"I am convinced that handball is a game made for the USA" - Dr. Jean Brihault
Being around Dr. Jean Brihault is quite an honor and privilege. He is kind, articulate, charming and is able to genuinely connect with people. His passion for handball, and desire to serving (team) handball by contributing to its development in the US is visible, and authentic.
We interviewed Dr. Jean Brihault who shared with us his thoughts on current state of handball in NorCa region, the Super Globe qualifier, and where he hopes to see USA in 20 years from now.
Alongside his teaching activities, Dr. Jean Brihault held executive positions in the world of handball. He was the President of European Handball Federation and the vice-president of International Handball Federation from 2012 to 2016.
Dr. Jean Brihault was born in the North Western part of France where he spent most of his life. Since 1974, he’s been living in Rennes, the main city in Brittany where he was a Professor of Irish literature and culture in Université de Haute Bretagne, and in 1996 became its President.
How did you get involved in handball? That one moment that absolutely made you fall in love with the game? What are your best handball memories?
Dr. Jean Brihault: I started playing handball in secondary school (as most people in my generation did) before starting playing club handball when I became a student. My highest level of performance was French second division. In 1973, I broke an ankle playing rugby in the Caribbean and never fully recovered from the injury. I then decided to take up refereeing and whistled on the highest national level until 1990. It then became clear to me that I could no longer combine my professional activity (I had just become vice president of my university) with my handball activity. I was about to give up handball altogether when I was invited to become a member of the refereeing commission of the French Federation. This was the start of the second part of my career in handball when I successively became member of the board of the French NGB, European delegate, European young referee project leader, member of the European Executive Committee, Vice President and then President of the same.
What I always loved about handball is the simplicity of its rules that encourages imagination on the part of the players and coaches. The evolution of the game since the 60s has been phenomenal because this was made possible by the rules and the dynamism and spectacular character of the game is the result of the fantastic work achieved by passionate and highly qualified and imaginative coaches.
I have many splendid memories as a player but also as an administrator, memories of elation, of exhaustion and of emotion.
IHF, USATH, U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, and The World’s Handball Club have partnered to organize the NorCa qualifier to the Super Globe 2019 in Saudi Arabia. Due to the separation of Pan Am and NorCa regions this is possible for the first time. What is your opinion on this matter?
Dr. Jean Brihault: This separation is a major one concerning the evolution of handball on the American continent. A point which IHF President, Dr. Hassan Moustafa clearly made is that the structural organization of the sport has to serve performance. At this stage of the development of handball worldwide, Northern America and more specifically the US are not where they should be. The decision made in 2017 has already had a major impact on the development of the game in the US and this first NorCa qualifier to the 2019 Super Globe makes this absolutely clear.
Sydney Uni has been participating and representing the Oceania at the Super Globe for many years now, while the professional Brazilian teams have been a constant presence representing South American region. Finally a NorCa club will participate at this years Super Globe for the first time. What do you make out of this, and how do you think NorCa clubs participation will elevate the credibility and the potential for expansion of Super Globe?
Dr. Jean Brihault: We all know that the substantive "Globe" has given birth to the adjective "global"; how can the Super Globe justify its name if it is not truly global? This "globality", in a first stage, will characterize the first participation of a NorCa club. However, I am certain that, very soon, the impact will be a qualitative one. The enthusiasm shown in the US on club level is bound to rapidly produce results in terms of performance both in club competitions like the Super Globe and in national team competitions.
Club handball is not that developed in the NorCa region. What do you think respective NGB’s should be doing to help in improving the quality, and growing club participation in their regions?
Dr. Jean Brihault: The paradox in NorCa is that such a question should be the one to ask. On most continents, it was the clubs which, historically, got together to make sure that a solid national competition should be set up. I think that the key to club development is to pay major attention to the local context. No pre-established model exists to be reproduced wherever. The key to a successful club launch will always be a number of Team Handball enthusiasts getting together, contacting schools, contacting friends with an interest in sport, showing them videos of the game and starting a local team.
It might be far-fetched idea, but what if there was a NorCa League (based on SEHA League example), and clubs from this region get to compete throughout the year and elevate the global reputation of the sport. What would it entail to get this done?
Dr. Jean Brihault: As mentioned earlier, structures must always take into account the stage of qualitative development reached by the sport. European models like the EHF Champions' League or the SEHA League were established when we thought the situation was ripe for it. Such high level and demanding competition formats can only be envisaged once the game has become totally professional.
Let’s imagine 20-years from now USA had picked up handball and it has become a mainstream sport. How do you envision it to look like?
Dr. Jean Brihault: I hope you will invite me to some form of national final weekend on the model of what we currently have in Europe but where we now sell 40 000 tickets for the weekend, you will be able to play to much larger audiences and European handball fans will be watching with interest and envy.
I am convinced that this is possible, and handball is a game made for the USA.