Handball Web Streaming This Weekend (2-4 July 2021)

Christine Mansour can be seen in action this weekend with Dutch club, Kras Volendam

  • More information on where to find web streams for National Team, Professional Club and USA Competitions: Link
  • For regular updates on when and where handball matches can be streamed online follow Team Handball News on social media: Twitter Facebook Instagram

All times are CET which is 6 hours ahead of US ET. Odds courtesy of Bet MGM and/or OddsPortal.

American Athletes in Action

The Rip Beach Handball Club wraps up their European journey with the Nazares, Portugal stop on the Arena Handball Tour. Many of the athletes playing for Rip Beach are also members of the USA Beach Handball National Team.

Also, on the Women’s side some American National Team players, Christine Mansour and Missy Sponagle are playing with Dutch side Kras Volendam. I will post the scheduled match times and results when they are available. They also will surely be available on Rip Beach Handball’s social media platforms

  • Rip Beach Handball: Facebook Instagram
  • Spanish YouTube Site: Link (There are 2 live streams for courts 1 and 2)
  • Match Schedule (Rip Beach Handball):
    • Rip Beach Handball is in Pool C of the Men’s Open Division: Schedule Standings
      • Rip Beach Handball – Core Global BM Playa Parla 2:1 (30:32;25:24;11:10)
      • Rip Beach Handball – Playa Rayito Salinero 1:2 (22:18;18:24;6:7)
        • Video Link (only a portion of the match is available)
    • Knockout Bracket
      • Round of 16 Rip Beach Handball vs CBMP City of Malaga 0:2 (20:28;17:24)
  • Match Schedule (Kras Volendam):
    • Kras Volendam is in Pool C of the Women’s Open Division: Schedule Standings
      • Kras Volendam – Antua 2:0 (26:8;14:10)
      • Kras Volendam vs Playa Alcala 2:1 (23:22;26:29;6:4)
        • Video Link (Slide bar left to the beginning. Only the shootout is available)
      • Kras Volendam vs BHCE Plan B 0:2 (15:23;20:27)
        • Video Link (Link is set to the beginning of the match)
    • There was a 3 way tie in the Pool and Volendam was 3rd in the group on tiebreakers so they didn’t advance to the Knockout stage.

Other Matches this Weekend

  • NACHC Qualification for the Jr PANAM Games:  
    • NACHC Website: Link
    • All Times below are US ET
    • 1 July, 2021
      • 1630 Dominican Republic 30, Cuba 36  Video Link
      • 1830 Mexico 27, Puerto Rico 21 Video Link
        • Due to a roster eligibility issue Puerto Rico was declared the winner of this match
    • 2 July, 2021
      • 1630 Dominican Republic 30 vs Mexico 28 Video Link
    • 3 July, 2021

Where is Handball Popular? And, Just How Popular is Handball Compared to Other Sports?: North America and the Caribbean

Handball’s Popularity in North American & the Caribbean
Closeup: Handball’s Popularity in the Caribbean

Some Notes on Handball in North America and the Caribbean

As a resident of North American and a long time follower of the sport I feel that I’m in a pretty good position to assess the relative popularity of the sport in this hemisphere. At the bottom of this article is the rationale that was used to make this assessment and, for reference, it is the same methodology that was used to create similar assessments for Europe and Africa

  • Popularity assessments for other continents
    • Europe: Link
    • Africa: Link
    • South and Central America (In development)
    • Asia (In development)
    • Oceania (In develpment)
  • Geography Lesson: You’ll notice that I haven’t color coded the Central American nations. This is because when the IHF split the old Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) into two Confederations, Central America was grouped with South America to form the South & Central American Handball Confederation (SCAHC). While North America and the Caribbean were combined to form the North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC). I’m not entirely sure why the split wasn’t made at the Panama-Colombia border, but I suspect the intent was to even up the total number of countries and to split up the nations very new to handball more equitably.
  • Soccer is not king: With the exception of Mexico the nations of this region do not put soccer on a pedestal above all other sports. Indeed in nations like the U.S., Canada and many of the Caribbean nations it’s further down in the pecking order. Why one even gets into debates as to whether it’s the 3rd, 4th or 5th most popular sport in the U.S. Many Caribbean nations have either baseball or cricket at the top. I know this seems quite strange to the rest of the world, but that’s just the way it is. And, isn’t it refreshing?
  • Greenland: It’s my assessment that Greenland is the only nation in the world where handball is the #1 team sport. I’ve heard that with the introduction of artificial turf fields that soccer is making some inroads, but for now handball is still king. If one saw the crowds at the 2018 Pan American Championships held in Greenland one got a sense of the hold this sport has on it’s 56,000 inhabitants. And, back in 2007 I heard and saw firsthand how this nation backs its team at a World Championship.
  • Martinique and Guadeloupe: These two Caribbean islands are outposts of France and have produced several French national team players including arguably the GOAT Defensive Specialist, Didier Dinart. Luckily for the nations of the NACHC there are no significant movements for these Departments to become independent nations… because if they did become independent they would both be instant medal contenders in NACHC competitions. They have entered competitions as associated members and club teams from Guadeloupe have beaten the U.S. national team in competition.
    • Olympic Channel Documentary on Didier Dinart: Includes visiting the abandoned house he grew up in and the dedication of a new arena named in his honor: Link
  • Cuba: After Greenland, Cuba is the one other NACHC handball nation where handball means something. This is evidenced by the significant number of Cubans that have played professionally overseas and in many cases played for their adopted new countries in international competition. It’s a long list with some notables being Carlos Perez, Rolando Urios, Rafael Capote, Frankis Marzo and Alfredo Quintana who tragically passed away earlier this year. For many years a Cuban athlete that played professionally overseas could no longer play for Cuba internationally. The good news/bad news story is that the Cuban government has changed the law and Cuban athletes can now leave Cuba for professional careers and still play for Cuba internationally. (Good news for Cuba… Not so good news for the rest of the NACHC.)
    • For many years I thought this Cuban handball success was mostly attributable to the the Cuban sports factory model manufacturing players for the national team. This, however, was a bad assumption and USA interim Women’s national team coach, Julio Sainz, set me straight in this interview from 2018 on handball in Cuba: Link
  • Minor, very minor or virtually non-existent: What’s the difference between handball being considered a minor, very minor or virtually non-existent sport?: For the rest of the nations in the NACHC that was essentially the question. As I’ve pointed out before in this series there are no hard metrics for these popularity assessments and the difference between minor and very minor is really debatable and open to opinion. I could make the case that handball is but a curiosity in every other remaining nation in the NACHC. In the end, largely based on relative population size, I decided that a couple of nations were more orange than red.
  • Canada: Over the years I’ve played or coached against handball teams from all over Canada and it’s always struck me that handball in the U.S. and Canada was pretty similar. That perspective, however, began to change with the development of youth programs and high school programs in the province of Alberta. Handball is still a minor sport there, but significant progress has been made. The other province where handball has a foothold is Quebec. Again, handball is not a huge sport, but it has a following in those two provinces. As far as the rest of Canada goes… it is pretty much like the U.S. In fact, if one were to color code the provinces of Canada, outside of Alberta and Quebec, the rest of Canada would be a see of red. It was a close call, but I decided that those two provinces boosted the country up to orange
    • Commentary on handball development efforts in Alberta and whether the U.S. should apply them: Link
  • Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico is another country that I was on the fence about in terms of red vs orange. Handball is not super huge there, but in terms of national team competitions they’ve punched way above their weight. Yes, this territory of the U.S. with 3M people has typically fared well in comparison to the U.S. (100 times bigger) and even qualified its women’s team for the 2015 World Championships. And, while the U.S. has bolstered its national teams with dual citizens Puerto Rico has relied on home grown talent. Finally, here’s some context for you. In a contest where both nations had to rely entirely on homegrown talent… I would bet on Puerto Rico. Take into account the relative population sizes and the reality that Puerto Rico is actually part of the U.S… and, you might be saying, “What the hell?”
  • Dominican Republic: I considered the Dominican Republic for orange status, but they missed the cut. They are also a smallish nation (10M), but have dropped in performance the last decade in national team competitions.
  • USA: No one has to tell me that the U.S. has a small, but very dedicated handball following. That said, in the context of a nation with 330M people, it really is a very, very small following. Further context: Outside of our handful of college programs the bulk of our club teams consist mostly of expat athletes from other countries. Even more context: Almost all of the players on our national teams (Men Women) are either dual citizens that learned how to play the sport in another country or are products of quick fix, residency programs. I know this sounds negative… but, let’s be clear: it’s also our reality.
    • The positive spin: As we have been saying for years, handball is a sport Americans should love. Americans, by and large, have not rejected handball. The reality is that most Americans are unaware the sport even exists. The opportunities for growth at the grass roots levels are very real. And, that growth could be dramatic.
  • Mexico: Much like the U.S. handball in Mexico has a small, but dedicated following. I’ve seen and played against Mexican club teams a few times and the level of play is comparable to the U.S. Sometimes even better as this highlight video from the 2010 U.S. National Championships shows. (The graphics say Houston, but the team was actually mostly Mexican nationals.) However, with a sizable population of 128M people Mexican national teams have usually underperformed in national team competitions.
  • The Other Caribbean Nations: As far as the other Caribbean nations go there should be little doubt that handball in those countries is either very minor or virtually non-existent. To the IHF’s credit they are legitimately trying to grow the sport in these nations. With the IHF’s help nations like St Kitts & Nevis and Trinidad & Tobago have fielded teams in competitions for the very first time. Further, the IHF is also encouraging the development of beach handball which is a natural fit for these nations. For this map if a nation was an official member of the NACHC I classified that nation a red. If they weren’t even a member I classified that nation as white.
  • Overall Assessment: If you compare this popularity map to Europe or even Africa it clearly shows how far behind the sport is in this region and provides some understanding as why many see handball as mostly a European sport. There’s two ways to look at this situation. 1) We can pretend this isn’t the reality and try to mask the shortcomings as best we can or 2) We can view it as a tremendous opportunity for the sport’s growth. For many years, pretending or ignoring was essentially the strategy adopted by the handball world. Credit to the IHF, the Forum Club Handball (FCH) and others for starting to address the need for development. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m genuinely optimistic that this see of red will eventually turn orange and yellow. Check back in 5 years.

  • Where is handball popular?
  • How popular is handball compared to other sports?

Those are definitely a couple of questions that I’ve been asked quite a few times. In 2005 I tackled those questions in one of my very first blog posts. Back then it was often stated that handball was the 2nd most popular team sport. Well, it would be totally awesome if that were true, but alas it’s not… not even close. In fact, even in Europe where handball is most popular there are only a handful of countries where our sport definitely takes 2nd place.

Methodology (or the Lack of One)

As an engineer I generally prefer to deal with data as opposed to gut feelings and anecdotal information. For sure there are a lot of different criteria that one could use to measure popularity. Here’s a laundry list for you:

  • # of participants
  • # of registered federation members
  • # of clubs
  • Attendance at matches
  • Frequency of TV broadcasts and ratings
  • Existence of a professional league
  • The salaries of professional players
  • Interest in national team performance
  • Social media interest.

Each of those criteria have merit, but there are several problems.

  • This data is not readily available on a country by country basis
  • The accuracy of the data that is available is often suspect or open to interpretation
  • The relative importance of each criterion is wide open to debate

Bottom line: An exercise to carefully weigh all of these criteria in a systematic reliable way is pretty much impossible.

That being said in most cases it’s fairly easy to weigh all those criteria and to come up with a ranking of the top 3 sports in just about any country. And, a ranking that most objective sports fans of that country would agree on without a whole lot of debate.

There’s a couple of reasons why this is true.

  • In most countries there is one dominant team sport and that sport is football (soccer). Practically no one will even credibly argue against soccer’s dominance. So off the top, we’re now only talking about 2nd and 3rd place.
  • And, again in most (but, not all) countries, #2 is often pretty well established based on the criteria above. Even without hard numbers the answer is obvious to people that live there.

All this being said, there are some countries, however, where handball’s place in the pecking order is open to debate. A debate, for the reasons listed earlier is pretty hard to resolve. So, instead of resolving I’ve decided to use the lack of a resolution as a way to help classify the sport’s popularity.

Classification (Key)

Here’s a few notes on how I’ve classified popularity.

  • Definitely the 2nd most popular team sport:
    • Countries where handball is 2nd in a preponderance of the criteria
  • Either the 2nd or 3rd most popular team sport:
    • Countries where there could be a legitimate debate between 2 sports as to which is 2nd or 3rd
    • Countries where handball is clearly 3rd
  • A major sport with a significant presence
    • Countries where the ranking becomes muddled from 3rd place on down, but handball is still clearly a major sport that captures significant attention
  • A minor sport with some presence
    • Countries where the ranking becomes muddled from 3rd place on down, but Handball is more of a minor sport with a small, but dedicated following.
  • A very minor sport with a limited presence
    • Countries where the sport’s ranking is somewhat moot because it’s hard to compare perhaps the 6th or 7th most popular team sport. Overall, participation numbers are small and the sport is seen as a curiosity by most of the citizens of that country.
  • A sport that is practically non-existent
    • Countries where there are no national teams, leagues or clubs.

A few more thoughts

  • There is a rough pecking order from top to bottom. Blue is top; Green is next, etc.
  • This isn’t a perfect representation. And, one could argue for even more gradation. For instance, one could take the nations in yellow and create a rough pecking order.
  • What about individual sports? If you really wanted to further complicate matters we could add Formula 1, UFC and Tennis. I didn’t want to go there.

What do you think?

This compilation/depiction isn’t set in stone. It’s just one man’s opinion influenced by feedback. If I’ve missed the boat let me know via email or social media and I’ll reconsider updating the map.

Email: john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com
Facebook: Link
Twitter: Link
Instagram: Link

Breaking Down the U.S. Women’s National Team 2021 NACHC Championships Preliminary Roster

This past Wednesday, USA Team Handball released a preliminary roster for this summer’s North American and Caribbean Handball Championship. The roster lists 28 athletes and here’s a breakdown by age and where they first learned to play handball.

USA Preliminary Roster (Youngest to Oldest)

USA Preliminary Roster (Youngest to Oldest)

The ages on the roster range from 15 to 39 with an average age is 25.1. This is quite the range and is considerably more spread out then the typical women’s national team roster which is more bunched up with the bulk of the athletes in their 20s. For comparison, take a look at the rosters of the 24 nations at the 2019 IHF Women’s Handball World Championship

USA Provisional Roster (Nation Where they First Played Handball)

USA Preliminary Roster (Nation Where they First Played Handball)

All of these athletes are Americans, but the U.S. is a large nation with a global population. Estimates vary, but as many as 9M American citizens live in another country so it’s no real surprise that some of those 9M learned to play handball where they grew up. In fact, 57% (16 of 28) of the U.S. roster originally played handball in 8 different countries. Norway leads the way with 4 athletes followed by Germany with 3. Other nations: Cape Verde (2), Denmark (2), Sweden (2), Canada (1), Israel (1), Japan (1).

The fact that the U.S. has so many dual citizen athletes is sometimes seen as controversial, but it shouldn’t be. I addressed this reality and its implications for the U.S. National Team and the sport’s development previously in a series of commentaries Part 1Part 2Part 3)

In terms of the 12 U.S. athletes that were raised stateside, 3 athletes (Kaffka, Stewart and Taylor) are products of Collegiate Clubs, 6 athletes (Lombard, Hartnett, Vallone, Fithian, Gascon and Darling) primarily first learned how to play at a Residency Program (Cortland or Auburn University) and 3 athletes picked up handball either on their own or with a club (Da Cruz, Faulkner and Smet).

Final Roster Projection

My projection for the Final Roster is a mixture of logic and guesswork. The logic portion is primarily looking at the last major tournament roster (the 2019 PANAM Games) and penciling in any name from that roster that is also on the preliminary roster. Of course, just because someone made the team last time doesn’t guarantee that they will make the team again, but it’s usually a good starting point. Further strengthening this logic is the COVID-19 pandemic as it has somewhat frozen things in place since March 2020 with many athletes not even playing handball much since then. There are 11 potential returnees and assuming that 16 athletes will be allowed for this tournament that means 5 newcomers.

And, this is where some major guesswork is required as I am not familiar with many of the other names on the roster nor do I even know what positions some of them play. So, keeping this in mind here is a top level assessment of which athletes might make the final roster. To be clear, though, I’m not actually going to make any hard projections other than that I think all 11 athletes from the PANAM Games will make the final roster. I just simply don’t know enough about the newcomers.

Goalkeepers: Sophie Fasold was one of the 2 goalkeepers on the PANAM Games roster and the other GK, Bryana Newbern is not on the 28 player preliminary roster. Fasold has also been able to play a full season with her club team, Nord Harrislee in the German 2nd Division, so I think she will likely get the the bulk of the minutes. The coaching staff will have to choose whether they want 2 or 3 goalies on the roster and both Sanna Wheeler and Emily Mrymo have previously made Jr team rosters. Also, identified as a GK is McKenna Smet who is very new to handball.


Left Wing: Julia Taylor was the 3rd leading scorer for the U.S. at the PANAM Games and Maria Vallone was her backup. It would seem that these two spots are fairly locked in, but I’m not familiar with the other potential options.

Left Wings

Right Wing: Zoe Lombard and Elisabeth Hartnett were the U.S. PANAM Games participants, but they may be joined by 16 year old, Eden Nesper who played on the U.S. Youth team in 2019 and plays for both the U17 and U19 for her club team, Hannover Badenstedt in Germany. The Hannover U17 team won the Germany cup title this past weekend. She’s a capable player with a bright future, but that’s still a pretty young age to be playing against grown adults. It will be interesting to see what the coaching staff decides.

Circle Runner: Veterans, Sarah Gascon and Jennifer Fithian, should both make the roster and they will be joined by Shani Levinkind. Levinkind was selected to the PANAM Games roster, but did not participate due to injury. Karen Schultze, 20, plays in Germany and had previously been added to the player pool, so one can assume that she’s also a strong candidate. This position may seem to be set, but because there are some major question marks at backcourt some of these players might end up playing there instead of at circle.

Circle Runners

Backcourt (Left, Center, Right):While the other positions appear to be somewhat settled there are a lot of question marks as to who will be playing the three backcourt positions. Well, not all question marks. Left Back, Nicole Andersen, the 2nd leading scorer for the U.S. at the PANAM Games returns and will likely be called upon to assume a greater leadership role with the team. Also returning are veterans Kathy Darling and relative newcomer Sif Skov Christensen. And… that’s it, (as far as I know) when it comes to returning back court players.

Logically, this means some newcomers are probably going to be expected to play some really important minutes at the key backcourt positions. And, really not knowing these players means some major guesswork. I’ve heard some good things about Emma Ready and I’ve even played quite a few times vs her father long ago in California so perhaps she’s inherited some of his feisty quickness. Despite being just 17 she could be an option at Center Back. Cecile Brown and Emilie Johansson are also possibilities and as dual citizens perhaps they’ve gotten quite a bit of playing time despite their relatively young ages.


But, really for all I know several names on the roster that I haven’t even mentioned (see below) could well be the athletes the selection team goes with.

Roster Candidates (Unknown Position)

But, here’s one thing I do know: U.S. success or failure in Elgin this summer will likely hinge on these newcomers and their ability to make meaningful contributions at backcourt.

Roster Churn

Much of the above commentary focused on the likely returning players from the 2019 PANAM Games and some new gaps where newcomers will need to step up. So, for context I’ll highlight some players that were not on the preliminary roster and the contributions that will be missed.

First and foremost, center back Jence Rhoads, the U.S. leading scorer (24 goals in 5 matches) from the PANAM Games is not on the roster. Anyone who’s seen the U.S. play for the past several years knows that she’s developed some solid skills and has been the point guard directing traffic on offense, making the players around her more productive. Also, not returning are left back Julia Sayer and right back Ashley Butler. All told, those 3 athletes accounted for 44% (40 of 91 goals in 5 matches) of the live action goals scored at the PANAM Games. In terms of backcourt productivity they accounted for 74% (40 of 54 goals) of the backcourt scoring. Further limiting experienced options is the news that the long awaited return of right back Karoline Borg will be delayed due to pregnancy. Borg, age 30, plays right back for Aker Topphåndball in Norway’s top and league and had previously played for the U.S.

While these roster changes will impact the U.S. it’s more than likely that the U.S. won’t be alone with this problem as other NACHC nations are also surely encountering similar roster churn. Such change is inevitable and it will be interesting to see how successful teams are in integrating their newcomers and getting their teams ready after a long pandemic layoff.

Note: If there is any information in this table that is incorrect, drop me a line at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com and I will update it.

USA Men’s Preliminary Roster prior to the 2021 WC: Link

An Olympic Slot for the NACHC?

Could a New Distribution of Olympic Qualification Slots be Coming?

Last Friday, (21 May 2021), European Handball Federation (EHF) President Michael Wiederer gave a wide ranging interview with the Mannhiemer Morgen, a newspaper in Germany. For the most part the interview covered topics directly pertaining to the pandemic and EHF competitions. However, I bulls-eyed in on a couple of questions pertaining to handball’s place on the world stage:

Mannheimer Morgen: You are the representative of European handball interests, recently more and more nations like Argentina, Brazil and Egypt have drawn attention to themselves. How do you rate that?

Wiederer: This development is important for the sport, especially for the international market value of handball. Because as long as we are a sport with a European character, the marketing opportunities remain limited. Many international corporations are not based in Europe. I therefore welcome developments on the other continents. It was a very important step to expand the World Cup to 32 teams.

Mannheimer Morgen: Because handball is so European, the Olympic status is discussed again and again. Are you concerned about this?

Wiederer: We don’t have to worry about this status any more or less than many other sports. We aroused great interest at the Olympic Games in Rio five years ago. But this is also about internationalization. The world association is trying to get more starting places for other continents, that would be at the expense of Europe. As you can see, this is also about a balance, about different interests in terms of the product and a possible narrowing to a few markets.

Great IHF Support, but no Olympic Ticket

What makes Wiederer’s response newsworthy is that to the best of my knowledge it was the first time in print that I’ve seen it publicly acknowledged that the IHF was considering a redistribution of Olympic slots and the logical impact that such a redistribution would have on European nations.

The IHF, of course, has made no secret of its desires to develop new markets in the U.S. and China. Steps taken to help the U.S. include:

  • The U.S. Development Project, headed by former EHF President, Jean Brihault that has provided some grant funding for the U.S.
  • The dissolution of the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) into two new confederations, the North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC) and the South & Central American Handball Confederation (SCAHC).
  • Selecting the U.S. as the NACHC representative to the 2021 Men’s Handball World Championships when a competition couldn’t be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, while the PATHF split into the NACHC and SCAHC resulted in separate new qualification paths for the World Championships there has been so similar change announced regarding Olympic qualification. Both the NACHC and SCAHC were still grouped together for qualification via the 2019 PANAM Games.

And, anyone who follows handball in Pan America knows that presently it’s very unlikely that a NACHC nation will qualify for the Olympics via the PANAM Games. Any NACHC Men’s team hoping to qualify would likely have to beat both Brazil and Argentina, two nations that would likely be double digit favorites against any NACHC nation. For the women, it would mean beating Brazil and right now staying within 10 goals would be a major accomplishment for any NACHC women’s team. For reference Brazil beat the USA 34-9 in a 2019 semifinal.

But, if the NACHC were to be given its own slot? Well, that changes the equation entirely. Cuba would instantly become the NACHC favorite for both Men’s and Women’s Olympic Qualification, but the U.S. wouldn’t be far behind. And, every other NACHC nation that has been playing handball for awhile could also envision a legitimate shot at Olympic qualification.

How a Separate Olympic Qualification Slot Would Help the U.S.

For the U.S. a new Olympic Qualification path would likely lead to changes in terms of budget and budgetary priorities. For the past 20 years or so funding from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) has been primarily tied to medal prospects. With the U.S. not even having realistic chances of qualifying for the Olympics this has resulted in minimal support from the USOPC. This could change with Olympic qualification suddenly being realistic and feasible as USA Team Handball could make a legitimate case that increased support in key areas could result in Olympic qualification.

In turn, it could also increase the quality and quantity of athletes pursuing handball in the U.S. Historically, one of the big enticements for athlete recruitment has been the possibility of being an Olympian some day. Indeed, at one time making a U.S. national team roster was tantamount to being an Olympian. Over time, however, as U.S. Olympic qualification prospects changed from likely to very unlikely this recruiting pitch became less effective as did the quantity and overall quality of the athletes recruited.

IOC Pressure and Potential European Backlash

It’s never been officially stated, but reportedly the IOC has expressed to the IHF its concerns about handball being too European. And, it has been rumored that this concern even included a warning about handball perhaps being taken off of the Olympic Programme. It’s hard to believe that handball would really be removed from the Olympics, but there is some validity to the underlying point of handball being too European. And, if a little IOC pressure has served as an impetus to put more focus on developing a U.S. handball market I sure won’t complain. And, I also wouldn’t complain about an Olympic slot being awarded to the NACHC as that would be a phenomenal development for the U.S. and the entire NACHC.

But, who would complain… and loudly? The European Handball nations; because in most instances it would result in a slot being taken away from a European side.

Current Olympic Qualification Slots

For reference, here is how the 12 Olympic slots are currently awarded for both the Men and Women:

  • Host Nation (1)
  • Reigning World Champion (1)
  • Europe (1)
  • Africa (1)
  • Asia (1)
  • Pan America (1)
  • Qualification Tournaments (6)

And, here is how the different continental federations have fared in the Olympic Qualification Tournaments since the current format was implemented in 2008.

  • 2020 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (5); Pan America (1)
    • Women: Europe (6)
  • 2016 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (5); Africa (1)
    • Women: Europe (6)
  • 2012 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (6)
    • Women: Europe (6)
  • 2008 Olympic Qualification Tournaments
    • Men: Europe (6)
    • Women: Europe (5); Asia (1)

So, it hasn’t been a clean sweep for European nations, but it’s been close. If a slot were to be given to the NACHC it would likely remove a European team. A European team that would probably have made the quarterfinals and would have had a legitimate shot of medaling.

A Change in Time for 2024?

Because of the likely ramifications, I’m not very surprised that this hasn’t been publicly addressed by the IHF. It’s more often the sort of thing that’s discussed informally at coffee breaks and dinner parties. Not the sort of thing that gets promulgated until there’s an agreement in principle by the parties affected. Wiederer’s response in the interview is simply confirmation that this discussion has taken place and Europe is aware of it. Actually, likely been a party to the discussions since they would face the negative impacts.

However, if this change were to be made in time for the 2024 Olympics the clock is definitely ticking. Under the current qualification system the 2023 PANAM Games would again serve as qualification for the Olympics for the NACHC and SCAHC. That may be two years away, but qualification for the PANAM Games would start next summer with regional qualification in South, Central and North America. So, basically, just a year is available to change course and for the NACHC and SCAHC to come up with new separate qualification plans. This is doable, but action would be needed fairly quickly.

And, barring a change in time for 2024 one might wonder whether a change would be made for 2028. This is because the NACHC would already have a representative due to the U.S. hosting. Such a change would in fact result in 2 NACHC nations participating in the Olympics. Yes, given the sometimes glacial pace of change… this might end up being a change for the 2032 Olympics.

An Early, Early Preview of the 2021 Women’s NORCA Championship

The Centre of Elgin, the venue for the 2021 Women’s North American & Caribbean Championships

Last Thursday (April 8th) the U.S. and IHF announced that the U.S. will host the 2021 North American & Caribbean Women’s Handball Championships

Dates:  The IHF announcement indicates that teams will arrive on Sunday, August 22 and will depart on Saturday, August 28, leaving 5 days (23-27 August) for match competition.

Venue: The competition will be at the Centre of Eglin. This is a multi-use facility and the handball matches will be played in the 3 court field house with a handball sport court laid down across where the 3 basketball courts are normally set up. Here are some photos of the field house:

Weather: As I’m a native of Iowa (next door to Illinois) I can attest that August can be hot and muggy. We can assume that the Centre of Eglin is climate controlled, but according to the Weatherbase website the average high and low temperatures outside for August are 82 and 60 degrees, respectively. That may not sound too bad, but the saying, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” can be a common refrain that time of year.

World Championship Qualification: The winner of the tournament will qualify for the 2021 Women’s World Championships to be played in Spain this December.

Number of Teams: This is TBD, but here are the teams (and, their order of finish) that participated at the previous championships. (Source: Wikipedia)

  • 2015 (6): Cuba, Mexico, USA, Greenland, Puerto Rico, Martinique
  • 2017 (4): Puerto Rico, USA, Dominican Republic, Greenland
  • 2019 (7): Cuba, Puerto Rico, Greenland, Dominican Republic, USA, Mexico, Canada

Format: Again, this is TBD, but if the same teams from 2019 were to participate there would likely be 3 days of pool play followed by 1 day of crossover (semifinals) and 1 day of finals. The schedule would be:

  • Monday, 23 August Pool Play
  • Tuesday, 24 August Pool Play
  • Wednesday, 25 August Pool Play
  • Thursday, 26 August Crossover Semifinals
  • Friday, 27 August Finals/Placement Matches

If fewer teams, however, participate the format could switch to a simple round robin as was used in 2015.

Seeding and Performance Rows: Again, TBD, but here are what the seeding/performance rows would be based on 2019 Results:

  • Row 1 (Cuba, Puerto Rico)
  • Row 2 (Greenland, Dominican Republic)
  • Row 3 (USA, Mexico)
  • Row 4 (Canada)

USA Group Selection: Again, a lot of speculation here, but assuming the draw process that is used for most handball tournaments applies, the U.S. as host will get to choose which group it wants for pool play. This means that rows 1, 2 and 4 will first be drawn and assigned to Groups A and B. The U.S. will then select which group it wants and then Mexico would be assigned to the other Group.

Here are the 4 possible group decisions that the U.S. would have (if the 7 teams that participated in 2019 play in 2021):

  • Group A (CUB, GRL, CAN); Group B (PUR, DOM, Vacant)
  • Group A (CUB, GRL, Vacant); Group B (PUR), DOM, CAN)
  • Group A (CUB, DOM, CAN); Group B (PUR, GRL, Vacant)
  • Group A (CUB, DOM, Vacant); Group B (PUR, GRL, CAN)

This, of course, will change if some teams don’t participate or new teams show up. But, assuming these are the teams that show up the U.S. might have to decide between avoiding Cuba or having a bye day during pool play. Cuba is the odds on favorite for this tournament, but a rest day in such a short 5 day tournament might be highly desired as well. Another strategy to consider: If the U.S. were to select Cuba’s group, the U.S. would be guaranteed to not face Cuba in a semifinal match. Which would be a good thing, but then that also makes getting to the semifinals a little tougher.

Terminology: I’m not sure how the acronym NORCA or Nor.CA was originally adopted for this event. Basically, it’s a shortening of “North American and Caribbean” and this was a competition that actually started under the old Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF). Now that PATHF has split up into the North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC) and the South and Central American Handball Confederation (SCAHC) I’ve seen it referred to as the NACHC Championship. If one compares this to other continental handball championships it’s a bit non standard in that the EHF calls their championships the European Championships not the EHF Championships. Anyway… I don’t care much what we call it, but I say the NACHC nations get together and definitively pick a name.

And, here’s a can of worms for you: Google “North America” and see how many different definitions there are. Depending on who you talk to North America can end at the USA-Mexico border, the Mexico-Guatemala border or the Panama-Colombia border.

Well, After Handball Started being Shown on ESPN… Yadda, Yadda, Yadda: My Long Standing Prediction will Now be Put to the Test

ESPN Broadcasting Handball in the U.S. Our handball world is about to change.

Yesterday, USA Team Handball announced that 31 matches of the upcoming IHF Handball World Championships will be broadcast on ESPN+, ESPN’s streaming platform. Pretty big news… Right? Actually, no, it’s not just “big” news.

In fact, It it the biggest and most important development in the entire history of team handball in the United States.

Long time readers of this website shouldn’t be surprised by my hyperbolic statement as I’ve been saying this in one way or another for years. Why friends will know that I’ve been espousing the critical need for more handball on TV since the late 1980s.

Most prominently, I’ve stated the following prediction several times: If handball were to be broadcast on a regular basis on a network like ESPN, virtually every statement discussing handball’s progress in the U.S. from that point forward would start with these words:

“Well, after handball started being shown on ESPN…”

Pick how you want to finish the sentence. Here are some possibilities:

  • Collegiate handball really took off with an expansion to several hundred clubs
  • Youth programs expanded in several cities feeding the collegiate programs
  • USA Team Handball had year on year membership growth of xx%; Along with accompanying increases in website visits and social media engagement
  • Merchandise sales of professional handball clubs in Europe gradually increased as more Americans became fans of the game
  • The quality of stateside play improved dramatically
  • The level of stateside talent making our national teams starting improving

One Marketing Objective Above All Others

As I highlighted in this commentary from last year getting more handball on TV more trumps all other marketing objectives for the sport… because it’s a true force multiplier that greatly improves the likelihood of better results in all other areas.

While it was always seen as something important for a variety of reasons this objective wasn’t being achieved. Those reasons include a lack of European engagement, a failure to understand the importance of finding the right network and from my perspective, insufficient engagement from an overtasked USA Team Handball that failed to recognize it’s absolutely vital importance in the big scheme of things.

Finally Success: Why Now?

So after many years of frustration why are we finally celebrating such big news? As with many great successes it’s the result of a combination of things.

  • Better European Engagement: For starters the Europeans and the IHF have finally recognized the need for an American market and are starting to put some resources in place to make it happen. The handball world can bemoan the granting of a wild card to a USA team, but actual USA participation in the WC made it a more attractive TV product to ESPN.
  • Education on Finding the Right Network: Over time, through a variety of means, the key handball content owners now fully understand that not “just any ol’ network” will do for the U.S. market.
  • Better engagement from USA Team Handball: While I would have liked to have seen action sooner, I’ll just say I’m real pleased that it’s now taken place. Hats off to new CEO, Ryan Johnson, for helping to facilitate the finalization of this deal. In his first week on the job, no less.
  • The greater availability and acceptance of streaming: As I wrote about last year streaming platforms provide an opportunity for minor sports like handball that is virtually impossible on traditional linear channels.
  • Luck: Behind the scenes some connections were made that facilitated making this deal happen. And, most importantly, that good fortune was capitalized upon.

The Great Experiment Begins

So, will my prediction come true? Will every statement about handball in American now begin with a qualifier about whether is was before or after ESPN started broadcasting the sport?

Time will tell, but I’ve never ever been more optimistic about the future of the sport in this country.

Previous Articles/Commentary about Getting More Handball on TV in the U.S.

  • Why weren’t the U.S. National Teams at the London Olympics?:
    • Sep 2012: Part 5: A lack of awareness and marketing: One in a million? The 312 real fans of Team Handball in the U.S.:  Link
    • Oct 2012: Part 6: A lack of awareness and marketing: The Catch 22 TV paradox:  Link
    • Dec 2012: Part 7: A lack of awareness and marketing: The historic lack of European support:  Link
    • Dec 2012: Part 8: A lack of awareness and marketing: Europe sees the light, but can’t quite figure out how to properly invade the U.S. market:  Link
  • Dec 2015: 20 Team Handball Matches have been Broadcast the Past 2 Weeks on a U.S. TV Network: Few Know, Fewer Watch and No One Seems to Care: Link
  • Aug 2016: The Olympics are Over. Thanks for Watching. See you in 2020. How about Sooner?: Link
  • Feb 2020: ESPN Missed out on the English Premier League: Will they Miss the Boat for Handball Too?: Link
  • May 2020: What we Want (Part 4): Marketing: Link

Podcast (Episode 73): Team USA and TSV Bayer Dormagen’s, Ian and Patrick Hueter

The Hueter brothers (Ian (center bottom) and (Patrick (left corner) are key members of the USA Men’s National Team.

There’s a long line of handball brothers playing for their country in international handball competition. France’s Bertrand and Guillaume Gille, Spain’s Alex and Daniel Dujshebaev, Poland’s Krzysztof and Marcin Lijewski, Argentina’s Diego, Pablo and Sebastian Simonet and Chile’s Emil, Erwin and Harald Feuchtmann to name a few. Why, even the U.S. had the Fitzgerald brothers (Joe and Tom) representing at the 1996 Olympics. Now added to this long line are Team USA’s Hueter brothers, Ian and Patrick.

Ian and Patrick join the podcast to discuss several topics to include their handball origins, connections to the U.S. despite mostly growing up in Germany, playing for TSV Bayer Dormagen youth teams and transitioning to the pro club, playing in the super competitive HBL 2, their recent contract extensions with Dormagen, Team USA’s upcoming training camp in Denmark and, of course, the upcoming 2021 World Championships.

Don’t miss an episode:

  • Subscribe on YouTube: Link (Earliest Availability)
  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: Link
  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

Podcast (Episode 72): Greenlander, Marxwell Masauna Frederiksen and Canadian, Jackson Howden (Part 2): NORCA Cancellation, The IHF selection of the U.S. for the WC and More

A discussion on the new North America & Caribbean Handball Confederation

In Part 1, I chatted with Marxwell Masauna Frederiksen and Jackson Howden about their handball backgrounds.  In Part 2 we discuss the cancellation of the North American & Caribbean Championship and the IHF’s decision to give the U.S. the NACHC slot for the Men’s World Championships.  We also talk about the future of the NACHC including the possibility of the roommates playing against each other, the NACHC getting more spots for the WC, the possibility of Greenland playing in the PANAM Games/Olympic Games, expansion of the Forum Club Handball (FCH) program to help other NACHC nations and the development of beach handball in Greenland and Canada.  Beach Handball in Greenland?

Podcast Interview on the Team Handball News YouTube ChannelEpisode 72 Link (Audio only, mp3 file available at the top of the page)

Commentaries on the IHF Decision

  • The U.S. Gets a 2021 WC Slot while Greenland (and others) stay home (Part 1): The Business Case: Link
  • The U.S. Gets a 2021 WC Slot while Greenland (and others) stay home (Part 2): The Competitive Case: Link

Don’t miss an episode:

  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: Link
  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

Podcast (Episode 71): Greenlander, Marxwell Masauna Frederiksen and Canadian, Jackson Howden (Part 1): Roommates and Handball Players Living in Denmark

Marxwell Masauna Frederiksen and Jackson Howden

Greenlander, Marxwell Masauna Frederiksen and Canadian, Jackson Howden are roommates and play for Skjern Handball‘s 2nd team in Denmark. In Part 1 of this interview we discuss their respective handball journeys and playing in Denmark.

Podcast Interview on the Team Handball News YouTube Channel: Episode 71 Link (Audio only mp3 file available at the top of the page)

Previous Greenland Related Handball Podcasts
– 2007 World Championships: Link
– 2018 Minik Dahl Hoegh: Link

Social Media Links
Marxwell Masauna Fredricksen: Instagram
Jackson Howden: Instagram Twitter

In Part 2 we tackle a more controversial topic: The cancellation of the North American and Caribbean Championship and the IHF decision to select the U.S. for the 2021 IHF World Championships.

Don’t miss an episode:

  • Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes: Link
  • Follow the Team Handball News podcast on Spotify: Link
  • Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link

The USA Gets a 2021 WC Slot, While Greenland (and Others) Stay Home (Part 2): The Competitive Case


Greenland vs USA All Time Record:  All very interesting, but how relevant is it?

In Part 1, I endorsed the first five “business case” reasons that the IHF listed as rationale for selecting the U.S. to participate in the 2021 IHF Handball World Championships. I won’t, however, endorse the 6th listed reason:

  • From those teams that have registered for the planned qualification event and showed interest in playing the qualification (Canada, Greenland, Puerto Rico, USA), USA are the best-ranked team at the last official competition, namely the 2019 Pan American Games.

Why? Because, while true, it’s a tone deaf slap in the face to Greenland handball since Greenland is not allowed to participate in the PANAM Games. And, if you can’t compete in a competition it’s impossible to get ranked at that competition!

A Primer on National Team Handball Tournaments in the Americas

When it comes to national team competitions in the Americas a lot of folks get confused, and, for good reason as these competitions have similar names and participants. The best way to understand how everything is structured is to know which sport’s organization has overall jurisdiction for that competition. Or, to put it another way, what final tournament are the nations trying to qualify for?

For the IHF World Championships the IHF is ultimately responsible and until the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) was split into two confederations the event that qualified teams for the World Championships was the Pan American Championships. These Championships were held every 2 years and Greenland was able to participate because they are member of the IHF.

For the Olympic Games, the IOC is ultimately responsible and Greenland cannot participate because they are not a member of the IOC. Working with the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), PATHF decided in 1987 to have the PANAM Games, which is essentially a mini-Olympics for the Americas as the handball qualification event for the Olympics. The PANAM Games are held every four years and Greenland cannot participate because they are not a member of the IOC or PASO.

As to why Greenland isn’t a member of the IOC it relates to Greenland’s semi-autonomous status as part of Denmark. The IOC currently requires full independence for new memberships. Which, incidentally, is why Puerto Rico competes in the Olympics despite their semi-autonomous state as they were “grandfathered” in as member prior to the change in policy.

Incidentally, since the North/South split of PATHF there has been no indication of any IHF plans to grant both the NACHC and SCAHC an Olympic slot. This status quo regarding Olympic qualification implies that the North and South will continue to share an Olympic slot that will be awarded at the PANAM Games.

The Tale of the Tape (All Time GRL-USA Competition Record)

So, while Greenland and the USA have never met in a PANAM Games competition they’ve met eight times in Pan American Championship tournaments, once in a North American Championship and once even at the World Championships. Here’s the all time match record based on Wikipedia results pages.

As an American, all I can say is, “Wow, this head to head summary pretty much summarizes the dismal performance of our men’s national team in the 21st century. 1-0-9 vs Greenland. A 330,000,000 population vs 55,000. This isn’t a rivalry. This is an ass whuppin. Seriously, what is wrong with handball in our country?”

At least that’s how it feels emotionally as someone who really, really cares about handball in this country. Putting on my analytical hat, however, none of this should be that surprising. So what if our population is almost 6,000 times larger. That doesn’t matter if more Greenlanders than Americans are actually playing handball. And, while our total GDP as a nation is massive, I suspect that Greenland spends more on handball than the U.S. does, from grass roots all the way to national teams.

A Trip Down Memory Lane

Looking at this historical record is quite the trip down memory lane and it really does mirror the decline of handball in the U.S. since the 1996 Olympic Games.  Note, how the sole U.S. victory is the very first match between the two countries in 1998. A ten goal victory with a roster that surely had some holdovers from that Olympic team.  But, as those players got older and nothing was really in place to develop athletes with traditional grass roots or a residency program the balance of power shifted.   In 2001, thanks to Cuba bowing out, the U.S. got a ticket to the World Championship where the U.S. was totally uncompetitive losing by an average of 22 goals, including an 8 goal loss to Greenland.  A year later with a trip to the 2002 World Championships on the line Greenland steam rolled over the U.S. 27-7.  The score at halftime:  11-2.  Two goals in 30 minutes?  To Greenland? When I first heard that result I was astonished.  When I asked an old teammate, “What the hell happened?” I got kind of a shrug and no real explanation.

And, for me personally, it was the beginning of a wakeup call, that the times they were a changin’.  A wakeup call, that was further realized by living 5 years in France and getting a close up view of what we up against on the world stage.  With support from the U.S. Olympic Committee being drastically cut and with no real grass roots structure in place it was the start of some real lean years for USA Team Handball.  Gone were the days when we could recruit some great athletes, train them up with a residency program and go take on the world.  At least that’s what was ridiculously obvious to me.  However, it was not so obvious to others and we attempted to recreate our “glory days” with an underfunded residency program that struggled to recruit athletes and couldn’t afford to travel to Europe for the competition that was needed to improve.

A Wakeup Call and a Change in Direction

Poor results continued as did the U.S. losing streak to Greenland.  In 2018 came the low water mark.  At a North American Championship, the U.S. finished 5th out of 6 nations and failed to even qualify for the Pan American Championships.  It did, however, finally elicit a wakeup call for USA Team Handball

Coincidence or not, my plea to shift to dual citizens was heeded and a totally revamped roster was put together to qualify for the 2019 PANAM Games.  Overnight the U.S. had a much better team and they qualified with relative ease over Canada winning a 2 match aggregate qualification by 12 goals.  And, having witnessed both matches in person, I would argue that it wasn’t even as close as the scores suggested.  The U.S. didn’t do as well as I would have liked at the PANAM Games, due in part to some injuries, but the score lines were better and we notched a victory over a Cuban team that’s also improved significantly.  The U.S. also performed well at the 2019 North American Emerging Nations Qualifier and the 2019 Emerging Nations Championship.

Is this new U.S. team World class?  No.  Our top prospects are playing in the German 2nd Divisions (Ian and Patrick Hueter) and the French 2nd Division (Abou Fofana).  And, then we have several players (thanks to support from the Forum Club Handball) are playing with top clubs like Spain’s Leon (Drew Donlin), Flensburg (Ty Reed, Tristan Morawski), Elverum (Nico Robinson) and Kristianstad (Rene Ingram).  With the exception of Donlin, these athletes are playing with 2nd teams, but also are training some of the time with the first team.  Those are all great training environments and every one of these athletes has improved since their PANAM Games opportunity last year.

They are not going to beat Norway and France, but they should put up a credible fight and we’ll see some flashes of real promise.  And, likely some wins in the President’s Cup.  Several of these athletes are also in their early 20s and will also likely be representing the U.S. in Los Angeles come 2028.

Better than Greenland?  (Or, Cuba for that Matter?)

Well, first to reiterate with emphasis:

No one.  I repeat no one is happy that no championship could be held to decide a winner on the court.  No one.

That being said, my educated guess if the North American & Caribbean Championship had been held this is the percentage odds as to who would have won.

  • Cuba: 40%
  • USA: 33%
  • Greenland: 25%
  • Another team 2%

Of course, this is just an educated guess, and we’ll never ever know for real, but here’s some more rationale.  Cuba and the U.S. played 4 times last year and split the matches 2-2, but I would assess that Cuba are a little deeper in terms of overall talent.

Neither the U.S. nor Cuba have played Greenland recently so it’s harder to extrapolate.  One might argue that Greenland’s performance at the 2018 Pan American Championships would make them the better team.  After all, they almost knocked off Chile to qualify for the 2019 WC, but those results are a bit tempered by the home crowd atmosphere they had pulling for them.  Further, their team is getting older with their top 3 players, Minik Dahl Hoegh and the Kreutzmann brothers all in their 30s and stepping away from full time handball.  And, there is no depth whatsoever on the Greenland roster.  Doesn’t mean they can’t overcome these shortcomings, just suggests that it would be a bit tougher for them to do so.

Does it Matter? Shouldn’t the IHF Just Look at Recent Results?

But, why just spitball how good the current teams are?  Let’s just look at the recent results.  I guess I could go along with that logic if it was written down somewhere that is the process that has to be followed.  But, lacking an established process it becomes a bit of gamesmanship.  Like the gamesmanship of using the PANAM Games as criteria to exclude Greenland.  How far back does one go in order to determine relevant results?  Should one factor in that both Cuba and the U.S. are dramatically different teams now?  Why or Why not?  Again, when one establishes criteria after the fact, one can select criteria that makes their case better.  Lacking such criteria, I would suggest that the business case for the U.S. couple with their recent improvement in performance makes the U.S. the logical, best choice to represent the NACHC.

An Awesome Set of Rivalries Shaping Up

I guess to end on a positive note, this little confederation is shaping up to be quite interesting.  Cuba and the U.S. have already renewed their rivalry and Greenland will be joining them.  I suspect the next GRL-USA match will be a hard fought one.  Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are surely thinking don’t forget about us.  Yes, one can really look forward to a real championship played on the court.  The sooner, the better.

The USA Gets a 2021 WC Slot, while Greenland (and Others) Stay Home (Part 1): The Business Case

Yes, the IHF is a business and business concerns are rightly part of the decision making process

Yesterday, the IHF nominated the U.S. to participate in the 2021 IHF World Men’s Handball Championship as the North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC). It didn’t take long for a firestorm of protest to emerge pointing out that this wasn’t deserved and that Greenland should have been selected instead. It was very predictable and on the surface it seems pretty unfair. If one digs deeper, however, one can also conclude that it was clearly the right decision.

Establishing some Bonafides

For the record, I’m an American and former U.S. National Team player. I bleed red, white & blue and, of course, one could consider me as ridiculously biased. How could I possibly be objective here?

Well, let’s take a trip down memory lane to the 2006-2007 timeframe when Greenland was unceremoniously removed from the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) for essentially being too good. (And, yes, I regret to say that my own nation was part of those machinations.) Why, on two occasions (2002, 2006) Greenland beat the U.S. to secure World Championship spots. The 2006 defeat was a real bummer because I was living in Europe and looking forward to covering the U.S. at the 2007 World Championships in Germany.

Instead, I got to watch Greenland play instead. As you can see and hear from this 2007 article/podcast I became a pretty big fan. For sure it was very obvious that the whining I had heard in the states that Greenland’s team was just a bunch of Danish mercenaries, was totally hogwash. This was a legit team with real fans that were proudly Greenlanders. That’s why I was outraged when Greenland was kicked out of PATHF and used my soap box to lobby for their reinstatement. Whether this little website played any role is debatable, but thankfully the IHF forced PATHF to reinstate Greenland.

13 years later I still am a big proponent of Greenland handball. In 2018, I watched Greenland almost pull off a big upset over Chile on home soil to secure a 2019 WC slot. What a match and atmosphere! Check out this interview with Minik Dahl Hoegh regarding that match and handball in Greenland.

Anyway… If all this doesn’t convince you I can be objective… Nothing will. Moving on.

The IHF Role: They Decide and There’s No Established Criteria

So, why is the IHF making this decision? Well, due to the COVID-19 and probably the limited budgets of the nations involved it became impossible to hold a NACHC Championship. And, let’s be absolutely clear here:

No one. I repeat no one. Is happy that no championship could be held to decide a winner on the court. No one.

So no championship. How is this resolved? Does one turn to the NACHC regulations to see what it says under force majeure? No… not even if such regulations exist. As the IHF announcement points out, the applicable regulation is IHF Competitions, Section 2.8, World Championships: Non Appearance which states in part:

“If a Continental Confederation does not use its performance or compulsory places, the IHF Executive Committee shall decide on the reallocation of such places.”

So, with no championship being held, technically, the IHF didn’t even have to give this World Championship slot to a NACHC nation. They could have decided (as some have suggested in social media) given this slot to North Macedonia.

IHF Rationale for Selecting the U.S.

So, basically this was a free ticket for the IHF with no actual requirements dictating a solution. The IHF, however, provided some rationale, which I mostly agree with. That rationale is listed below:

  • USA are a very important handball nation for the worldwide handball development;
  • In view of the size of the population, a specific strategy was developed to accelerate the progress of handball in USA, aiming to grow the IHF’s TV audience worldwide and increase the social network impact of handball, which will help to maintain the status of handball in the Olympic system and ensure the future of handball at the Olympic Games;
  • The former Pan American continent was split in order to increase the number of handball activities and offer the countries in NACHC better chances to reach IHF major events. A special focus was placed from the very beginning on the USA being a major market. 
  • An agreement with major TV broadcasters in the USA has been made to show handball matches.
  • As Los Angeles, USA is hosting the 2028 Olympic Games, having strong host teams should be an overall target;
  • From those teams that have registered for the planned qualification event and showed interest in playing the qualification (Canada, Greenland, Puerto Rico, USA), USA are the best-ranked team at the last official competition, namely the 2019 Pan American Games.

The first five sets of rationale listed all relate to U.S. development and growing the U.S. market. Strictly from a business standpoint it’s hard to find fault with this rationale. And, make no mistake, the IHF is a business. Honestly, after years of shaking my fist in frustration at the lack of effort to develop a U.S. market, it’s refreshing to see criteria I’ve championed before being listed as reasons to give the U.S. an opportunity on the world stage. To promote the sport in this country.

A Rising Tide Lifts all Boats

It’s also worth noting that what’s good for USA Team Handball is also good for handball, in general, both in North America and the World. I get how the other nations of the NACHC might be resentful of the economic weight of the U.S. dictating this decision. Even if it is a unique, one off decision that’s only be made due to a global pandemic it still can leave a bad taste in one’s mouth.

But, make no mistake if the U.S. becomes a handball nation it will help everybody, much the same way the U.S. development as a soccer nation has helped the development of the CONCACAF. Yes, the CONCACAF isn’t UEFA, but make no mistake the U.S. caring about soccer now means some big paychecks for that organization. Big paychecks that have trickled down to all the CONCACAF nations.

Could the same thing happen with the NACHC? Yes, it could. Nicer competitions with a crowd and a TV contract. The U.S., Cuba, Canada, Greenland and others battling on the court for a WC slot in a nice arena in front of cheering fans.

So that’s the business case, but there’s actually a pretty solid case to be made that the U.S. is also the better team on the court. In Part 2, I’ll take a deep dive to explain why I think that is also true.