What if handball had been in Sochi 2014 instead of London 2012?

this could really make the Winter Games more exciting

When I now, for the first time in 20 years, plan to follow the Olympic Games through television and the internet, instead of as an IHF official, it really occurs to me: there are so many other interesting sports, and handball has a tough competition. That was not an issue during my IHF years, when the Olympic Games for me mostly meant total immersion in handball, almost seeing it as two parallel world championships for men and women. And apart from the Opening Ceremony, there was not much time and opportunity for anything else.

So now it clearly occurs to me what an imbalance we have between the Summer Games and the Winter Games. Of course, it is a matter of personal taste, but in the Winter Games there are not so many sports that catch my attention. Of course, if you are a fan of ‘movement’ on snow and ice you will disagree, but the variety just is not there. I enjoy the icehockey, especially as these days all the best players tend to be there. But being a spectator of, for instance, curling, ski-jumping and cross-country skiing almost puts me to sleep. Some of the other sports have their exciting moments and performers. By contrast, now that the TV/internet coverage is so good, in the Summer Games I have a hard time figuring out my choices, even with the help of taping set up on two TV sets. My handball watching will have to suffer….

So how about the idea of trying to ‘even out’ the size of the two games and the assortment of sports. If you think of it, very few of the sports in the Summer Games really have to take place in the summer; in fact, most of them are sports that normally have their season in fall/winter/spring. This of course tends to apply to the indoor sports, not just handball/basketball/volleyball, but also for instance, badminton, fencing, wrestling, boxing, and swimming. On the other side, one would have to agree that track & field, sailing/rowing/canoeing, cycling and equestrian work better in the absence of snow and ice. But, mischievously, would it not be exciting to imagine, for instance, triathlon in the winter.

More seriously, it would seem feasible to switch at least half a dozen sports, like the team sports handball, basketball and volleyball, together with some individual ‘power sports’, such as boxing, wrestling and judo!? Apart from the viewpoint of TV/internet audiences worldwide, it would also seem to provide better balance in terms of the work of organizers and media, and the convenience for spectators. It seems that the problems that come with having 11.000 athletes at one huge event (compared with about one fourth of this number in the winter) are really a bit much. And very few countries and cities can realistically handle something of this magnitude.

Also, the current size of the Summer Games creates almost a ‘zero-sum’ situation regarding the desire of including new sports, adding events to existing sports or adding the number of athletes per event. This can only be done through the elimination or reduction of some sports. And handball is suffering the consequences. In the typical discriminatory fashion, not so long ago we had to accept a limit of 8 women’s teams compared with 12 men’s teams. Now we have grown gradually to 12+12, but the price has partly been that we must accept that only 14 players are allowed per squad. This is of course a handicap when teams are used to 16 players in a World Championship. So most teams had difficult choices to make and now some of them additionally have a dilemma due to injuries and illness, because they have no margins.

Of course, as the IHF President has been heard suggesting, for handball there might be a further incentive for moving our (indoor) handball to the Winter Games. We see with some envy that volleyball has two variations in the Summer Games, both the traditional indoor format and the beach volleyball. As beach handball is growing in popularity, it might soon be realistic to think of it as an Olympic sport. But in the current circumstances, with the ‘zero-sum’ situation I mentioned for the Summer Games, it seems rather impossible to imagine that beach handball would get the opportunity, as a second variation of an existing sport, ahead of the many new sports that are pushing hard to be considered. But if the pressure was relieved by switching sports, including indoor handball, to the Winter Games, then the odds might become more favorable.

In the past, the idea of expanding the winter games to include sports requiring large indoor arenas would have been rather unrealistic. In the days when St. Moritz, Cortina, Lake Placid, and Albertville were the typical kind of host cities, it would have been impossible to allow for many more athletes and the construction of major arenas. But this is no longer an issue, because recent organizers have included Vancouver and Turin, and Munich was a strong candidate for 2018. So it should always be possible to find organizers that have both the facilities required for the traditional (outdoor) winter events and the resources and infrastructure to handle some indoor sports in addition.

It would be interesting to get your reactions!