Handball threatens to implode

March 25, 2009

German handball fans have been watching in shock as allegations of match-fixing in their sport have surfaced almost daily.

Handball, or Team Handball as it is known in the United States, may not be hugely popular around the world but in Germany, home of the world champions, the sport enjoys a strong following.

It all started with allegations of match-fixing involving a European match between two top rival clubs in Germany, Flensburg and Kiel. A German prosecutor quickly launched an investigation into the matter and the European federation suspended the referees.

But the case, it seems, triggered a snowball effect with more referees, club officials and coaches from several countries in Europe coming out of the woodwork with more allegations of bribery.

The European Handball Association said referees from now on will not be made known until only two hours before matches so that no one can get to them.

But what is bizarre is that handball is not a big money maker, with professional leagues in only a few European countries. The salary of a well-known English Premier League soccer player could probably finance the budgets of an entire handball league with the exceptions maybe of Germany and Spain.

 So why would bribery be so widespread, if indeed it is?

“I cannot grasp it,” said respected Germany handball coach Heiner Brand, the only man to have won the World Cup both as a player and a coach.

“But now that all this is happening, maybe it is good to air everything so the sport can again become clean for those of us who love it.”

Handball, though, is an Olympic sport. In October the International Olympic Committee will be reviewing the Games’ sports programme and if these allegations continue to surface, the sport could find itself in danger of being dropped — like weightlifting and cycling in previous years. 

For smaller sports, this would essentially mean financial doom.

PHOTO: Germany’s Michael Muller (L) attempts to score before being stopped by Hungary’s Ferenc Ilyes during their Men’s World Handball Championship 5th place match in Zagreb. Jan 29, 2009. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

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