IHF’s new TV rights contract and the critical question: how will the money be used?

What the IHF needs are goals, strategies, plans and transparency, NOT a 'Santa Claus approach'

What the IHF needs are goals, strategies, plans and transparency, NOT a ‘Santa Claus approach’

First there were rumors, and as John Ryan recently indicated, now there is confirmation: the IHF has managed to sell the TV rights for 2014-17 to a friendly business partner, Qatar’s Al Jazeera. The exact amount has not been officially confirmed, but there are indications of a record amount (about 100 million Swiss Francs, roughly equaling US$ 110 million), which would exceed the previous contract by more than 60 percent. This should be good news for the IHF, and it should be good news for the IHF president, as it might deflect attention away from the suspicions and police investigations related to his handling of the contract with UFA Sports for 2010-13.

When I say that it ‘should’ mean good news for the IHF, I deliberately use this cautious expression, because it creates a huge issue regarding how this money should and will be spent. If the IHF were being run properly, this would be a relatively easy task, because such decisions would be taken in a democratic and transparent manner, in accordance with well-established goals, strategies and plans. But sadly this is not the reality of today’s IHF, which is being run in a very different manner. There are essentially no agreed goals, strategies and plans. Moreover, while there is an IHF Council and an IHF Executive Committee, virtually all members of those bodies simply allow the autocratic president to make all the major decisions regarding financial matters. Therefore, we have absolutely no reassurance that the new resources, which are huge by IHF standards, will be used in a systematic, sensible and fair manner. Instead we have reason to worry that, as tends to happen when there is an absence of insight and control, an increase in resources may lead to an increase in waste and corruption.

As I noted when I recently commented on the proposed budget at the IHF Congress, the proportion of the money available that is being used for development efforts around the world is embarrassingly small. Despite the introduction of the IHF Challenge Trophy, and despite recent efforts to by somewhat more systematic and listen to the need of the national federations and the continental confederations, the overwhelming proportion of the IHF resources go towards expenses related to the World Championships, the IHF administration and the remuneration and activities of the IHF top officials. The main reason for the IHF to exist should be the support and development of handball at the grassroots level, especially in the many small and new member countries. Handball now has about 199 member federations, although actual handball activities may be hard to find in many of those countries. So the need for support and resources is enormous, but that is certainly not reflected in the current IHF budget.

Theoretically, therefore it should be easy to find appropriate ways of putting the new resources to good use. I already mentioned the needs of the new and small member federations. But in the context of my comments on recent World Championships, I have also pointed out that we cannot see any trend for the relatively more advanced member federations in Africa, America and Asia to catch up with their European rivals. We must not let the impressive and welcome success of Brazil overshadow the reality that, among the women, the perennial Asian and African powers from Korea and Angola had sunk to 12th and 14th place respectively, with Japan, Tunisia, China and Argentina showing only modest signs of future competitiveness. Apart from Brazil’s many victories, Koreas win against Netherlands in the preliminary round was the only time that a non-European team was able to win against a European opponent. So this group of 10-20 nations, which hypothetically could close the gap with the Europeans in the next 10-20 years, desperately need help in order to have a chance. Another point of focus, as it has recently been suggested by the IHF president, should be the importance of rapid improvement in some of the largest countries such as China, India and the United States. But I very much doubt that the IHF even appreciates the magnitude of the support that would be needed for such an effort to succeed.

Clearly, the IHF would never be able to build up its own personnel resources to such a level that the IHF could directly implement all the global development efforts that the new resources would permit. It would continue to be necessary to draw on experienced and interested technical experts from the advanced handball countries. But the planning and coordination efforts will need to be expanded, and the dialog with the recipients of the support will also require an improved structure and added resources. The member federations, directly and through its representatives within the IHF, simply must step forward now and help ensure that the new resources are put to the best possible use. This is a critical moment and handball cannot afford to miss this opportunity, so the IHF president must be given help in reaching the best decisions and ensuring an efficient implementation.