Team handball: Cool sport meets cold reality

USA Team Handball video screen capture

USA Team Handball video screen capture

Like curling in the Winter Olympics, team handball (or, as the rest of the world calls it, “handball”) attracts a new wave of admirers with every Summer Olympics.

But curling maintains a foothold in the USA between Games, with plenty of Americans active on the World Curling Tour and a few players who can be competitive in World Championship and Olympic action.

Handball, on the other … um … hand, faces the same American exceptionalism soccer has faced over the years. It’s a foreign sport to us. The men’s World Championship starts Saturday, and even my six or seven hard-core readers probably didn’t know that until now. (Good news: You can watch it live … for nearly 40 Euros.)

To an extent, that’s part of the appeal for those of us seeking novel stories during the Olympics and finding great people like Iceland’s handball team.

Yet a lot of journalists, at least, have evangelized for the sport in the USA. Stefan Fatsis took up the cause in 2009, when USA Team Handball started fresh with new executives (including an MLS veteran, Steve Pastorino) and a new approach.

New leader Dieter Esch was willing to foot a lot of the bill himself. The USOC wasn’t. Esch and Pastorino tried to make it work for three years before departing. At least we were left with some nice videos:

In 2012, once again, everyone loved watching the Games. Bill Simmons wrote an ode to handball and handball player-ogling that was only somewhat patronizing. Wayne Drehs was able to convince his editor to let him do what my editors wouldn’t in 2008 — let him attend the final. And yes, Dave Barry was there.

Did USA Team Handball get a boost even without qualifying? Not exactly. Most updates from a sports federation’s CEO don’t include the words “dire financial straits.” Team Handball News takes a closer look at the sad numbers.

Want some good news? The International Handball Federation is chipping in at the grass-roots level.

I may have some more on the U.S. situation soon, but with the men’s World Championships coming up, it’s time to get …

MEDAL PROJECTION FEVER!!

Yes, with every World Championship, we’ll start piecing together medal projections for Rio 2016. Slowly.

But in the short term, we’re also going to look at the projections and Olympic results to preview events we would be watching if we could.

The basics:

  • The 2012 projections: Denmark, France, Spain.
  • 2012 reality: France, Sweden, Croatia.
  • Gold medal favorite Denmark was second in Group B behind Croatia, then lost to Sweden in the quarterfinals.
  • Bronze medal pick Spain finished third in Group B, took a 12-9 halftime lead over France in the quarterfinals but lost 23-22.
  • My guys from Iceland finished ahead of France in Group A but was upset in the quarterfinals by Hungary.

Handball doesn’t get a lot of English-language coverage. Team Handball News sees France cruising in Group A, with Denmark ahead of Iceland in Group B. Germany is rebuilding. Hungary, Spain and Croatia are in Group D? Group of Death?

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2 Responses to Team handball: Cool sport meets cold reality

  1. danreasoner says:

    have you found any good references (with data to back them up) that go beyond American exceptionalism as to why most Olympic sports struggle to gain a footing in the US? I’m genuinely curious as I worked on this issue a tiny bit for a grad school class but never really got any farther than finding articles re-hashing various ideas on marketing and “American exceptionalism” but never really backed their argument up or provided any ideas to combat the exceptionalism outside of really learned verbiage. Is it just subjective opinion or do other countries have “better” or follow “more” sports than we do? And are those sports really economically viable outside of the Olympic games?

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