IT WAS a superb week for Spanish club Atletico Madrid. After their footballers trounced Chelsea to win the UEFA Super Cup, the handball side overcame defending champions THW Kiel of Germany 28-23 to lift the International Handball Federation’s (IHF) Super Globe trophy at the Al Gharafa Indoor Hall.
BM Ciudad Real, who were taken over by Atletico Madrid, had lost to the German team 25-28 in the final last year.
As the Spaniards exacted revenge, they bagged their third title from four consecutive final appearances, while THW Kiel’s second straight title clash ended in disappointment.
Host team Al Sadd defeated Egypt’s Zamalek 32-26 to finish third while Qatar’s other entry, Emir’s Cup champions El Jaish ended up fifth.
Qatar, host of the ’15 IHF Men’s World Championship, also had something to cheer for. The elite club tournament, which has put the country on the global handball map, was impeccably organised. In fact, the IHF is keen to extend the contract by another three years, once the present one runs out in ’13.
Meanwhile, the IHF’s Ordinary Congress has been scheduled to be held in Doha in October next year. Elections to the world body’s top positions will be held then.
But even as the dust settles down on yet another example of Qatar’s organisational prowess, one cannot help but introspect whether the competition genuinely improved the domestic game.
Qatar’s both teams had seven professionals each in their ranks. While Sadd recruited them all from French powerhouse Montpellier, Jaish went for a mixture of Croatians and Macedonians, drawing flak from international observers.
“Earlier this year, the IHF limited the number of professional players, on short-term contracts of two months each, to three per team at the Super Globe. Qatari teams circumvented the decision by signing three players on short-term contracts and four others for two months and a day each. Technically, they didn’t break any rules. But I can’t say it helped improve the tournament’s credibility,” said an IHF insider, on condition of anonymity.
But IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa defended the teams’ decisions.
“One should admit the game is very advanced in Europe. Had we further restricted the number of professional players, non-European teams would’ve suffered. Professionals were necessary to ensure a level playing field. Who would like to see European clubs clobber their opponents by 20 to 25 goals?” he asked.
However, Farouk Dehili, coach of Asian champions Mudhar of Saudi Arabia, begged to differ.
“I don’t buy that argument. Our team consisted only of local players and we were still competitive. Our biggest loss was by 11 goals, to Kiel. The margin of defeat in other matches was less than five. Our players motivated each other to do better. At times, I felt the tournament favoured rich teams,” he said.
No French side has ever played in the Super Globe. But players from that country were conspicuous by their presence this year as seven from Montpellier donned the Sadd colours. That made at least some observers feel Qatar was playing soft sports diplomacy.
In January, ’11, the country had surprisingly beaten favourites France, Poland and Norway to the hosting right for the ’15 Worlds, making the Frenchmen — reigning European, Olympic and world champions — feel they were let down.
But the overwhelming French presence in Doha, including that of the nation’s handball federation president Joel Delplanque, suggests they have moved on.
Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer, who took over Sadd’s reins for the competition, said they were able to help improve the Qatari team.
“My aim as coach was to create a perfect harmony between French and Qatari players. I believe I succeeded in it. The Qataris lived with their French counterparts, trained and learned from them. I’m sure they’ll find the experience useful,” he said.
Redouane Aouachria, Canayer’s assistant at the Super Globe and Sadd’s coach for the new domestic season, said his players got ample chances to prove their worth.
“Of course, we gave Qatari players enough chances to perform. The third-place match, against Egypt’s Zamalek, featured mostly our first-team members. Some of them did extremely well,” he opined.
The score sheets for Jaish and Sadd, however, tell a different tale. Except during placement matches, neither side gave its local talent any start. Only 45 of Jaish’s 141 goals were scored by their Qatar-based players while for Sadd, it was even less (49 of 158).
The argument that the tournament helped Qatar’s national team players also does not hold water.
“While it’s nice to hear Qatar internationals benefited, that isn’t the case. Foreign recruits did much of the spadework and local players featured mostly against weaker oppositions. Of course, the tournament might’ve helped them get into the mood of a major event, but nothing else,” said an official associated with the national team.
The Super Globe, which began in ’97 in Vienna, was held at irregular intervals until Sadd signed on as hosts in ’10. It has been an annual fixture since then.
But there seemed to be a consensus that the IHF should not go for such vanity projects and instead focus on developing the game around the globe. Mudhar was a good case in point.
“There’s clearly so much to be done. Look at us, we don’t get any support from the government. We’re the Asian champions, but we lack even the basic training facilities. My players practise on cement courts for lack of a better arena. The IHF hasn’t done anything to help. They should focus on improving the game at the grass-roots level,” said Dehili.
Sydney University’s German coach Philipp Enders echoed the sentiments.
“I hail from a country where there’re proper systems to identify and nurture talent. I’ve been with Sydney for two years and the contrast is stunning. In Australia, there’re very few coaches and talent scouts. Players work elsewhere to support themselves. We need the IHF’s help to develop the sport in Australia,” he said.
Eight-time African champions Zamalek, themselves from the nation of the IHF president, was another side in distress. The situation has been so bad that club officials used the Super Globe as a platform to scout for sponsors.
Zamalek’s Executive Manager Amr Salah Mohammed explained.
“Going by our present situation, the fourth place is satisfying. Only the players’ will-power and determination helped us finish so high. They hadn’t attended a single foreign training camp. After the unrest in our country, we haven’t even had a proper league. We’re without sponsors for a year now.
“At the Super Globe, we tried to attract a solid sponsor, like the Qatar Petroleum, for our team. We’re one of the strongest names in African sports, but we’ve been unable to find support. We hope the IHF can help in some way,” he said.