In recent days, Javier Garcia gave an interview (in Spanish) with the Handball de Primera radio program in Argentina. They had heard the news about the Residency Program which is being initiated and had read some of the accompanying statements on the USATH web page, so they were curious about the intentions and the specifics. Here is a brief summary of the interview (with a couple of my comments within parentheses):
Javier explained that essentially the Residency Program has two phases: first, an urgent effort to improve the quality of the existing men’s and women’s national teams by giving at least some of the players an opportunity to practice together and with more intensity, so that they could combine with the players we have in clubs abroad to form stronger teams for the PanAmerican Games in Toronto in July 2015. The hope would also be that one could find some strong athletes without handball experience who could quickly become candidates for the teams. Javier admitted that the chances of creating cohesive, top level teams which would have a good chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2016 might be slim, but every effort will be made to field competitive teams.
The second phase would be focused on the next Olympic cycle (which Javier surely would hope will culminate in 2020 in Madrid, in his country of origin – the host for 2020 will be decided next month). There would be a more systematic build-up of teams, with a more realistic scope for newcomers to handball to become fully integrated and proficient. Javier emphasized that, during this period, ONLY the participants in the Residency Program would be considered for the national teams. (One might wonder what this means for those many players who are currently firmly entrenched in club teams abroad, such as the many dual citizens on our ‘under 21’ women’s team; does this mean that they have to move to Auburn to remain eligible)?
Javier indicated that an effort will be made to establish intramural handball, first at Auburn and then at other universities in Alabama and in the region (SEC?), for the purpose of creating a broader interest and as a support for the recruitment. However, the main new pipeline effort would be to create junior teams more widely around the country on a regional basis, so that talents could be captured and channeled into handball at a younger age and play competitive games on a regular basis. No details were provided as to how this could best be achieved. But the sense was that this would be a very necessary recruitment effort, parallel to the one that would be based on 21-22 year old college athletes who might be looking for an opportunity to continue in elite level sports after college, once they realize that their dreams of a professional career in a major sport are not realistic.
The interviewer also wanted to pin Javier down about the realities of USOC support for a sport like handball. (As I know from my own experience, many handball fans around the world are not so ready to believe that an Olympic sport in the U.S. might be left so completely to its own devices). Javier explained the vicious circle, in the sense that the USOC will want to invest its resources towards the chase for Olympic medals and not for the grassroots support of sports which are not competitive at that level. So Javier seemed to imply that the urgency of getting a Residency Program had a lot to do with the necessity of showing the USOC some real progress at the international level, with some hope that an improvement in the next 2-3 years might lead to stronger USOC support for the next four-year period.