Media statement: posting on the International Handball Federation website

Handball player shooting at goal

I refer to the recent posting on the IHF website regarding “Qatar 2015”, dated 16 July 2014. It is important to correct some of the statements made by the IHF with regard to its ultimate decision to refuse to accept Australia’s qualification to the Qatar 2015 event and to instead give our spot to the German team.

Whilst it may be true that it is “…common procedure, (for) the IHF (to analyse) all events from… a performance point of view”, I cannot recall ever getting an email from the IHF where they stated that Australia’s performance was unsatisfactory and that its participation at World Championships was therefore under threat. If “for many years … the expected results were not achieved (by Oceania) and the gap between the teams from Oceania and the rest of the world did not decrease”, why did the IHF never say anything to Oceania (Australia) about this and more importantly, why did the IHF not do something positive to IMPROVE our performance, rather than waiting for an opportunity to dump us?

I am not sure how the performance of our national men’s team will be improved by our sending players to the Beach Handball event. Not even the most ardent supporter of Beach Handball would suggest that the skills for that sport directly translate into better skills for the indoor game.

To argue now (after 6 years of allowing an Oceania representative to take part in IHF events) that the status of the Oceania Continent is a factor in allowing it to be represented at a World Championship is frankly irrational.

It was sporting of the IHF to allow an opportunity for all of its members, regardless of the region in the world where they are situated, an opportunity to qualify for major events. We have done nothing wrong. We participated in the only qualification path available or stipulated to us. If the IHF wanted our qualification to be done differently, they should have said something years ago. Raising that matter now, when it can form a convenient excuse to exclude us, is not sporting, not fair and disingenuous.

Why won’t the IHF answer the simple question: what is our qualification path now? As a loyal and respectful member of the IHF since 1988, we deserve an answer. Similarly, by dumping us from the World Championships, the IHF has destroyed our only chance, admittedly slim, to qualify for an Olympic Games. Conversely, they have given that opportunity to a team (Germany) who, until then, had no chance of going to Rio 2016.

Can the IHF answer the simple question: what is our qualification path to the Olympic Games now? The assertion that the IHF “informed the National Federations of AUS/NZL on 11 April 2014 that the Council will decide about the status of the continent of Oceania … in particular about the compulsory place for Oceania for future events, and asked to postpone the planned matches until the corresponding decision has been made” is not completely accurate.

The actual quote from their letter of 11 April 2014 is: “Reference is made to the qualification for the 2015 Men’s World Championship in Qatar planned for the end of this month. Much to our regret we have to kindly ask you to postpone the named qualification as the IHF Council will decide in its next meeting about the compulsory places of the continents.” We are entitled to believe that the IHF was considering ALL CONTINENTS and not just Oceania from that letter. Yes, the “matches between NZL and AUS were played as the preparations had already reached an advanced level”, but that was only after considerable lobbying by both New Zealand and Australia who made the point that, with only days until the event, all air travel tickets had been purchased, hotel reservations made and venue bookings irrevocably put in place, not to mention the months of preparation by way of training camps and practice.

That the IHF “again informed both federations that the match might not be recognised as qualification event, depending on the IHF council decision in July” is not an accurate quote.

What the IHF actually said in its letter dated 16 April 2014 is “Nevertheless we would like to draw your attention to the fact that the IHF Council will decide in its meeting on 8 July 2014 in Croatia about the compulsory place for the continent of Oceania in general and in particular for the 2015 World Championship in Qatar”. It’s a fine distinction but an important one.

The IHF did write to Australia on 17 June 2014 where it did mention that “the Council will decide about the participation of Australia at the 2015 Men’s World Championship”, but its decision on 8 July “to first confirm that the Continental Confederation of Oceania is not recognised and that … (as a result) Oceania will not have a compulsory place anymore” is also not an accurate quote of the information provided to Australia.

What was actually said was that: “as mentioned before, the level of performance is one of the most important matters in this regard, as balanced results and matches maintain and strengthen the image of the IHF and the World Championship product towards the media, international sports organisations and partners of our sport”. Whilst the letter says “as mentioned before”, this was not mentioned in any previous letter. It was however mentioned in a telephone conversation. There was never any mention of non-recognition of Oceania as a cause for Australia’s dumping.

The reality is that this quote is probably the only truly honest thing officially said by the IHF as it clearly states that the IHF’s concern is about “the image of … the product towards the media…”. Australia is frankly not concerned with subsequent decisions by the IHF to appoint Germany (who we don’t hold responsible for the decision to dump Australia) nor are we concerned about the complaints by other nations, such as Iceland, who feel that they are more worthy of attending in Qatar 2015 than Germany. In all of those cases, they are fighting over a spot that rightly, morally and sportingly belongs to Australia.

We respectfully ask again that the IHF restores Australia’s place at Qatar 2015, which we have won fairly on the sporting field. We are open to future discussions with the IHF about development of handball in our region, the improvement of our teams’ performances for the future and the qualification path open to our teams to World Championships and Olympic Games. Our insistence is that such paths are clearly established and honoured in the future.

Alex Gavrilovic