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

Vorsicht bei "Goldsparplänen" oder "Goldsparbüchern" | Torsten Senn – Rechtsanwalt Mit der vermeintlichen Sicherheit von Edelmetallen werben verschiedene Gesellschaften bereits seit einigen Jahren um Anleger. Multi Invest In so genannten "Goldsparplänen"

Some people are very fond of reading books will be able to distinguish the best book as a guide and a book that is not good. It all depends with your reading experience. buy 10000 instagram followers

I surmise I have chosen an intelligent and mind blowing website with interesting material. home care in berea

You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. I was exactly searching for. Thanks for such post and please keep it up. Great work. organic fertilizer

Thanks for the post and great tips..even I also think that hard work is the most important aspect of getting success stickers

“We are excited to introduce such an innovative degree program that prepares a nurse educator to be a different kind of leader – one who has the skills and knowledge to create and deliver new models of teaching and learning for those in the nursing workforce,” says Catherine Garner, DrPH, MSN, RN, FAAN, dean, health sciences and nursing at American Sentinel University. Physical therapy

Thanks for Nice and Informative Post. This article is really contains lot more information about This Topic.  www.blog-lifestyle.fr

I discovered this is an instructive and fascinating post so i suspect as much it is extremely valuable and proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.

Design and Print

I discovered this is an instructive and fascinating post so i suspect as much it is extremely valuable and proficient. I might want to thank you for the endeavors you have made in composing this article.

Design and Print

informative Blog! You make such a large number of incredible focuses here that I read your article two or three times. Your perspectives are as per my own particular generally. This is extraordinary substance for your perusers. Oliver Isaacs

An impressive share, I just given this onto a colleague who was doing a little analysis on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. visit the following webpage

I think this is a better than average article. You make this data intriguing and locks in. You give perusers a considerable measure to consider and I welcome that sort of composing. PDF Ebooks

This content is written very well. Your use of formatting when making your points makes your observations very clear and easy to understand. Thank you. limousines

Excellent Blog! I can't read articles online all the time, however I'm happy I did today. This is extremely elegantly composed and your focuses are very much communicated. Kindly, absolutely never quit composing. Συντήρηση ηλιακού Θερμοσίφωνα

All right this YouTube video is much improved than last one, this one has fastidious picture feature as well as audio.
Propiedades de las semillas de fenogreco

Excellent Blog! I have bookmarked your online journal, the articles are path superior to anything other comparable web journals.. a debt of gratitude is in order for an extraordinary online journal! Learn How to Cure Warts

Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web!. window cleaners

wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated. subway surfers download

i am continually searching for some free stuffs over the web. there are likewise a few organizations which gives free specimens. technical analysis training

Great info! I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have  pirater un compte snapchat

You've completed in excellent work. t suggest to my frtends ind personilly wtll certitnly dtgtt. t'm conftdent they'll be gitned from thts webstte. Madden 18 Coins Buying Guide

it was a wonderful chance to visit this kind of site and I am happy to know. thank you so much for giving us a chance to have this opportunity.. FIFA Information

A very awesome blog post. We are really grateful for your blog post. You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. I was exactly searching for. Thanks for such post and please keep it up. Great work Make Madden NFL 18 Coins

Much appreciated such a great amount for this data. I need to tell you I agree on a few of the focuses you make here and others might require some further survey, however I can see your perspective. musically crown

I have used a lot of juicers in the past and I created this blog to help juice lovers make the right decision in choosing the type of juicer that best fit their needs. There are several good masticating juicers to choose from.  Madden 18 Coins Buying Guide

I am unable to read articles online very often, but I’m glad I did today. This is very well written and your points are well-expressed. Please, don’t ever stop writing.

foodies

This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing blog that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free

technology

This article was composed by a genuine speculation author. I concur a hefty portion of the with the strong focuses made by the author. I"ll be back. חבילות נופש לחגים

A debt of gratitude is in order for this article exceptionally accommodating. much appreciated. Immigration Attorney Miami FL

Asking questions are truly fastidious thing if you are not understanding something completely, except this piece of writing gives fastidious understanding yet.
Indoor Grill Guide

Informative Blog! Great artcile, yet it would be better if in future you can share more about this subject. Continue posting. RPGs of 2017

Informative Blog! You make such a large number of incredible focuses here that I read your article two or three times. Your perspectives are as per my own particular generally. This is extraordinary substance for your perusers. prevent computer viruses

Informative Blog! That is truly decent to listen. much obliged to you for the upgrade and good fortunes. effect of music on humans

As the price of gold and silver increases, silver jewellery is becoming more and more in demand. The price of gold has sky rocketed and whereas before if you wanted a pendant that would stand the test of time you would go for Gold, now people are turning instead to Silver to fulfil that need. For a substantial gold pendant you will currently be looking at paying nothing short of £150 but with silver, yes you may be paying a little extra than you used to but you get a beautiful piece of jewellery that is less than half the price of gold and now just as precious and eternal. casino historia

"The primary reason is the program array. We have very large programs in psychology, human development and nursing. Nationally, those traditionally enroll 70 percent or more as women," Furlong said. "UWGB has a verysafe environment. There are things that are appealing to women, and it has a reputation for not being a party school." Uudet casinot 2017 AND Nya svenska casinon

Wonderful to be setting off to your blog once more, it has been a long time for me. Well this article ive been sat tight for thusly long. i require this article to finish my undertaking inside the workforce, and it has same point together with your article.sex chat

Great Blog I read that Post and got it fine and instructive.
large plastic bags

Great Blog Much obliged to you for setting aside an ideal opportunity to distribute this data exceptionally helpful! 3m window tint

Whoi, excellent, t wondered just how to cure icne. ind found your webstte by google, dtscovered todiy t'm i ltttle obvtous i greit deil. t’ve ilso idded RSS ind sive your webstte. keep us updited. the weeknd out here

AP ePass
I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

This is really an awesome read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am anticipating perusing new articles. Keep doing awesome!. Julianne Hough My Hallelujah Song Lyrics Video

I recently noticed your website back i are generally looking through which on a daily basis. You’ve got a loads of information at this site so i actually like your look to the web a tad too. Maintain the best show results! cartomancie gratuite

Your post is very helpful to get some effective tips to reduce weight properly. You have shared various nice photos of the same. I would like to thank you for sharing these tips. Surely I will try this at home. Keep updating more simple tips like this.  Price shop

Remarkable video, actually a pleasant quality, this YouTube video touched me a lot in terms of features.
praying for others

Incredible Article it its truly instructive and inventive update us as often as possible with new upgrades. its was truly important. much obliged. poker regler

A debt of gratitude is in order for your post. I've been contemplating composing an extremely tantamount post in the course of the last couple of weeks, I'll most likely keep it straightforward and connection to this rather if thats cool. Much obliged. fotboll online

I can see that you are a specialist at your field! I am propelling a site soon, and your data will be exceptionally valuable for me.. A debt of gratitude is in order for all your help and wishing all of you the accomplishment in your business. http://www.pianolessonsmiracleatlanta.com

Nice blog and absolutely outstanding. You can do something much better but i still say this perfect.Keep trying for the best car workshop

Great Article much thanks to you for your fascinating infomation. los angeles injury lawyer

Great Article A debt of gratitude is in order for each other enlightening site. The spot else might just I understand that sort of data written in such a perfect means? I have an endeavor that I'm a little while ago working on, and I have been watchful for such data. Maritime Admiralty Los Angeles CA