"USA could be great in handball" - Dr. Hassan Moustafa

Dr. Hassan Moustafa, IHF President

Dr. Hassan Moustafa, IHF President

Few weeks ago we caught up with Dr. Hasan Moustafa and talked about handball in general, and specifically about the future of handball in the USA, and the first Super Globe qualifier for the NorCa region.

Dr. Moustafa has devoted his life to handball, first as a player for the Al-Ahly Club and Egyptian national team, and later after the end of his playing career he was involved in coaching (elected as best coach in Egypt in 1998), and as an international handball referee.

For the past two decades Dr. Moustafa has been the President of the International Handball Federation, the World’s Governing Body of Handball and his contribution to elevate the quality and awareness for handball at a global scale is unrivaled.

The evolution of handball in the last 20 years has been absolutely remarkable. The quality of the game has reached the highest levels ever, while the global audiences now have incredible opportunities to watch the best no matter where they are. However, there are certain markets with untapped potential (USA, China, India) that can catapult the game of handball to complete new heights. How do you plan on tackling these opportunities, where is the biggest potential and what is needed to make it a reality?

Dr. Moustafa: USA, China and India are countries with a huge population and, therefore, a lot of potential. For this reason, we have started the IHF New Markets’ Project with a special focus on the development of handball in those countries. The IHF supports the federations in many ways, for example by helping them create a proper administrative and sporting structure, educating them, collaborating with the top nations of the world, etc.

Of course the USA are a sports nation through and through – the sports infrastructure is there and if you take a closer look, handball combines all the skills American athletes usually excel at. With the right support and promotion, handball could take a huge leap forward.

Let’s focus on the US market. For decades now people keep saying that this is the most American sport that Americans don’t play. Do you think that’s a right description and why?

Dr. Moustafa: This is truly a fitting description. Running, jumping, throwing balls – these are things Americans are good at and love watching, considering the most popular sports on the one hand – American football, baseball and basketball – and the results in international competitions on the other. The USA could be great in handball.

In 1996, 35,000 spectators watched the Olympic final between Sweden and Croatia in the Georgia Dome, even though handball was not popular or even had the same standard as of today. For these reasons, I confirm that handball fits the US people – and with the US men’s and women’s teams being qualified for the Pan American Games for the first time in eight years, this could be the time for handball in the USA.

Building a high quality, successful and sustainable handball program takes a long time. The IHF, lately, has been extremely supportive with USATH, and there is this ‘feeling’ within the US handball community that this is it. It’s our time to step up. With both Men and Women national teams qualified for the Pan Am Games 2019, and Olympic Games 2028 coming to LA what do you think USATH should continue doing to grow the sport, improve the quality of domestic players, building a much more competitive club system, and of course increasing the awareness of the sport itself?

Dr. Moustafa: In the framework of the New Markets’ Project in the USA, the IHF envisages that USATH sends US handball players to Europe where they can reach their highest performance level. Based on these players, a more competitive league can be created after they completed their educational cycle.

Furthermore, a collegiate handball competition is currently being created and in order to increase handball awareness the possibility of setting up a reality TV with the athletes who were sent to Europe to share their experience and promote the sport was discussed.

In general, a close collaboration with the world’s top clubs and nations is also a key factor.

For the first time ever, this year, the US audiences were able to watch the IHF World Championships in the Olympic Channel. We know the agreement with NBC didn’t come cheap, but do you think it was a successful partnerships? What does the data tell you how many people have tuned to watch the games on the Olympic Channel and can we expect more handball on US channels? 

Dr. Moustafa: An average of 35,000 viewers per minute tuned in to watch the finals of the 2019 Men’s World Championship on NBCSN. It is an impressive result for handball in the US and it shows that if people get the chance to watch it, they will do so.

On a smaller scale, I would also like to point out the success when we streamed matches of the IHF Trophy – North America and the Caribbean on the IHF Facebook channel last year. We received comments and messages from Americans who just ‘stumbled’ across the stream and wanted to know more about the sport right away.

Seeing this interest already at the level of the IHF Trophy and considering the millions of people who watched the matches of the World Championship, we will surely try our best to get more handball on US TV. 

Thanks to the fact that NorCa is a separate region now, IHF, USATH, USOC Lake Placid and New York City HC are able to organize the first ever NorCa qualifier to the Super Globe. For the first time ever one of the top clubs from 21 countries in the NorCa region will be able to attend the Super Globe, and finally have all continents represented in the event. Tell us your vision about this event and how do you see it evolve moving forward? How it will help improve the quality of the club level in the region?

Dr. Moustafa: Within the last 10 years the IHF Super Globe developed tremendously and is now a well-recognized competition where all the representatives from the different areas of the world are fighting to win the tournament. It is a great opportunity for all participating teams to compete with teams from other continents and to show what they are capable of.

We have seen so many surprises in the last years, for example when Sydney University reached the semi-final and showed a great performance in the bronze medal match against FC Barcelona Handbol, which was undecided for a long time and in which Sydney Uni HC were in the lead several times in the first half.

This shows that with proper and serious preparations there’s a lot of potential for handball, if the IHF and other international entities can provide a platform for the teams around the world. It brings along high motivation and we hope that this will encourage the teams to work harder at home to build a strong foundation to further develop our sport.

Experience at international level, fighting against the top teams of the world with their different styles, the exchange with other teams – that’s certainly something the club team can take home and build upon.   

Organizing the first NorCa qualifier to the Super Globe at the 2-time Olympic town of Lake Placid was a good choice, considering it’s state of the art facility, with 4 international airports in 2 hour vicinity, and rich history of incredible sport hero stories.

Dr. Moustafa: Lake Placid is truly a place where sports history has been made and therefore, it is just fitting to organize the historic qualification for the IHF Super Globe in this town.

Twice, the Winter Olympic Games have been held there – and who doesn’t remember the ‘Miracle on Ice’, when the USA beat the USSR, the dominant force in ice hockey at that time, in the 1980 Olympic medal round!

When I think about Lake Placid I see dreams coming true and the seemingly impossible being made possible. At the Super Globe, the team from North America and the Caribbean might be considered as the underdogs, the debutants – but no one should underestimate them as everything is possible.

The winner of this event is heading to Saudi Arabia to face the best in the world. What should these boys expect when facing top clubs in the world? What would be your advice?

Dr. Moustafa: The winner will face the world’s best teams and with that the different styles of each continent to which they have to adapt – this is something that might be difficult. However, it will be the first time that a team from North America and the Caribbean will take part in the IHF Super Globe and, therefore, they should enjoy this historic experience the best they can.