IHF in the Spotlight during the Men’s World Championship
For the first time in over 30 years, I was able to attend a World Championship in handball as a spectator or tourist, rather than as an official of the IHF working around the clock to ensure a good execution of the event. In addition to my own observations, I then had the opportunity to have conversations with a lot of old colleagues from the IHF, the teams, other federations, and the media. The following are just some observations in a rhapsodic form, not a systematic analysis.
Clearly the Swedes had the experience and competence to provide the necessary infrastructure for a smooth event, both on the court and off. But it is somewhat typical of what I have also often heard in my days as an IHF official: more and more the participants, of course especially the teams but also the spectators and the media, tend to expect extravagant arrangements that do not fit with the budget-conscious efforts of the organizers.
It is natural that everyone, including the IHF, would like to see the World Championship as a real PR event, as a ‘party’, but the economic conditions may not allow the normal organizers to go very far in that direction.
It is conceivable, however, that an attempt to set a different standard will be made in 2015 as, just like recently in football, Qatar was selected as the host for the World Championship. The selection process left a bitter aftertaste, with wild accusations and a sense of being very bad losers on the part of the main rival, France.
Apparently, especially in light of the enormous successes on the court in recent years, the French assumed that their being awarded the event was a ‘done deal’ or some kind of right. Perhaps they overlooked that handball wants the profile of a global sport and that four consecutive Men’s World Championships will be held in Europe 2007-13. But it is likely that the controversy surrounding the choice of Qatar for football in 2022 also got the handball decision ‘tainted' by the same brush.
Apropos global perspective, there was no break in trends in the rankings, where only one non-European team, Argentina, was among the twelve qualifying for the main round, where they came in last. This was otherwise seen by many as a ‘transitional’ Championship, in the sense of a generational change that caused the level of play to be somewhat below the standard in recent years.
Some of the old stars and the top teams looked like they were fading a bit. Voices were heard that this was partly due to the excessive pressure put on players due to an unrealistic competition calendar. Indeed, there were several injuries that kept key players out of the event, and yet others happened during the course of the Championship. But it did amount to good PR that the two clearly most exciting teams made it to the final and there put on a fantastic display.
France has been dominant for several years now and they have been able to integrate some new players successfully into their strong and experienced line-up. Denmark has also been near the top for a while, but here they were the ‘fresh, new’ team with some exciting young players. They displayed an attractive style with quick ball movement, strong shooting (also from some spectacular wing players) and great goalkeeping.
The crowds were as large as they could be, considering a mixture of halls with very large capacity (Goteborg and Malmo) and modern but small halls (such as in Kristianstad) with really a rather modest capacity for the top matches. It was of course also a source of bewilderment for the non-Scandinavians that Sweden in a sense gave away part of the home court advantage by letting Denmark play both the preliminary round and the main round in Malmo, just a few minutes away from Copenhagen.
The IHF announced that the total TV audiences were the largest ever, and that the increasing focus on web casting had been very successful.
The IHF leadership did not quite come away as looking as strong as one might think they would want to do in the context of a World Championship. The public events, such as press conferences and the 2015 selection, were opportunities that seemed a bit squandered due to feeble arrangements.
There were no other special efforts made to create excitement around the IHF as an organization. Somewhat to the contrary, there was an awkward image with a lack of cohesiveness presented, when the IHF Secretary General throughout the event conspicuously acted more as a fanatic French Federation President rather than as a detached and neutral international official.
Finally, it has been rumored, and also hinted in a recent commentary in haandbold.com, that some welcome improvements may be emerging in the IHF’s proposals for radical By-Law changes for its upcoming Congress in May. As I have commented on several occasions, these proposals were highly inappropriate especially in terms of the undemocratic centralization of power that they would entail.
However, while there is no evidence yet, in the form of a revised version being made available, there are indications that important changes may be forthcoming.
While the ratification would have had to have happened through the entire IHF Council, it seems clear that it is the influence of the European Handball Federation that has been instrumental.
One would really hope that the rumors turn out to be true, and that the IHF would soon provide confirmation to the stakeholders in the world of handball.