Men At Work
July 10, 2014
Following the recent communication of the International Handball Federation (IHF) to not recognize the Oceania Continent Handball Federation (OCHF) and by default withdrawing Australia’s participation at the 2015 World Cup in Qatar while at the same time awarding the vacant slot through a wild card to team Germany, emotions of players, coaches and handball fans around the world have been running high. With no shortage of conspiracy theories the IHF finds itself at the center of controversy once again.
As officials in Germany breathe a sigh of relief after the dismal performance of the men’s national handball team in their qualification matches against Poland in June of this year, the reactions “Down Under” are distinctly different. Alex Gavrilovic, President of the Australian Handball Federation, explains how the events of the past days have evolved from his perspective and what he intends to do next.
A: I have worked with the IHF since my appointment as the Competition Manager for the Handball event at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, in 1997. I was fortunate enough to also have that role for the London 2012 Olympic Games. I have been involved in Australian Handball since 1981, therefore I’ve had cause to deal with the IHF for many years. There have been many changes in the IHF during that time as well as changes to key personnel. I still count Raymond Hahn, Peter Muehlematter and Frank Birkefeld as friends. I was introduced to Dr Moustaffa during the Sydney 2000 Games and have formed friendship and working relationships with him as well as with Leon Kalin, Miguel Roca and Amal Khalifa, among others. I have always enjoyed my time dealing with the IHF, which has been generous and supportive of Australian Handball, to varying degrees, throughout that time.
A: The previous Oceania Handball Federation was disbanded and a new Federation, the Oceania Continent Handball Federation (OCHF), formed in 2008/9. When the IHF changed its statutes to require 15 member nations, in order to be recognized as a Continental Federation, there were only 6 members in Oceania. This meant that, from that time, the OCHF has not been ‘recognised’ by the IHF. Nevertheless, the IHF continued to make a spot available for the champion team from Oceania at its World Championships, Beach Handball and Superglobe.
A: The IHF alerted the Australian Handball Federation (AHF) about the planned reconsideration of the automatic Oceania place at World Championships about 2 months ago. We were invited to make comment and propose any points for consideration by the Council. We did make some representations to the IHF and focused mainly on development initiatives to assist Australia (and Oceania in general), however, we also made it clear that, for the Qatar 2015 event, any decision not to include Australia has come too late and should be deferred. Our opinion is that there must be a clear path available for teams from Oceania to attend World Championships, which at the moment is by direct qualification from Oceania.
A: We have not yet received an ‘official’ explanation for the removal of the automatic place for an Oceania team, which, although technically the Continent is not recognised, has been made available to us for many years.
A: We are waiting to be informed ‘officially’ of those reasons.
A: I did not think that it was a certainty that Australia would be dropped, hoping that the Council would agree that, for Qatar 2015, the decision to amend qualification was too late. I first became aware of the Council’s decision by reference to the IHF web site. Sadly, we have still not received notification from the IHF. My first thought was that the decision is not a good one: Australian players have already invested many years of effort to prepare for the Qatar event, paying most of their costs themselves. Our coach, Jan Ottosen from Denmark, has given up his job in the Faroe Islands and has spent lengthy time in Australia, with no pay, to dedicate himself to the preparation of the team. I felt that the decision was disrespectful to the efforts that our team has made so far.
A: No, this I learnt for the first time when I saw the IHF web site.
A: No, this was never discussed and remains a matter for the IHF, not Australia.
A: I will comment on this when I get their notification. For the moment, I have to accept that they have decided that Oceania should not have an automatic place as the continent is not recognised, although, this was, as I said earlier, not a barrier to our attendance in the past.
A: You need to ask the IHF this question.
A: I do not think that it is useful to contemplate ‘conspiracy theories’. I will wait to be officially informed by the IHF about their reasons.
A: I have already said something about the players’ and coach’s commitment and sacrifice, including their financial burden. No offers of compensation have been made or requested at this time.
A: Everybody here is disappointed at the news. It is every player’s dream to represent their country at the highest level. I can fully understand that they must feel devastated and let down by the decision to prevent them from realising that dream.
A: I can completely understand that the German Handball Federation would be proud and happy to be given an opportunity to participate at a World Championship. This is a quite understandable reaction.
A: No, I have no intention of talking to the German Handball Federation about a matter which is between Australia and the IHF. The German Federation has similarly no reason to discuss the matter with Australia.
A: The Australian Handball Federation will continue its dialogue with the IHF to try to understand what the way forward is with regard to the status and development of Oceania, assistance and development in Australia, participation at future events, etc.
A: That’s too early to say. There are currently two Australian teams preparing for the Beach Handball World Championship and our Sydney University team is preparing for the IHF Superglobe. Hopefully this decision has no impact on those teams but clearly we now have some uncertainty about our participation at all IHF events. It is likely that, if we have no direct qualification path to the World Championship, opportunities for sponsorship will be diminished. Clearly there is an immediate negative impact on our players, who must all be considering their future in the sport at the moment.
A: I believe that Australia was encouraged to speak our mind, however, our arguments appear to have been ignored. I can not speak for OCHF. I am personally disappointed not to have had some official word from the IHF prior to their media announcement on the web page.
A: I think that it is too late to make any changes to any events in 2014/15 and that the team from Australia, which has just finished a tough tournament against teams from New Zealand and New Caledonia to qualify for the event deserves to go to Superglobe. The club and players have already made a huge commitment to get this far. It would be unfair and inappropriate to deprive them of their rightful place.
Following the interview Handball Australia made a further statement:
/ J. Schutz