impression is that the IOC does not care much for this pursuit or that it is done in a way that generates controversy, then it seems that it is the kind of attention that handball would prefer to do without.

The IOC has four categories of active members: (1) a maximum of 70 members ‘whose memberships are not linked to any specific function or office’; one could say that they are elected simply on the basis of their personal merits; (2) up to 15 athletes; (3) up to 15 presidents or other executive/senior leaders of International Federations (IFs) or associations of IFs; (4) up to 15 presidents or other executive/senior leaders of National Olympic Committees or their world/continental associations. The members are elected by the IOC Session, i.e., the annual meeting of the current IOC members.

Hypothetically, the IHF President could be seen as eligible under category (1), but there has never been any suggestion that the IOC sees him as deserving such consideration. Alternatively, by virtue of being an IF president, he could be considered under category (3), either as being IHF President or as representative of handball in ASOIF, the entity where the 28 Summer Olympic sports come together to pursue their common interests in relation to the IOC and Olympic organizers. Currently, many of the IF Presidents are already members of the IOC, including the IF Presidents for football, basketball, volleyball and icehockey. Undoubtedly, this is a particularly sore point with the IHF President. However, as noted, there are only 15 slots and there are currently 35 IFs in the summer and winter Olympics combined. While handball as a sport may deserve attention, the elections are based on the persons.

It should be noted that, by tradition and not by any provision in the IOC Charter, the IOC allows the ASOIF to nominate one representative to the IOC Executive Board. (Technically, the IOC session votes and ‘rubber stamps’ the person wanted by the ASOIF). However, there is a caveat: the designated person must already be a member of the IOC. In other words, you cannot become an IOC member ‘through the backdoor’ by having the ASOIF nominate you.

When very recently the current ASOIF President, Denis Oswald, an old nemesis of the IHF President, announced his retirement, it opened up a seemingly attractive vacancy. However, the IHF President did not come forward as a candidate, perhaps precisely because it would not bring IOC membership with it. So when the ASOIF had its meeting last week, the President of the International Tennis Federation, Ricci Bitti, was the only candidate. But to complicate matters, while Bitti is an IOC member, for age reasons he is not eligible to become a member of its Executive Board. Accordingly, a separate election became necessary, for another person to represent the ASOIF. The person elected was the President of the International Boxing Federation, C. K. Wu, a veteran IOC member.

And again the IHF President had come up against the same obstacle as before: he was not eligible as he is not an IOC member. This really must have ‘added insult to injury,’ and there are reports both in the media and through other channels that it caused the IHF President to argue angrily against the ASOIF leadership, especially Oswald and Vice-President McQuaid. It seems he was upset that they refused to entertain his proposal that ASOIF should insist that the IOC change its Charter to make all IF Presidents automatic IOC members during their tenure as IF Presidents. (This is an idea that the IHF President has been known to push in the past). Alternatively, ASOIF should argue that the representative they wanted to elect to the IOC Executive Board should automatically become an IOC member if not already having that status.

Ideally, an IHF President should be able to use his position with ASOIF and his relations with the IOC in ways that are beneficial to our sport. As a minimum, one hopes for respect and a positive image. But over the years, there have been too many reasons to question that. The angry pursuit of a personal agenda has not been helpful, and the signals from the IOC and from the ASOIF colleagues have been unmistakably negative. The international handball family needs to take notice. Our sport deserves to have someone who can represent us better