Confusion and resistance in Germany

Strombach on his way out but wants to assert his authority

Strombach on his way out but wants to assert his authority

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the reality of handball in Spain, a country which is the current World Champion in handball but barely seems able to hold together a top league in handball. My specific topic was the demise of Atletico Madrid. So it might seem that this leaves Germany as the undisputed top handball country, although with the inverse situation from Spain: the clearly best league but a national team that failed to qualify for the EURO 2014. But, as the following stories suggest, this does not mean that German handball does not have issues.

When the International Handball Federation (IHF) announced a few days ago, which countries had submitted a Letter of Intent for the hosting of the 2019 Men’s World Championships, it surprised many that Germany was on that list. The reason for the surprise was that Germany has already been named as the host of the Women’s World Championships just 14 months earlier than the men’s event. There were even some sarcastic remarks to the effect that the German federation must have become really desperate after the recent failure to qualify for the European Championship. Hosting a World Championship is of course the way to be certain of being allowed to participate…

But then the confusion arose, because suddenly there was an announcement from the soon departing German federation president, Ulrich Strombach, stating that the Letter of Intent was not legitimate and should be withdrawn. Apparently, it had been submitted to the IHF by ‘someone who did not have the authority to do so’. There are elections in the German federation in September. Strombach will be leaving after 16 years as president, and Bernhard Bauer is his designated successor. It was implied that Bauer and/or Bob Hanning, the expected new vicepresident, had acted without the agreement of the current Board, with Strombach still in charge.

The problem is then that when the new president takes up his office, it would be too late for Germany to signify an intention to host in 2019, so a formal withdrawal of the Letter of Intent now would mean that the opportunity would be lost. So apparently there is now some effort underway to try to rescue the situation; and the IHF president Moustafa has endeavored to be ‘helpful’ by noting that the Letter of Intent is valid as far as the IHF is concerned, even though it was submitted without proper authority. So it would still be possible for the new Board in Germany to follow through with a formal bid later on.

This ‘helpful’ intervention by the IHF president is likely to raise concerns among the other potential bidders. Most recently, Germany hosted a Men’s World Championship in 2007, and it was then all too apparent that there was a really ‘excessive collaboration’ behind the scenes between the IHF president and Strombach on behalf of the German federation. Some of the other top contenders, France, Spain and Croatia, noted with horror how the IHF and the Germans worked ‘hand in hand’ well beyond what would be considered appropriate. I was there, as IHF Referee Chief, and I could observe what went on. So one can only wish that we will not now have a repetition of 2007, and the other bidders must hope initially that they will have a fair chance to get their bids considered on the basis of their merits.

A completely different issue also caught my attention in German media in recent days. Apparently, the Bundesliga had been floating a suggestion that the league championship should be decided in a big final between the top two teams in the league season, perhaps outdoors in front of a huge crowd. This may have seen plausible, given the enormous interest in the EHF Champions League ‘Final Four’, where the season culminates with semi-finals and a final. And from an American perspective it would certainly seem like a sensible idea, except that perhaps the final should then be played in ‘best of three (or perhaps five)’ matches.

But the reaction to the idea was totally negative. The fan clubs of the Bundesliga teams dismissed the whole idea as outrageous. They felt it would totally diminish the value of the long league season, currently 34 rounds. So yet again we see an example of how deep-rooted traditions are, and how difficult it is to get acceptance for innovative idea in the most traditional of our European handball countries. Many other countries already have both a league format and then a play-off with four or eight teams that decides the national championship; but not in Germany…