Top clubs put pressure on IHF through lawsuit against German Federation

The German Federation put on the spot in legal action by the clubs

The German Federation put on the spot in legal action by the clubs

As I have reported in earlier articles, the top European handball clubs have become increasingly frustrated with the total unwillingness on the part of the IHF to treat clubs as stakeholders and negotiate with them. In focus is the IHF’s insistence that the national federations can require clubs to make their players available for the national team, combined with the IHF’s decision to give the clubs some unilaterally determined, modest compensation for releasing the players.

The IHF does not recognize clubs under its By-Laws and feels that it can therefore do what it wants on this issue. So when the clubs work together in their association Forum Club Handball (FCH), they find that they cannot force the IHF to deal with them, neither individually, nor through the FCH. This is a completely different situation from the way in which the European Handball Federation (EHF) fully recognizes both clubs and players and gives them formal representation, just as is the case in football with FIFA and UEFA.

This has now made the clubs and FCH conclude that their only option is to go after IHF indirectly through the national federations. The federations are formally recognized as stakeholders by the IHF, so they are in a position to put pressure on the IHF to change the current situation. But at least some national federations may be unwilling to do so, because at least indirectly it could make them lose some of their power. And of course, it could be seen as entirely fair and appropriate that the clubs go after the federations who are the beneficiaries of having players available for their national teams free of charge.

The FCH could not realistically initiate a lawsuit, as they could not portray themselves as an ‘injured party’ in a legal sense, as it is the individual clubs who pay salaries and lose the services of their players and, even worse, face the consequences in the case a player comes back to the club with a physical injury that occurred while with the national team. So the legally correct approach is for clubs to sue their respective national federations, with the ultimate purpose of having the federations feel forced to put pressure on the IHF.

Accordingly, as a ‘test case’, and in the form of a ‘class action’, a large number of German Bundesliga clubs have now agreed to get together and sue the German Handball Federation (DHB). This is, of course, in itself an extraordinary measure and particularly so as it is in a sense a ‘proxy’ for a legal fight between the clubs and the IHF. Moreover, being the party that is orchestrating the action, the FCH has undertaken to absorb the expenses for the process, rather than having the Bundesliga clubs bearing the risk and burden for action on behalf of all top clubs in a whole spectrum of European countries. And you could even say that the issue goes beyond Europe, as increasingly the players in the Bundesliga clubs and other major European clubs come from non-European nations.

It will indeed be interesting to see how this process evolves, how the federations beyond Germany will react, and how the IHF might react, given that similar measures have been successful in football and other sports.