Handball – An Exciting and Truly Global Sport



The Olympic Sport of Handball has developed by leaps and bounds over the past 30 years. Handball is a fast and exciting team sport offering opportunities for all age groups regardless of gender.  The International Handball Federation (IHF) now has more than two hundred (200) national federations affiliated to it. The IHF world championships in all categories, men, women and junior levels are now hugely anticipated events all over the world.

More and more corporate sponsors are now clamouring for association with the sport. Furthermore, television broadcasters are now beaming premier handball events to unprecedented numbers of countries all over the world.

The IHF is generating more revenue than ever before in the history of the sport. The increased resources are being channeled into further development of the sport in emerging countries. The increasing popularity of handball threatens the established order of sport. Although, football is the most popular sport globally, that position is not a sacred one. Handball is proving that with greater efforts and strategic focus, a good number of young people can be attracted to handball.

The sport offers yet another viable alternative for promoting health and fitness especially amongst young people. Although, at international level, official competitions are held indoors, at grassroots level, the sport can be played outdoors. This means that there is no need for colossal amounts of funds in order to promote the sport all over the world.

In Europe, because of the power of television and corporate sponsors there are now viable professional handball leagues offering lucrative contracts to talented players. This can be another way of fighting unemployment and abject poverty, especially for players from Africa. There is a general trend of thought especially in Africa, that it is only football where meaningful earnings can be generated. Handball is already proving the skeptics wrong.

Although the IHF is doing quite a lot to develop the sport globally, it also needs genuine commitment, energy, enthusiasm and strategic focus from member federations and their local counterparts in order to make an impact.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the Secretary Generals Administration Workshop on the sidelines of the on-going Men’s World Handball Championships, the IHF President, Dr.  Hassan Mustapha of Egypt emphasized the need for member federations to work harder in promoting the game as a truly global sport. He expressed great concern about the lack of diversity in countries qualifying for the bi-ennial premier event on the handball calendar.  With regard to the African continent,

Dr. Mustapha challenged Sub- Saharan African countries to work hard to topple the dominance of North Africa in African Handball. He appealed especially to the Nigerian Handball Federation to put its house in order so that Nigeria can take its rightful place amongst the giants of the game in the world. This will be healthy for the sport as other countries can also qualify for the World Championships. The onus is therefore upon the Sub- Saharan handball federations to utilize the development support from IHF in order to promote and develop the sport in their respective countries.

At the 24 team world championship in Doha, Qatar, Africa was represented by Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia. North Africa provides traditional representatives of the continent at this prestigious event. Again, this is not a sacred position cast in stone. Other African countries can work to challenge the status quo.

There is definitely need for other African countries to invest heavily in grassroots development as well as embark on Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) programmes for handball. The scientific LTAD approach posits that it takes 8-10 years to develop world class athletes and teams. This means training of high calibre coaches and utilization of sports science in order to provide the best possible preparation of teams for international competition.

Within Southern Africa, handball is a relatively new phenomenon with only two countries, Angola and Mozambique able to compete seriously with counterparts from North, West and Central Africa. The huge gap in development between Angola and the rest of Southern Africa has caused the former to seek stiffer competition in Central Africa with countries such DRC, Congo Republic and Gabon. Indeed the standard of handball in Southern Africa is very low but this can also be changed. There is need to for the region to work hard in actively promoting the sport in the various school systems.

This should be followed by organization of regular competitions for both men and women of all age groups. Engagement in rigorous competition will help to raise performance standards within the region.  Angola’s experience can be utilized as a yardstick in terms of performance by way of invitation to some tournaments. Furthermore, efforts must be made to interact with the North Africans especially for invitational   tournaments. This will help Southern African handball teams to prepare better for official competitions under the auspices of the Confederation of African Handball (CAHB).

 Handball is a great sport which can offer a viable alternative for utilization of leisure time and energy especially of young people in Southern Africa. As governments struggle to identify and implement social intervention tools to promote health as well as reduce juvenile crime and delinquency, handball is indeed an economic option, which does not require expensive facilities. Handball can be great in Southern Africa. The onus is primarily on the national federations. They must not let the region down!

February 2015
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