Hope, Swiss, hope
February 27, 2017
Isn’t it strange that the possibly best handball playmaker in the world is coming from Switzerland? Andy Schmid is showing off his skills almost every time he puts on the jersey of Rhein-Neckar Löwen. He was voted the Player of the Season in the DKB Handball-Bundesliga for three consecutive years and he led his club to its first ever league title last summer. But why is he the only world-class player from Switzerland?
Recently I got the chance to talk with Schmid and I asked him whether he thought that Swiss handball is on the way up, as the national team didn’t participate in a major tournament since 2006, when the European championship took place in his home country. Yet in November, Switzerland almost upset European champion Germany in front of more than 10,000 fans in Basel, only losing 22:23.
Schmid was quite positive about the general situation, citing a change of attitude among the younger generation as the main reason for the recent positive development. “There are more young guys just focusing on becoming a pro-athlete, becoming a handball professional. In the past a lot of younger players claimed to do so, but when they turned 23, 24 years old, they opted for a well-paying job rather than playing handball,” the 33-year old said.
He then added that new head coach Michael Suter is also somewhat of a difference maker. “Our new coach knows how to work with young players. He already coached many of them on the junior level. They believe in his philosophy, he trusts the young players and that’s working out well,” Schmid said. But he also told me that it is a big difference to perform well in one single game and that a lot of patience is needed to repeat it over time again and again.
Meanwhile Schmid has identified another reason why handball in Switzerland still has a long way to go. “We have a football national team, which qualifies for almost all the international tournaments, we have an ice hockey team, which usually is among the “Best Eight” every year, Switzerland is a ski nation, and then we got tennis,” he said. Which actually means that the most recent “renaissance” of Roger Federer – maybe the greatest athlete of all time – won’t help Swiss handball at all.
But Schmid didn’t stop there. “We have a lot of different sports where athletes from Switzerland represent world class, as a result handball won’t be played at schools, with some exceptions. It’s also is a complicated sport. The national team isn’t successful and can’t be idolized by the kids. A vicious circle has developed over the years. That’s why Swiss handball is not present in the media. Kids don’t play handball and then sponsors and fans lose interest,” Schmid added.
So it’s a good sign that the current generation of players are doing their part, trying to focus more on the sport rather than going to work every day at a bank, a hospital or some business company. It’s probably an issue as well that you can earn quite a lot of money in “regular” jobs in Switzerland. So, why take the risk and become a professional athlete? I guess Schmid could put some arguments on the table. For now, he has to convince all the people in doubt with his performance on the court and with his leadership.
And who knows, maybe in a few years, there will be a new Andy Schmid. Or a new Marc Baumgartner, the other great Swiss handball player, who actually won the goal scoring title at the 1993 World championship, when the team came in fourth and even made it to the 1996 Olympics, while other big handball nations had to stay at home. Somehow it seems unlikely, but who would have thought that there would be somebody like Andy Schmid ten years ago?