Remaining silent is not okay, René Toft!
January 7, 2017
COLUMN – By choosing not to speak to the media for an unknown period of time – possibly for the entire World Championship – Danish star René Toft Hansen is not only ignoring journalists, but his fans as well.
By Peter Bruun
More than one eyebrow was raised when the Danish Handball Federation (DHF) sent out an email to media outlets on Friday afternoon, informing them that line player and defense specialist, René Toft Hansen, would not be available for interviews for an undisclosed period of time, possibly extending through the entire upcoming World Championship in France.
Bent Nyegaard, the expert commentator at the Danish TV station TV2, called the news: “Sports History.” He is right with regards to handball, as we have never seen such precedent; football aside.
Several years ago, the Danish football national team implemented a one-match ban on Danish media, frustrated after what the player considered too many negative reviews of the team´s previous match. The measure did nothing to boost the national football team´s popularity among the people, by the way.
Later on, one international, Thomas Gravesen, launched his very own “quiet time”, but at that point, Gravesen´s career was approaching the end, and his behavior did not have any real significance.
It must be mentioned, though, that René Toft Hansen is not issuing any ban on media. This is no boycott; he simply does not feel like talking to journalists, right now.
It is his right to do so, of course, but his timing is poor, to say the least. Many of us would have liked to hear his comments on certain moments in Denmark´s 24:21 win, in a test match against Hungary, on Thursday night, where Toft Hansen was accused of “acting.”
At least in two situations, such accusations were justified, and one of them led to the expulsion of Hungary´s best player, line player Bence Bánhidi.
It appears that Toft Hansen made his decision to not talk to the press ahead of the match against Hungary, though.
Apparently, some journalists were briefed about his decision prior to the match, but this does not help right now. His self-imposed silence prevented him from explaining his own version of these incidents.
The official reason for Toft Hansen being speechless is “mental exhaustion”. Quite understandable, considering the serious stress he has been enduring over the past 12 months.
After his serious knee injury in a Bundesliga match for THW Kiel at Christmas, one year ago, he achieved a miraculously fast comeback and was ready to help Denmark at the Rio Olympics in August to win the gold medal. It was a long struggle, during which the mental pressure must have been just as difficult as the physical strain.
The last five months in Kiel were not exactly a walk in the park either. His team is currently trailing behind Flensburg and ruling champions Rhein-Neckar Löwen. Even an Olympic gold medal may hardly compensate for this very tough time.
Eventually, it leads to the question how much we, the press, and by extension the public, can expect from top athletes whose stories fill our newspapers, websites and prime time TV? How much can we expect the stars to be at our disposal?
In this aspect, I am certainly no angel myself.
I do not limit myself to get quotes from players and coaches during mandatory media-calls, press conferences and mixed zone talk right after the matches.
I often pester players by calling them up for telephone interviews in between games and training sessions, and my only defense is that I am not the only one doing it.
We all have to realize that conducting interviews is work for us journalists and giving interviews is work for the athletes.
At a minimum, players and coaches should be available during regular media-calls at major tournaments and in the mixed zone, after a match.
René Toft Hansen has chosen a different path, because of his mental exhaustion.
If taking the time for a few two-to-five minute interviews, every second day, is too much to deal with mentally, it raises the question, if Toft is even fit to play an entire World Championship? A competition that can consist of up to nine intense matches that will be challenging psychologically as well as physically.
Yet, this is a question that national coach, Gudmundur Gudmundsson, has to answer. The way it looks, he and the entire management of the Danish Handball Federation are entirely okay with Toft Hansen´s decision, even though it clearly contradicts the DHF´s usual policies of being open to the press and the public.
Let me make it crystal clear – René Toft Hansen´s behavior is not okay, not the least as it creates a bad precedent.
Now that it is acceptable to ignore the media – who will be the next national team player that decides to not talk to journalists?
René Toft Hansen and other sport stars should never forget that without media and public awareness, they would not have a career. Media is the pipeline between athletes and the public and all athletes rely on this linkage. Without media coverage, no fans, no spectators, no sponsors and no TV money.
Yes – journalists may be a nuisance once in a while, but they create the noise that puts “butter on bread”.
I know René Toft Hansen well enough to know that his resolution is not driven by arrogance, and I am sure he speaks the truth, when he says that he feels mentally exhausted.
But, if he feels like playing a World Championship, talking to journalists every now and then cannot be that hard. After all, Danish sport journalists are not the meanest in the world.
With all due respect to the physical and psychological pressure, you have been under for a long time, René Toft Hansen, I do not think your decision is a sensible one, and maybe you should ask yourself, if a similar behavior would have been accepted at your club, THW Kiel?
I hope you will come to your senses soon, René. Right now, you are dealing your career a severe public blow.