Jean Brihault: a dialog with the new EHF President

Key figure in handball: EHF President and IHF Vice President

Considering Jean Brihault’s reputation and accomplishments over many years, it was not really a surprise that his ‘promotion’ from Vice-President to President at the recent EHF Congress got such overwhelming support. Nevertheless, as a friend and former colleague of Jean, an outstanding leader in our sport, who has always shown great integrity, I am very pleased to see him in his new role. Much to my delight, Jean kindly took the time to enter into a dialog with me about current EHF topics:

CA: Jean, first of all congratulations! Could you offer us your sense about the achievements and the spirit of the recent EHF Congress? What does it suggest to you regarding the working atmosphere you could expect during your initial mandate period as President?
JB: The Congress took place in a positive atmosphere. The elections and attribution of future championships certainly were top of the agenda in most people’s minds but this did not lead to tensions or antagonism. Other points must not be neglected concerning this Congress, in particular the very significant step made concerning female involvement in European handball (Cf. foundation of a Women’s Handball Board and vote of a motion on the promotion of gender equality). All of this seems to bode well for the future.

CA: There were this time vacancies in a large number of key positions; the ‘rumor’ is that the voting often tended to reflect geopolitical blocks; is this a correct impression and, if so, do you see this as something positive or possibly a matter of concern?
JB: I do not think that at the time of the voting itself the fundamental motivation was the geopolitical one. My impression is that, after a period of negotiation which put these “blocks” to the fore, there was a more open approach, especially after a meeting between the leaders of the “Nordics” on the one hand and the “Mediterraneans” on the other.

CA: When starting your first term, what do you see as the main challenges awaiting EHF as an organization?
JB: Clearly now the position of women in European handball and the status of female competitions is number one on the agenda.
Second, we have to work on a global competition schedule, bearing in mind the articulation with the other continents whose needs and wishes for worldwide competitions are different from ours. Top level European players are overloaded at the moment but the top European leagues also have to face their responsibilities in this regard.

CA: What do you see as the best ways in which you personally could contribute to the efforts of meeting these challenges?
JB: Simply by creating the best conditions for constructive dialogue between all those concerned and being an active participant in this dialogue. Any measure imposed from the top is bound to fail.

CA: The coming season brings a restructuring of your club competitions for men; what effects do you hope to see as a result of that?
JB: The merging of two competitions should make the new EHF cup more exciting for players and spectators and therefore more attractive for sponsors.

CA: What efforts do you envisage in the area of helping achieve newer or smaller national federations to achieve an expedited development?
JB: We already have many programs to contribute to the development of these “emerging handball nations” as they like to call themselves. I think that what we need at this stage is to help them better define their own needs in a global European context, contribute to the continuing education of those in charge on a national level and involve these nations as much as possible in existing competitions for national teams.

CA: You mentioned about the competition calendar which comes to mind particularly in an Olympic year; are there any specific ameliorations you hope to achieve in that area in the foreseeable future?
JB: I would only add that, given the rapid evolution of handball, not only in Europe, but throughout the world, we all have to be prepared to revise our competition schedules and not to consider that the competition structure which is valid at present should be “forever”.

CA: The EHF has made progress in the area of welcoming greater influence for leagues, clubs and players; what more might be important to achieve in that respect?
JB: The first results are extremely satisfactory. What we need now is to see the leagues and the players structuring themselves as efficiently as the clubs. This is the condition they have to fulfill if they wish to become a major contributor to the definition of EHF policies.

CA: You already emphasized gender equality; should we expect any further initiatives in this regard?
JB: This is a major issue for European handball. The two motions adopted by the Congress go in the right direction as well as the fact that 18% of the persons elected by the Congress were females. But is it not very telling that we can consider “18%” as a success?

CA: What impact do you see that the financial situation in Europe might have on handball, especially at the club level? Is there a risk for further polarization in terms of resources and team strength?
JB: This situation makes it more necessary than ever for the clubs to diversify their sources of income so that they may survive even if one suddenly disappears. What I am most afraid of is billionaires buying themselves a toy that they may tire of extremely rapidly.

CA: We hear more and more about match fixing as a threat, and the EHF has been proactive for some time now; how do you evaluate the risks, and what further measures from the EHF should we expect?
JB: Though one can never feel totally safe in this regard, the system and education programs we have set up as well as our cooperation with other European sport federations and the EU can be considered to offer reasonable protection.

CA: The EHF has decided to establish its own anti-doping unit; what trends do see in terms of the prevalence of doping in handball and the efficacy of the efforts to discourage and detect doping?
JB: In this regard, tests have been conducted by the EHF and by the various national anti-doping agencies for a number of years now. There seems to be no real use of performance-enhancing substances. What we find among average level young players (i.e. those we do not see in EHF competitions) is a use of drugs that corresponds to the consumption observed in their age group.

CA: You recently established a new set of legal regulations and procedures; are you satisfied that there is consistency in the resulting sanctions and conformity with the rules regarding the handling of player disqualifications ‘with’ and ‘without’ reports?
JB: I cannot give any informed answer on this point which is still under discussion among our specialists.

CA: Finally, how do you see the status of the current relations between the EHF and the IHF, and what do you hope to achieve in this regard in your new role?
JB: The EHF has always made its positions clear inside the IHF and this will continue. The IHF President is quite right when he says that for the future of handball it is essential that IHF and EHF should work “hand in hand” and this is my very sincere wish. This being said, the situation of handball differs from continent to continent and while showing understanding for others, we also have to expect support for a sport which has become of such importance in Europe and where European teams perform so well in world competitions.