A Handball Nation with a Basketball Problem

Why isn't the US better at a sport it should so clearly be dominating?
Share |

Photo courtesy of www.denverhandball.org

Anyone would watch a sport whose best players explode through a gap like Arian Foster, launch themselves through the air like Russell Westbrook and throw a ball like Cole Hamels. Right?

Meet team handball, the best sport you’ve never heard of. It’s a six-on-six team game that’s incredibly popular throughout much of Europe. It’s fast-paced, high-scoring, hard-hitting and played by some terrific athletes. It’s ripe to conquer America, as it has every single attribute we love in our team sports. And America is ripe to conquer team handball, since our best athletes were made to dominate the sport.

Yet team handball has absolutely no stateside following. Only about 500 people here follow the sport with any seriousness, according to TeamHandballNews.com editor John Ryan. At best, when Americans hear the word handball, they probably associate it with the New York playground game likely captured in some Lou Reed deep cut.

“[Team handball] has a combination of skills we see in our most popular sports. People have expected this sport to blow up in the US,” said Dave Gascon, the interim general manager of USA Team Handball, the governing body of the sport in America.

(On top of his involvement in USA Team Handball, Gascon is the answer to an interesting trivia question. While working for the Los Angeles Police Department, Gascon announced O.J. Simpson’s arrest warrant which proceeded the infamous car chase.)

But instead, the US Men’s National Team just lost to Greenland in this year’s 2012 Pan-American Games. Sadly, it wasn’t too much of a shocker as the US team lost to The Polar Teddy Bears in 2006. How the hell did an American team in any sport lose to Greenland? And what will it take for us to ensure that American team handball doesn’t lose to Greenland ever again?

How team handball got to this point is a tale of the severe dysfunction that ensues when a small group of people fight over a smidgen of power. The story of how to get out of this hole has yet to be written, but there are a few people who have some ideas.

***

The US men’s and women’s handball teams have combined for a mere eight wins since 1972, the year team handball was reintroduced in the Olympics. (It made a brief appearance in the 1930s.) The best finish the men have made was 9th while the women captured 4th place in 1984. Those finishes are fairly respectable when you consider handball’s obscurity.

But neither team has qualified for the Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games, where they both automatically qualified as the host nation. Since then, the US has fallen so off the map that they’re regularly beaten by a country with a population roughly the size of a Pennsylvania suburb that’s technically a colony of Denmark.

There are two reasons for this.

The first comes from national funding. The US Olympic Committee is the primary backer of Olympic sports without many local professional outlets—everything from popular competitions like track-and-field and gymnastics to events like badminton and modern pentathlon.

The USOC, however, doesn’t run these sports. Each sport has its own national governing body (NGB) which oversees its operations. For years, the USOC supported less popular sports largely because America had no real challengers. But China’s economic rise also fertilized its national athletics along with its geopolitical clout.

America’s international pissing contest with China came to a head in the Beijing Games. The USOC shifted its attention—i.e., cut the funding—away from sports like team handball, where we had no chance of earning one lone medal. But many Olympic sports—shooting, archery, etc—are individual events which offer medals based on distance and type of equipment. It’s playing the margins—the US is fairly competitive in these sports and is more likely to pick up a few medals.

“Team sports got devalued and the USOC started to tie funding to performance,” said John Ryan, the editor of TeamHandballNews.com, the go-to source for any and all people in the US interested in the sport. “That’s the biggest factor which caused us to become weaker.”

The second is—to be frank— that no one who ran USA Team Handball for most of its history knew what the fuck they were doing.

Ryan says there are probably somewhere between 300 and 500 people in the US who care at all about the sport. And all of those people have seemingly at some point served on the NGBs board of directors. And very few of these people liked each other.

Foreign-born board members thought they had the experience to organize the sport. American-born members resented this. Some former players thought they knew the best ways to grow the sport. Others wanted to find outsiders with business and marketing experience. Some board members balked on doing the dirty work of fundraising but were the first ones to raise their hands to take a free flight to Germany to watch an international tournament. There were board room coups. There were controversial reformists who quickly alienated the old guard. There was an old guard that was solely looking out for its fiefdom.

Instead of attempting to find ways to grow the sport and become internationally competitive, the board looked to serve its own interests. At the same time, funding was slowly going down.

The USOC finally intervened in 2006 and decertified the team handball NGB and took over the sport’s operations.

“What you have to understand about these NGBs, the smaller the sport, the more inefficient they are and the harder it is to break them down. They become a total cash cow,” said Bogdon Pasat, a Romanian-born Houstonian who is considered a firebrand in the US Team Handball community. “It beomes a game of whose ass you kiss and how much you cater to their needs. It’s a good-old-boy network.”

This sounds oddly, and unfortunately, like much of the American education system. Cities with struggling students deal with boards of educations more concerned with political interests than doing what’s best to help their children. They do so with ever decreasing amounts of funding. In many cases, school boards and city governments end up taken over by distant state governments.

After a year of managing team handball’s affairs, the USOC sought a new NGB to run the sport. The new president was Dieter Esch, a German fashion modeling agency magnate, who appointed a Major League Soccer executive to serve as his GM. They left in 2011, a year before their terms ended, with the new USA Team Handball embroiled in debt, its accounting measures heavily criticized by independent auditors and its staffing reduced to a bare-bones level.

USA Team Handball selected Jeff Etz, an insurance industry executive, from the board as its new president. He and Gascon worked quickly to get the NGB’s accounting house in order. They’re out of debt. A new full-time GM (likely from Europe) will be appointed soon.

But don’t look for funding to increase anytime soon. The USOC, like everyone else, has hit hard times after the post-Lehman Brothers sub-prime abyss. It’s also not likely to increase funding to a NGB with a history of not doing what it’s supposed to do.

But it’s hoped the bad times have ended. The dark days of petty machinations and politicking have seemingly come to an end. Essentially, USA Team Handball is a blank slate. A poorly funded blank slate, but a sport that’s starting over.

So, what next?

***

Dave Gascon discovered the sport through his daughter, Sarah—an accomplished woman’s baseball (yes, that exists) and volleyball player. But with baseball and softball eliminated from The Olympics, that eliminated that avenue for Olympic glory. And while a terrific volleyball player, she was on the fringe of making the national team.

But USA Team Handball representatives were at the volleyball trials. They showed a video of the sport. Sarah gave it a try and fell for it immediately. She’s now on the US Woman’s team.

National team players almost all share a similar story. They come to the sport from other sports, usually after college, usually at the age of 21 and 22.

(True story, hopefully: Ryan says it’s rumored that NBA great Shawn Kemp once inquired about playing handball for the 1996 Olympic Team. After much deliberation, team handball officials told him he’d have to try out for the sport. No one ever heard from him again.)

Every sport has its own nuances to learn; team handball is no different. For instance, team handball players can advance the ball by dribbling, but the dribbling rules are completely different than basketball dribbling. Team handball experts say it takes newbies about five years to become experienced enough to learn the subtle things to become an elite-level player.

But, by that time, most US players are in their late-20s and are now approaching their athletic decline. They’re also now entering the age where trying for fleeting Olympic glory becomes less of a priority and settling down and starting a family all of sudden makes sense.

USA Team Handball officials all understand that it has to draw from a larger pool of players at a younger age in order to field a competitive team. But how to do just—with extremely limited resources— is the question at hand.

Some folks would like to start trying to grab players just a bit younger. For instance, a basketball player on the non-scholarship D-3 level might instead be interested in playing for a national team. If a few colleges could be lobbied to start teams, and the NCAA sanctions the sport, perhaps players would take up a new sport in order to earn a scholarship. But that’s many, many meetings with athletic departments and college bureaucrats away from even becoming a pipe dream.

But others want to get potential players hooked younger. Team handball is an ideal sport for American gym classes. It’s cheap and easy to store—it requires two nets and a ball. It’s also easier for children to play than a height-dependent sport like basketball. Some school districts around the country have already incorporated team handball into their elementary school athletic programs and a few YMCA’s also sponsor youth clubs.

But, as soccer in this country showed, it takes time for a grass roots effort to blossom. It wasn’t until the mid-nineties when the US men’s soccer team became a viable enterprise. Even now, the US men’s team looms formidably near dark-horse status in international soccer.

With limited money and so few people spreading the handball gospel, the current NGB administration faces some tough choices ahead. But at least the organizational structure to make tough choices without causing furious e-mail chains seems in place. The USOC also looks like it will bid for the 2024 Olympics. If America gets these games, then the US automatically is entered.

With some good planning and some lucky breaks, maybe a few people in the US will develop into quality players. And then one of the US teams could go on a “Do You Believe In Miracles?” type run in the tournament, with these games broadcast live in American prime time. Maybe, just maybe, America could develop a fever for a sport they should already embrace.

Now if they can only get past Greenland first.


Share |

Comments

Incredible web journal you have here. You'll find me taking a gander at your stuff frequently. Spared! blog comments backlinks

Pleasant post. I was checking always this online journal and I am inspired! To a great degree accommodating data extraordinarily the last part I tend to such information a considerable measure. I was looking for this specific data for quite a while. Much obliged to you and good fortunes. Kids health

You finished certain dependable focuses there. I completed a pursuit regarding the matter and discovered about all people will concur with your blog. Bigg Boss 12

stunning, awesome, I was thinking about how to cure skin inflammation normally. what's more, discovered your site by google, took in a ton, now i'm somewhat clear. I've bookmark your site and furthermore include rss. keep us refreshed. Kasauti Zindagi Ki

I guess I have selected a mind blowing and interesting blog. online ukrainian dating

Gangaur Realtech is a professionally managed organisation specializing in real estate services where integrated services are provided by professionals to its clients seeking increased value by owning, occupying or investing in real estate. ride toys for kids

A debt of gratitude is in order for offering this quality data to us. I truly delighted in perusing. Will without a doubt going to impart this URL to my companions. Instagram marketing

This is a great article, Given such a great amount of information in it, These kind of articles keeps the clients enthusiasm for the site, and continue sharing more ... good fortunes. best wrinkle cream

Your contents force out your readers for commenting. essay writer

Really appreciate you sharing that article.Really looking towards read more. Actually Great.
buy crackers online india

I am cheerful to discover this post Very helpful for me, as it contains parcel of data. I Always want to peruse The Quality and happy I discovered this thing in you post. Much oblig Social Media Marketing

Thank you for such a well written article. It’s full of insightful information and entertaining descriptions. Your point of view is the best among many. Facebook Like Kaufen

Your writings, articles, blogs I mean over all contents is must read matter. life insurance calculator

This substance is composed extremely well. Your utilization of organizing when mentioning your focuses makes your objective facts clear and straightforward. Much obliged to you. bola 88

Your articles help me a lot in all mediums of subjects. poker indonesia

Fantastic work guys im a fan of your website. dewa poker

All things considered, this made them think what different exercises are useful for those of us who end up out and about or have restricted gear alternatives. children vitamins

Your contents force out your readers for commenting. voyance sans cb

Endeavoring to offer significant thanks won't simply be adequate, for the fantasti c clarity in your formed work. I will quickly get your rss channel to stay instructed of any updates. www.happywheels367.org

I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now. Really the blogging is spreading its wings rapidly. Your write up is a fine example of it. ukrayna üniversite bölüm fiyatları

Exceptionally helpful data. Would like to see more posts soon!. babouche homme

That’s a great site you folks have been carrying out there. babouche homme

I might suggest solely beneficial in addition to trusted facts, and so find it: Postpaid VCC for Bing Ads

Qlife Consumer Products Private Limited, a subsidiary of global industrial behemoth – NeST Group of companies, deals with F&B products. Njuze Exotic Passion Fruit Drink

I as of late ran over your online journal and have been perusing along. I thought I would leave my first remark. I don't recognize what to say with the exception of that I have delighted in perusing. Decent blog. I will continue going by this site frequently. Buy all electronics products

I was surfing net and luckily ran over this site and discovered extremely fascinating stuff here. Its truly amusing to peruse. I delighted in a ton. A debt of gratitude is in order for sharing this magnificent data. russian brides

I guess I have selected a mind blowing and interesting blog. online ukrainian dating

I found your this post while searching for some related information on blog search...Its a good post..keep posting and update the information. Eid Greetings 2018

This blog is genuinely impressive in all aspects. ΚΑΤΑΣΚΕΥΗ E-SHOP ΕΛΛΑΔΑ

Greetings! A debt of gratitude is in order for the colossal data you havr gave! You have touched on crucuial focuses! Zombie Contacts

Hey There. I found your blog using msn. This is a very well written article. I'll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your useful info. Thanks for the post. I'll definitely return. Cleaner APK

"Η εταιρεία Apofraxeis, δραστηριοποιείται στο χώρο της συντήρησης, απόφραξης, καθαρισμού αποχετευτικών αγωγών και μεταφορών λυμάτων από το 1960. Διαθέτοντας πολυετή εμπειρία και τα πιο σύγχρονα αποφρακτικά μηχανήματα διασφαλίζουμε την ΕΓΓΥΗΣΗ των εργασιών μας, με ΧΑΜΗΛΟ ΚΟΣΤΟΣ και ταχύτατους χρόνους εξυπηρέτησης.

Τα τελευταία χρόνια επεκτείναμε σταδιακά τις δραστηριότητες μας εκτός τις Αποφράξεις αποχετευτικών αγωγών και εκκενώσεις βόθρων, τώρα αναλαμβάνουμε υπεύθυνα απολυμάνσεις κτηρίων και έκδοση κοινοχρήστων, θέλοντας να προσφέρουμε ολοκληρωμένες υπηρεσίες στις κτηριακές ανάγκες.
Είμαστε στη διάθεση σας για να εξυπηρετήσουμε κάθε ανάγκη σας σε οποιαδήποτε περιοχή της Αττικής!" apolimanseis

I found your this post while searching for some related information on blog search...Its a good post..keep posting and update the information. VigRx plus coupon code

i cherish perusing this article so beautiful!!great work! Underfloor heating Store

This is my first time visit here. From the huge amounts of remarks on your articles,I surmise I am not just one having all the pleasure right here! garage door installation Sherman Oaks

Cool stuff you have and you keep redesign every one of us. wedding lighting

Great post! I am actually getting ready to across this information, is very helpful my friend. Also great blog here with all of the valuable information you have. Keep up the good work you are doing here. Food Industry Recruiters

I definitely enjoying every little bit of it. It is a great website and nice share. I want to thank you. Good job! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work. best bittorrent client

Looking forward to reading more. Great article post. Thanks Again. Great. I truly appreciate that article. Much obliged. Whoa, great blog. Thanks Again. Great maslacak

I need you to thank for your season of this great read!!! I definately appreciate each and every piece of it and I have you bookmarked to look at new stuff of your blog an unquestionable requirement read blog! nyc estate planning lawyer

It is useless if you have lots of visitors who have nothing to do with your products and services. So building and reaching at top of search engines with a marketing strategy to grab the best business deals is an important part of useful SEO. seo backlinks

Your blog is normally a very enormous line of business about knowledge. Have the ability to consider a high quality Yurtdışı Eğitim Burdur

thanks for this usefull article, waiting for this article like this again.
Use boxwood

Fenêtre bois, pvc, aluminium, porte, porte blindée, verrière, véranda, garde-corps, agencement intérieur, façade de boutique, volets automatisés,
volets persiennes, restauration de parquet ancien, création de meuble sur mesure. menuiserie paris

I am sure some of this post is going to blow people’s brains, though this is only the tip of the iceberg. Kirkland garage doors

Super share it is actually. We have been awaiting for this tips. fun 88 ca cuoc the thao

Microsoft announced a driver backup creating kind of software to solve driver related problems. Hope this help you. Check out google news article for more information. fun 88 ca cuoc the thao

This is an awesome article a debt of gratitude is in order for sharing this enlightening data. I will visit your site consistently for some most recent post. I will visit your website consistently for Some most recent post. Travel Hashtags

This substance is mind blowing. I was simply pondering this and I happened to bumble onto your post. I wish there was a greater amount of this sort of value online nowadays. Erotische massage Limburg

I have been gaining a lot of usable and exemplifying stuff in your website. showbox app for android