Handball Competition Manager, Alex Gavrilovic, on 2012 Olympics Preparation

Construction for London 2012's Handball Arena is nearing completion

British Handball has an interview with Handball Competition Manager, Alex Gavrilovic, concerning preparations for the 2012 Olympics in London.

London 2012: Excitement Mounts for Handball Manager:

In the interview it’s noted that construction on the Handball venue is nearing completion and that there will be a 6 team international tournament there later this year in November.  Alex, also optimistically notes that he thinks there is a real chance for Great Britain to make significant inroads into become a stronger handball nation.

For more background on the 2012 Handball Competition Manager check out this interview that Christer Ahl had with him a year and a half ago.

THN (Nov/Dec 2009): Alex Gavrilovic: a true fighter for the global progress of handball

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


British Handball Update: Formal approval from the BOA, EHF funding and a victory over Italy

Great Britain captain Ciaran Williams on attack vs. Italy

The 2012 Olympics are about 17 months away and the British Handball Federation has had several small victories, both on and off the court, in the past few months.  First off, back in January the British Olympic Association (BOA) (GBR’s Olympic Committee) granted full approval for the British teams to participate in the 2012 Olympics.  Never a done deal, the BOA’s approval was contingent on British Handball making the case that the games would leave a “lasting legacy” for the sport and that the men’s and women’s teams could put forth a “credible performance.”  Some had even argued that no funding should be spent on a team with no hope of medalling.

Terms like “lasting legacy” and “credible performance” are wide open to interpretation, but few would argue that progress isn’t being made on both fronts.  Notably the European Handball Federation (EHF) has stepped forward with some funding support to British Handball.  Details were lacking in terms of how much funding, but it appears most of it will go toward the salary of a full-time handball development officer in London.  Such a position makes sense and is a win-win for British Handball and the EHF as both organizations would benefit greatly were Great Britain to become a Handball nation.

On the court itself, Great Britain is still a long ways from being on par with the other 11 nations that will round out the field in London.  The Men’s recent matches against Italy (a 33-24 victory) and Turkey (26-28 loss), however provide some hope.  Neither of those teams strikes fear into Europe’s top handball nations, but those are a couple of teams that likely would have beaten a British side by 10 or more goals only a couple of years ago.  Does that mean the Brits are on track for a credible performance in 17 months?  That, of course, depends on your standards.  Both the men and the women are likely to get beaten badly by the other European sides and will be fortunate to win any games.  But, it wouldn’t surprise me if they have stretches where they play credibly. 

The more important standard though, is clearly the “lasting legacy” one.  Non handball nations like Australia and the U.S. have failed to fully take advantage of the opportunity an Olympics can bring.  Let’s hope that Great Britain can break that trend and use 2012 as a stepping stone towards becoming a Handball nation. (21 March 2011): GB handballers raring to go:

EHF (15 Mar 2011): EHF supports Olympic legacy in London:

The Economist (17 Mar 2011): Britain’s new Olympic sports: New balls, please: The host nation extends its sporting repertoire:

BBC (19 Jan 2011): Great Britain handball teams given 2012 Olympic nod:

THN Commentary (25 Jan 2008):  Times of London Handball Article Misses the Goal:


EHF Game(s) of the Week: Barcelona at Celje (Live and with English Language Commentary) and Veszprem at Montpellier


Nikola Karabatic and Montpellier will battle Veszprem in a Group B showdown


Barcelona at Celje

OK, there’s only one official game of the week with live English commentary from Tom O’Brannagain.  That would be the Group A match between Slovenia’s, Celje and Barcelona.  With Barcelona locked into a third place seed, however, it’s debatable as to how good of match it will be.  Barca is clearly the better side but they won’t have any incentive to win.  Celje, on the other hand will be fully motivated as they are currently tied with France’s Chambery for the fourth place seed.  A win guarantees that Celje will advance, but they will also qualify if Chambery loses to Rhein-Neckar.  As the Chambery match starts 30 minutes ahead of time, don’t be surprised if there is some scoreboard watching in Slovenia.

The match is at 6:00 PM (Central European Time), 12:00 Noon (U.S. East Coast) on Saturday, 5 March.  Barcelona is a 3 goal favorite.

On Demand broadcast at ehfTV:

There is also a televised tape delayed broadcast on the MHz Network in the U.S. at 4:00 PM (U.S. East Coast) on Sunday 6 March. For information on how you can watch MHZ see this:

Interview with Celje right wing Gasper Marguc:

 Veszprem at Montpellier

The unofficial game of the week is clearly the Group B showdown between Montpellier and Veszprem for first place.  Veszprem won in Hungary 27-26, so Montpellier will need to win by 2 goals (or just 1 goal if they keep Veszprem under 26).  There’s a lot of incentive to finish first as the potential round of 16 opponents on the fourth rung are a significant step down from the third rung.  Not to mention the first seed opponents are also guaranteed not to meet each other until the Final Four in Cologne, thus avoiding a potential quarter-final pairing vs. Kiel or Ciudad Real.  Montpellier definitely has the edge here, but with Michael Guigou out and Vid Kavticnik questionable due to injuries, Karabatic will need to carry the load in this match. 

The match is at 5.30 PM (Central European Time), 11:30 Noon (U.S. East Coast) on Sunday, 6 March.  Montpellier is a 3 goal favorite.

On Demand broadcast at ehfTV:

EHF: Interview with Veszprem backcourt player,Gabor Csaszar:

Audio recording links are below.  Open the on demand video in one window and then click on the podcast link.  I do a countdown of the ehfTV clock in the lower left hand of the screen.  Pause the audio when I start the countdown and then play the video.  Then unpause the audio when you get to the appropriate time on the clock. 


Promoting Team Handball in the U.S. (Part 1): Las Vegas Rugby 7s Tournament: Undoubtedly, a model to follow

Team USA takes the field in front of 25,000 fans

As frequent readers are well aware, I’ve written a number of pieces on the sport of Rugby and how its challenges to develop in the U.S. are similar to that of Team Handball.  Both are sports with similarities with sports Americans already excel at and follow passionately (basketball for Team Handball; American Football for Rugby).  And both sports are very popular in parts of the world (Scandinavia, the Balkans and Germany for Team Handball; the British Commonwealth for Rugby) but are minor sports in the U.S.  And finally, both sports have passionate followers in the U.S., who dream that one day their sport will crack into the big time and become part of the American sports landscape.

I live in Las Vegas, a town full of dreamers, and a couple weekends ago I saw and heard firsthand how Rugby is maybe, just maybe, turning that dream into a reality.  It was the second year that the USA 7s tournament was held in Las Vegas as part of the International Rugby Board’s (IRB) World Series for Rugby 7s.  A crowd of around 25,000 attended each day of the 2 day event held at Sam Boyd stadium on the outskirts of Vegas.  This may not seem like much of a crowd, but I can attest that it’s more than the UNLV football team often draws and without doubt you’ll be hard pressed to see spectators anywhere having more fun.  The event has a party time atmosphere with expats from many nations dressed up in costumes or their nation’s colors.   Outside the stadium is a festival area with rugby drills for the kids, assorted booths with national food dishes.   And as it’s an all day event, let’s just say that if fans start drinking beer before noon most of them are going to be in a good mood come nightfall.

But aside from the festive mood onsite an even more important indication of Rugby’s growth was the presence of NBC sports at the event.  In all, 5 hours of coverage (much of it live) was broadcast over the airwaves to every corner of the United States and 17 hours of coverage was available to much of the nation via the NBC Universal Sports online platform.  I’m not an expert on TV broadcasting, but based on the equipment, numbers of trailers and personnel running around NBC didn’t cut any corners on their production.  TV coverage like this alone, isn’t going to turn the U.S. into a Rugby power overnight, but there’s no denying that nationwide exposure like this is a godsend to a niche sport.

Here are a couple of audio excerpts from NBC’s broadcast.  It doesn’t take much to imagine a Team Handball broadcast and the same type of Olympic advertisement for our sport.


From time to time I’ve gotten into verbal and written forum spats with members of the U.S. Team Handball community that pooh-pooh the importance of TV exposure.  The standard argument is that it’s a diversion of scarce resources (time and money) that would be better spent on grass roots development.  My counter argument is that it’s a numbers game and we sorely need new fans and players to support our grass roots programs and TV is the best way to grow those numbers.  Heck, you might even find a real gem of a player who takes a liking to a game he’s never seen before.  Last summer during the USA National Team – LA match in Chicago I whimsically made such a point on the Comcast broadcast.  Essentially issuing a challenge to anyone watching that if they think they can play this game better contact the U.S. Federation for a tryout.  For those of you who like to pooh-pooh the possibility of finding such a player, I suggest you check out this audio interview of Miles Craigwell, a former NFL player who saw a broadcast last year of Rugby 7’s, got in touch with the USA Rugby Federation and 8 months later started several matches for the U.S in Vegas. 

I’ll be the first to tell you that Rugby 7s is a much simpler game to learn than Team Handball, but we could still use a few more Miles Craigwells showing some interest in our sport.  And as I’ve argued many times before, we still need to have the grassroots programs in place.  Because, if you do your promotion well, you need to be ready to handle all those newcomers. 

But, are we doing our promotion of Team Handball as well as we could?  As I soaked in the enormity of this event for Rugby, I couldn’t help but contemplate “how is Rugby doing this?” and “why can’t something similar be done for Team Handball?”  In part 2 of this series I’ll tackle that very question.

Universal Sports (3 Feb 2011): Craigwell a football player turned rugby star:

The Economist (3 Feb 2011) Rugby in America: Worth a try: More and more Americans are being converted to the sport:

THN (11 Feb 2011):


IHF By-Law Proposals: Important changes seem to be emerging

Almost a year ago, I wrote several articles severely criticizing the then emerging proposals for changes in the IHF By-Laws.  These changes were planned to be discussed and adopted at the IHF Congress in Rome last April, but this Congress had to be postponed due to the ash cloud spreading over Europe.  Instead, the proposals will now be put forward at an IHF Congress in Marrakech in the first week of May this year.

My main points of criticism (see article dated April 11, 2010) were:  (1) ‘indications of a heavy-handed shift of power in favor of the IHF, at the expense of all other levels and members in the international handball family’, and (2) ‘a major expansion of the personal power of the President’.  As I noted, ‘this would run counter to all sound and modern principles for the management and decision-making in an international sports organization or, for that matter, in any democratic institution’. 

I am pleased to convey to our readers that it now seems that important changes are being put forward on precisely the two main points above.   Much of the debate a year ago was between EHF representatives and the IHF, and it now appears that it may be a quiet resumption of that dialog which has led to a positive break-through.   From several sources I am getting the information that, although there is no revised version of the overall proposals available at this time, there is indeed an IHF Council decision to adopt key modifications.

It appears that an elimination of the excesses in terms of ‘a power grab’ has been undertaken, and that the intended shift of authority from continents to the IHF regarding responsibility for certain key events has been stopped.   More specifically, this involves the long-standing dispute regarding the responsibility for organizing qualification events to World Championships and Olympic Games.  This is not just a matter of principle and prestige, but potentially also a huge financial issue, involving the revenues from such events.

While there are several other aspects of the initial proposals for new By-Laws that preferably should be changed, this presumably means that key continental representatives in the IHF are now more satisfied with the revised version at least regarding the relations between the IHF and its stakeholders and regarding the personal powers of the President.  The latter had become even more of an issue after the President convinced the IHF Council to convert his role from that of an elected volunteer to a full-time employee.

It may be premature to celebrate, but at least this movement away from what appeared to be hardened positions must be seen as a small triumph, not just for the people directly involved but for the entire international handball family.   While I am eagerly looking forward to the opportunity to read the revised version of the proposals, I want to congratulate those who worked hard to create a positive momentum.  I am also pleased that the IHF President was able to find a way of moving towards a compromise.

THN (21 Mar 2010): President Moustafa’s proposals for new IHF Statutes would legitimize his dictatorship and despotism — who will stop this madness??

THN (11 Apr 2010): Changes in IHF By-Laws/Statutes: What is the issue?:


EHF Game of the Week: Valladolid at Pick Szeged (Live and with English Language Commentary)

Szeged's Frantisek Sulc

Another Group C match is served up for this week’s game of the week.  Spanish side Valladolid travels to Hungary to take on Szeged.  Both sides are likely to advance to the round of 16, but still have strong motivation to win.  A win in Hungary would pretty much lock up second place for Valladolid and give them an outside opportunity to win the group.  Meanwhile, a Szeged win will qualify them for the round of 16 and put them in third place with a possibility of even moving up to second.

The match is at 6:00 PM (Central European Time), 12:00 Noon (U.S. East Coast) on Saturday, 26 February.  Valladolid is a 1.5 goal favorite

EHF Website interview with Pick Szeged’s Frantisek Sulc:

Live Broadcast link:

On Demand broadcast at ehfTV:

There is also a tape delayed broadcast on the MHz Network in the U.S. at 4:00 PM (U.S. East Coast). For information on how you can watch MHZ see this:


USA Team Handball Announces New National Team Pool Criteria

USA Team Handball recently posted updated National Team Pool Criteria for prospective National Team players.  Some of the criteria appears to be simply a more structured rehash of criteria that has been previously used to assess and identify players.  There are the usual battery of physical tests and handball skills identified, but there are also some new requirements that caught my eye.

For instance, some basic minimums were identified in terms of matches and practices each year.  A relatively modest number of matches is required (15), but a fairly substantial number of practices are now required (48 court and 72 non court).  This may seem rather simple to our European readers, but I suspect that there are very few club teams in the U.S. meeting the 48/year requirement.

More noteworthy, is a requirement for senior players to relocate to designated Regional or National Centers of Excellence by June 1, 2012(#5, page 13).  Section 5 goes further to highlight that the process for selecting these locations is planned for the first half of 2011 and that preliminary plan is to re-establish a residency program (either walk-in or live-in).  As far as I know, this is the first written indication that USA Team Handball was going to take this significant step.  More details will hopefully be coming soon in regards to the specifics of such a program and how it will fit into the current practice of encouraging European Club participation.

Also added is a requirement off the court in terms of being an Ambassador for the sport with options to support development through recruiting, refereeing and fundraising.  An appropriate requirement, in my opinion, for a sport that needs as many people promoting it as possible.

But what really caught my eye, were the closing comments in the “Athlete Development Pipeline Model” document:

Finally, as uncomfortable, inconvenient and uncanny it may feel, there is absolutely no science based nor practice based evidence of a “fast track” for high achievers to become masters in their fields. To the contrary, as Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller “Outliers” put it (sic): “researchers and practitioners in variety of fields have settled on what they believe is the magic number of for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

“The 10,000 – HOUR RULE” sends very clear and strong message to us all involved in handball.  Handball must evolve into year around activity.

A table is then provided which tabulates what this mean in terms of 25 day month (assume you 4 or 5 days off) over a 12 year span (2.77 hours/day) or 16 year span (1.56 hours/day).    I’ll have a follow on commentary about the 10,000 hour rule.  But suffice it to say, this is a very telling stat that speaks volumes as to the historic lack of U.S. success and the challenge of developing handball experts who pick up the sport in their late teens.

USATH: Live the Olympic Dream: Tryout for Team Handball!:

USATH: National Team Pool Criteria:

USATH: USA Team Handball Athlete Development Pipeline Model:


New rules for punishing players are good – but only if the referees use them

I have earlier commented on the overall good performances of the World Championship referees. But I have also noted that there were concerns about inconsistencies from one game to another and from one referee couple to another. Separately I wrote about the beneficial and irreplaceable impact of experience and the reality that many of the elite referees today are relatively young and inexperienced.

The specific area where inconsistencies and inexperience could be observed was the way in which the referees utilized the recently modified (or clarified) rules for punishment of players in situations that go beyond the ‘routine’ fouls. I am talking about the new emphasis placed on having players sent off for 2 minutes without a prior warning (or before the team reaches the limit of three yellow cards). This was always possible, but the 2010 rules specify that this should be seen as a normal decision and not an extreme one. Moreover, very useful criteria are provided for fouls that should be seen as belonging in this category. The same thing applies for the serious fouls that should lead to an immediate disqualification.

This is a very welcome and necessary improvement in the rules, but it works only if the referees have the judgment and the courage to apply them correctly and consistently!! It seems that there are too many examples, both in World Championship, in the recently resumed EHF Champions League and in national leagues, where the referees are too timid or hesitant. Perhaps the traditional insistence on using the yellow cards systematically, three per team in the early part of the game, has become so ingrained that the referees use this old approach a bit like robots, without really considering whether a particular fouls deserves a more harsh action.

Alternatively, the referees in some situations may be too hesitant because they worry that they then set too high a level for the punishments early in the game, and that this will lead to an untenable situation as the game progresses. But what they should instead be thinking about is the preventive aspect. Most players are smart enough to make the same distinction as the rule book does; they will appreciate that a particular action simply went too far and warrants a more severe reaction. And if the players do not get this signal, chances are that the actions will escalate and the game will get out of hand.

Similarly, referees may hesitate to give a direct red card, especially early in the game. This may be even more likely if it involves a key player, and the referees start thinking about the impact for the team and perhaps the crowd reaction. But for many years now, we have had a definition of a disqualification that should make it much easier for the referees to apply the rules as intended. Some decades ago, we still had the same concept that makes a red card so drastic in football, i.e., that the team has to play short-handed for the rest of the game. But in handball we allow the player to be replaced on the court after two minutes, precisely because we want the disqualification to be a way of getting the cynical and dangerous players out of the game, without unduly punishing the team and distorting the entire game.

This means that, just like in the case of the direct 2 minutes, there must be no excuse for the referees when it comes to showing the red card in a situation where a player’s health is endangered and where a player simply has been too reckless. It should not be a question of courage, because it is not such a drastic punishment. I can have more understanding if it is a matter of a failing instinct, related to a lack of experience with games at a very difficult level. Here the responsibility must be shared between the young referees who aim to join the elite category and the supervisors/instructors who must use their position to help clarify the necessary instincts and actions.

I am glad to see now that EHF is strengthening its capacity for high-level education of referees through the use of new technology. They have started collaboration with FIBA Europe and are introducing a new super-efficient software that would greatly facilitate the feedback efforts for both the instructors and the referees through a web-based approach. (Apparently, it is also connected to a broader system for the game reports, statistics etc.). I hope, or assume, that the IHF will quickly follow this example!