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

I had most recently initiated a fabulous web page, the details you will provide you with here comes with really helped others really. Regards just for all of the effort & succeed. น้ำเต้าปูปลา

I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely useful info specially the last part I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this certain info for a long time...55Prints

I just astounded aided by the test most people made to choose this specified share wonderful. Marvelous recreation!
the gadgets shop

our own modern society. Many of us can not be uninvolved for you to these kind of issues. http://losangelesduidefenselawyer.com/

lly boost your body’s natural fat burning hormones,and capitalize the hormonal shift that happens in your body after you turn 40. You will never find a groundbreaking, cutting edge templateupload photos to instagram

SCA acquired Mölnlycke AB, one of Europe’s leading producers of disposable hygiene products using pulp and paper as the main raw materials. Mölnlycke AB launched the first disposable towel in 1940...seorango.com

You actually make it look so easy with your performance but I find this matter to be actually something which I think I would never comprehend. It seems too complicated and extremely broad for me. I'm looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!
http://resumes-for-teachers.com

Many thanks a lot with this info. I must inform you We consent upon a number of the actual factors a person help to make right here yet others may need a few additional evaluation, however I will observe your own point of view. MWR San Diego

This really is simply the info I'm discovering almost everywhere. Many thanks for the weblog, I simply sign up your site. This can be a good weblog.. xmas hampers

Where dissertation in partnership with treatise: It’s probably just about the most essential many remove from your lime green with regards to this kind of lore assessment, specifically the theory are usually usually the several challenging. salesenvy review

Where dissertation in partnership with treatise: It’s probably just about the most essential many remove from your lime green with regards to this kind of lore assessment, specifically the theory are usually usually the several challenging. salesenvy review

I was checking constantly this blog and I’m impressed! Extremely useful info specially the last part I care for such information a lot. I was seeking this certain info for a long time...55 Printer

The repair you decide to do is rather without difficulty shown in the content.
free forex signals

Like a Beginner, I'm completely discovering on the internet with regard to content articles that may be associated with help me personally. Thanks. tr profit system reviews

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this articlemiami key west tour

This site has lots of advantage.I found many interesting things from this site. It helps me in many ways.Thanks for posting this again..
Constant Profits Club

I’ve read some good stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much effort you put to create such a great informative website. instant cash advance

Not long ago i experienced a particular make available for you to do a remarkable on a online site. Spot ? help and advice everybody to have this unique through the best ways potential?
trade forex

Very rarely do I come across a blog that’s both informative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is important. Venture capital

Great! We will be connecting to this enormous post on our site. Continue the good writing.
payday laons in saint apul mn

Through endeavoring to publish these folks our-self if there are actually industry experts nobody can enable united states along? I actually express, make these folks enable.
click here

still it’s truly realistic long-term formula just for boys who want to come to be bring back a specialized child individuals can’t eliminate serious about. IVC Filter removal complications

It’s the best time to make a few plans for the longer term and it is time to be happy. I’ve learn this publish and if I could I desire to recommend you few fascinating things or suggestions...55 Printer

Very rarely do I come across a blog that’s both informative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is important.testosterone

I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Just wanted to tell you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. The information you provide is really very good..
ipro academy

I just found this blog and have high hopes for it to continue. Keep up the great work, its hard to find good ones. I have added to my favorites. Thank You...Cheap Tearcards Printing

Highly vigorous blog, I liked that much.how to determine cash value of life insurance

initial foundation, as well as the fact that I work from home on my artwork/design, and am also raising a family, which sometimes leads to feelings of isolation.Loftplan reviews

I'm keen a put up. It happens to be fantastic to ascertain most people verbalize out of your spirit not to mention ability on that fundamental topic area are generally comfortably found. ideas viewpoint online site.
webinar

Optimistic web site, in which would you produce the data with this submitting? I’m happy I ran across that even though, unwell become examining again shortly to learn just what further content an individual contain. 188bet vietnam

I would be supportive on all your articles and blogs as a result of they are simply up to the mark.
backoffice business operations

Whether somebody pursuit of his vital thing, hence he or she desires to be accessible that at length, hence that thing is maintained over here.
payday advancecom

It contains a lot of useful information. I can set up my new idea from this post. It gives in depth information. Thanks for this valuable information for all. And of course nice review about the application. Affordable Business Cards Printing

Which might succeed short-term, still it’s truly realistic long-term formula just for boys who want to come to be bring back a specialized child individuals can’t eliminate serious about.
webinar x review

Very interesting blog. A lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definitely interested in this one... Ferry from Miami to Key West

This must be illegal. She has never spoken to me about my condition. Not one family meeting. She choses silence over communication. xarelto bleeding lawyer

Welcome to yet another property of The Columbus SEO. We look forward to meeting you and helping you to win online.digital agency

So when you buy some flags for your house, you'll know full well that you can put them out, and not have to worry about whether or not they'll last.outdoor decorations

Very rarely do I come across a blog that’s both informative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Your blog is important.jockstraps
jockstraps

That can feel great to learn these kinds of useful and also special posts on your own sites.
smartphones

Backlinks are used by search engines to judge a website based on its reputation, or in simple terms how many people refer to the website.link building

How can young people address the injustices of a labour market and economic system that puts then disproportionately at risk of unemployment, underemployment, poverty and social exclusion than older generations?

Cheap car tyres

To provide a First-time, My group is eternally visiting web based designed for articles and reviews which is in be an aid to all of us. Thanks for your time. rodinne domy

I'm hoping you keep writing like this. I love how careful and in depth you go on this topic. Keep up the great work.geniux

Thanks for posting this info. I just want to let you know that I just check out your site and I find it very interesting and informative. I can't wait to read lots of your posts. business cards massage therapy

I have got the superb information from these blogs finally. www.come-allungare-il-pene.it

Great Information sharing .. I am very happy to read this article .. thanks for giving us go through info.Fantastic nice. I appreciate this post..spartagen xt

I'm confident that once you read this again you come to read these articles and blogs.
blog

I think this is an informative post and it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.flyer printing services