On the heels of its, after the fact and arbitrary action to remove Australia from the 2015 Men’s World Handball Championships, the IHF now appears to have revised its regulations to make future moves clearly legal. I’m not sure when the new Competition Regulation was posted on the IHF website, but it was first brought to my attention by this article at Mundo Handball.
The section of the revised regulation which should draw the attention of every developing handball nation is Section 2.3 which reads in part”
“To participate in IHF World Championships a certain performance level of the qualified team is obligatory. In case the competitive capability of a qualified team is disputable and the difference in performance level between the country in question and the other teams qualified for the WCh is too large, the IHF Council reserves the right to re-award this place to a country meeting the corresponding competitive requirements in order to strengthen and protect the IHF World Championship product. In such cases an in-depth analysis has to be carried out by the respective IHF Commissions (COC, CCM) as well as by media and marketing experts to highlight the impact on the media and marketing side. Also the current performance as well as the IHF ranking and the performance in earlier IHF events will be taken into consideration when evaluating the performance level of the respective team. Therefore the IHF bodies will issue performance reports about all participating teams immediately after the end of the respective World Championship.”
It doesn’t take a lawyer to analyze this paragraph and come to the conclusion that this paragraph essentially states the IHF can pretty much take away any qualification spot it wants to. Breaking it down here’s some of the major problems and ramifications:
– The regulation is exceedingly vague as to what the obligated performance level must be. In other words, if the Australian Men’s side performance level is too low, how much better does it have to be? Lose by only 15 goals against the top European sides? 10 goals? Australia was the last and 24th place team at the 2013 WC. Chile was 23rd, but were they good enough? Chile’s made some strides, but Iceland, the best European team not participating is still clearly a better team. How competitive is competitive?
– Media and marketing experts have a say: Speaking of Iceland, it’s a small TV market, but a very focused one. With their non-qualification for the 2015 WC I bet the TV rights are significantly lower there. Now, if Iceland were to participate that would probably mean a bump in that price. Is this then the IHF Council discussion:
IHF President: Let’s see who should take the fall? Chile? or maybe Iran, the third place team from Asia?
Asian Rep: What about Egypt, the third place team from Africa? Sorry, just joking.
Marketing Rep: Well according to our marketing assessment, the Chilean market is the smallest, so it should be Chile.
IHF President: Chile, it is. Send them an email to let them know.
(On a side note, I guess as an American I should like this provision. If, admittedly a big if, the enormous U.S. market ever showed an interest in the sport we might get a boost in our participation chances.)
– This IHF Council decision can be made at anytime. Which in this hypothetical scenario would mean that Chile or Iran might think they are headed to Qatar, but they could get informed tomorrow they aren’t. A nation could spend thousands of dollars traveling to participate in qualification to secure a bid only to be told later, “Sorry, Wally World is closed”
– Continental qualification could become a mystery game. Future qualification in Pan American, Africa, Asia and Oceania might not hinge on where you place, but what (and how many) European teams (with a big TV market) unexpectedly don’t qualify. Teams need to now finish in as high as slot as possible. This is particularly true for the Pan American Woman’s Championships next Summer. Brazil’s 2013 Championship has resulted in an unprecedented 6 slots going to a continent outside of Europe. But, after Brazil there’s a drop in talent and without a doubt the lower ranking teams from Pan America are probably not going to fare very well at the 2015 WC. Just a coincidence that this regulation has recently been updated?
At the very least, the IHF should provide absolute guarantees on at least some of the qualification spots before the tournament takes place. Otherwise, the victorious teams that win a pivotal placement match will feel a little awkward when they hug each other at center court and celebrate their, “I think we may have qualified” victory.
Elections and Developing Nations
Last I checked the number of IHF member nations in Pan America, Africa, Asia and Oceania far outstrips the total in Europe. And, yet here is an IHF Council decision which clearly impacts those developing nations. How does that happen? Maybe next time around those nations will think about what their votes mean and whose really going to be looking out for their interests.