The International Handball Federation has a really bad track record when it comes to taking athlete representation seriously. The IHF President likes the idea of All-Star Games, voting for the ‘Player of the Year’ etc., but he has never shown any interest in giving the players a voice in the IHF planning and decision-making. On paper, the IHF has had an Athletes’ Commission for a number of years now, but it has never been allowed to function. It was introduced only after there was too much pressure from the IOC to do so. And some form of ‘elections’ of players to the Commission has taken place. (Former USA National Team player Dawn Allinger Lewis has been a member, together with a group of prominent players).
However, during all my years in the IHF, there was never any activity or influence. The Commission was even getting its requests for meetings denied, and it was made rather clear that there views were not sought or wanted. I am unofficially aware of situations where the Athletes’ Commission protested this situation to the IHF President, but the IHF Council (where I was a member during five years) was never officially told about the protest.
Accordingly, it is now rather interesting to see that apparently the IHF President is giving the impression that he wants to change this situation. (See the link in the 16 September Handball News Summary). It even seems to be suggested that, under revised By-Laws, the Athletes’ Commission should have such formal status that its Chair would become a member of the IHF Council, just like the Chairs of the ordinary Commissions. However, while the players have a form of ‘union’ and would be fully capable of putting forward their own candidates, the emerging IHF proposal seems to have the national federations putting forward candidates. Moreover, the idea seems to be that the IHF would thereafter pick and choose among these candidates. In my view, this would be an absurd approach.
However, this approach fits right in with the IHF President’s refusal to recognize clubs and stakeholders in the IHF. Clubs are employers of all the players on the national teams that participate in World Championships and Olympic Games. So, as I have written many time before, the clubs have a very legitimate interest in issues such as the international competition calendar, the compensation to the clubs when the players are taken away from them, insurance matters etc. But the IHF refusals have been taken so far that the clubs, through a number of German Bundesliga clubs, have now felt forced to take legal action to obtain the right to negotiate with the IHF.
Clearly, the IHF President is much more comfortable to deal with individual national federations from a position of power, with an opportunity to divide and conquer, considering the vast differences in experience and interests among national federations around the world. He does not want to deal with the top clubs, as these are generally run by strong managers in a very business-like way. And it now seems clear that he does not want to deal with the players as a group their unions. Instead he prefers to be able to co-opt some of them to give the impression of allowing some kind of real participation. One can only hope that the players do not go along with such methods.