The long road ahead for British Handball
By Akram Miah
Handball? It is a sport that is popular across Europe especially Denmark, Germany, and Croatia to name a few countries. In the United Kingdom, it's a sport that is not huge in comparison to the giants of Football, Cricket and Rugby. It pales in contrast to its competitors in Europe and it has a low-profile even when compared to smaller sports like Basketball and Netball.
Most sports adjusted to the pandemic as the best they could. Handball had to endure many obstacles to just continue to be able to play.
Back in January, I spoke with Olympia Handball’s Goalkeeper Nikolas Jurkovic about the pandemic’s impact on Handball and how the government needed to help the sport more than it had done in the past.
At the time, Jurkovic told me that the government needed to do more.
“You know the government doesn't put too much funding into the association, so we don't get a lot of help through the players we have to provide for the club. Imagine you have to go to play in an international competition, you're representing your team and your country as well and the players have to pay.”
That sentiment is still the same for him after funding came for the sport. He feels the impact severely being in the middle of professional and grassroots development.
“Same as before, although there is more promotion going on now, there is still need for more help from the authorities to keep Handball improving.”
Despite funding of £375,000 from the British government back in March, it was quite limited in which British Handball was not able to distribute greatly. There has been a greater presence of promoting the Handball community to the public. However, it has not helped them improve their interest in the game, as they are hardly attending.
“With attendance, it's not too much. Mainly just the women or men teams watching each other alongside former players, family, and friends. But there are a few that come and watch, hopefully, more can come in the coming years.”
Even with the money that Handball received, it was not enough to allow them to send all Great Britain teams to their tournaments excluding the Men’s Senior team. Though they say it was COVID related, money will have played a factor in their decision-making.
Great Britain recently competed in qualifying for the first time in two years as they played in the IHF (International Handball Federation) World Championship Qualifiers in which they bowed out after losses to Finland, Georgia, and Estonia. Regardless of the results, these games are important for GB as Jurkovic emphasised the significance these games display.
“This is a stepping stone for sure, especially even if it's a qualifying game. They continue to do well and build on their fourth-place finish in the Emerging Nations Tournament. It’s an outstanding achievement, still a long way to go. But baby steps in the right direction in helping us (GB) become a competitive nation.”
These small steps are a necessity for Great Britain in its pursuit of being competitive. The IHF certainly envisioned Great Britain as a country that will develop into one of the leading nations in the coming years.
Yet, they haven’t helped provide some funding as of late. That includes the European Handball Federation (EHF) as well, without major contributions from them British Handball development will remain a challenge and will continue to struggle to keep up with other nations.
And that is a challenge for many players in this country including Nikolas who may look to move overseas to have better progression and a better chance at representing Croatia
“If I was to have any chance to play for Croatia. The best way would be to play overseas in competitive leagues such as Germany, France, or Croatia. However, the talent level is much better across all their domestic divisions and for me and any British player, it would be a high step. I would have to improve massively.”
But with any person who has dreams, they are hopeful. That goes for the British Handball community as well, as one former Nottingham player signed for one of the biggest Handball teams in Germany as he put pen to paper for Füchse Berlin. Nikolas stated the inspiration this provided as he felt this was “a massive step for British Handball players and the game in the country.”
As the handball community looks to the future, the development will be key alongside getting more people interested as Nikolas insisted at me multiple times
“One player has gone from playing for Nottingham to pro in Germany which is massive. They (British Handball) manage to keep this up. It will be a known sport in 10 years’ time for sure.
If Great Britain can keep improving on their results, they will gain attention from the government and the sports community. Perhaps that will pave the way for more funding and potentially help improve Handball’s situation in the UK, where those close to the game can attest, much support is needed to be taken seriously and keep the game they love alive.