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Date: 7/30/2011

With the todays matches for bronze, silver and gold, the XVIII Men’s Junior World Championship in Thessaloniki, Greece will come to an end. One of the most attentive observers of this event was Dr Hassan Moustafa. The President, who always puts the youngsters into the focus of his work for the International Handball Federation, decided, despite several sceptics among his own people, already more than ten years ago to implement his idea of Youth World Championships. Today youth events are an integral part of the IHF handball calendar. For two weeks the juniors have fought for the WCh title and the world had the opportunity to have a look at the future of handball. In an extensive interview, IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa took stock.


The Junior WCh in Greece is almost over - a good opportunity to summarize the event. Regarding organization there was hardly anything to complain about – do you agree?

Moustafa: It was so much better than we even dared to hope for. I was in Greece about four months ago and had a meeting with the Minister of Sport and with delegates of the Greek Federation in order to talk about the problems and difficulties that had arisen as a consequence of the financial crises. At that time I thought that we would not be able to continue our work in Greece. But finally especially the federation accepted the new situation and was willing to organize it. And I now have to say that all I can do is to thank our Greek host who managed to organize a great WCh despite all financial difficulties. I am not talking about a single person; first of all it’s all about the players. And they obviously felt comfortable here. Greece gave them a very warm welcome and great hospitality – not least because they love handball.


Even more regrettable that, from a sporting point of view, things didn’t work out too well for the host.

Moustafa: They really had bad luck. At the beginning of the WCh they played very well against top teams, but they were not lucky. Towards the end they also lost a little bit of their power.


But nevertheless the enthusiasm of the Greek fans seemed to remain unaffected.

Moustafa: I was really impressed to see how the Greek fans supported their team even when they were far behind. That’s something you won’t find in my home country Egypt. In Egypt the fans are often frustrated when their team is behind. The Greek fans only needed a goal every now and then to celebrate their team, even when they were far behind. That’s real sportsmanship and I really liked that.


You might have also been pleased about the fact that two North-African teams reached the semi-final.

Moustafa: That’s a great novelty in handball. It’s the first time in the history of the IHF that two non-European teams reached the semi-final. That means that the IHF has done a good job to further develop the international handball also apart from the traditionally strong Europe. And it was well worth the effort. But the two North-African teams from Tunisia and Egypt are only the tip of the iceberg. Also other teams – such as Iran or Brazil, just to mention two of them – have made an amazing progress. This shows that handball makes constant progress all over the world and develops into the right direction.


Also underdogs such as Benin or Canada have made a lasting impression at this Junior WCh.

Moustafa: That is true. The delegates and the players of the Canadian team were so happy not to have been ranked last. But even the teams fighting for the ranks 23 and 24 showed significant improvements. You must not forget that until recently the majority of these teams have competed at the Challenge Trophy.


Concerning referees the IHF turned in a new direction in Greece. Only the younger couples of IHF referees were appointed. Does that indicate a generation change?

Moustafa: That’s part of our philosophy. At a Youth or Junior WCh we see young players representing the future of our sport. What can be more obvious than appointing young referees also representing the future in handball in order to give them the opportunity to gain international experience? That’s the reason why the Executive did not accept the first nomination proposal worked out by the commission. We want to prepare young referees for big tasks. But at the same time we have very experienced delegates as timekeepers, who are there to support the young ones. This also goes with the delegates, who should be able to build up a closer communication with the players.


Are you satisfied with the way things worked out?

Moustafa: I definitely am – things worked out great. From the part of the teams and the people responsible we did not receive any complains. Also here I want to indicate the importance of our decision to appoint also non-European referees. An example: the exciting quarter-final between Denmark and Sweden was refereed by referees from the United Arab Emirates. And even the Swedish delegates, despite their defeat, congratulated the referees on their performance. That is highly remarkable.


At your suggestion, mixed couples were appointed in many placement games – that means that two referees who normally don’t work together refereed the games.

Moustafa: I consider that as a perfect opportunity for referees beyond Europe to referee at international events. Very often it is difficult to find a non-European couple which is able to referee world-class games. In mixed couples a European referee works together with a non-European referee. The IHF as an international and worldwide federation is interested in the further development of handball on one side, but also in the training of referees beyond Europe on the other side.


To guarantee a steady level of referee performance you have also developed other projects.

Moustafa: Yes, that is true. In the past, referees participated in a Mini-course right before the WCh in order to prepare them for their task. Now, the IHF referees have to fulfil special tasks all over the year. I call them homework. This involves the physical fitness of the referees and also their knowledge of rules. The national federation monitors the development, regularly conducts tests and then sends the test results to the IHF.


And if somebody cheats?

Moustafa: Shortly before the WCh starts we check if these tasks have been accomplished. And if someone’s results in the fitness check or regarding rules knowledge don’t conform with the results reported to us by the federation, we send the referees back home. Furthermore the national federation has to pay for the travel expenses.


At the WCh in Greece we saw good referee performances.

Moustafa: All in all we really had an excellent level regarding the performances of our referees. Not all couples had the same level, but we did not see any poor performances.


Let’s consider the WCh from a more statistical point of view. The games of the WCh could be watched live in the internet. What about the number of visitors on this site?

Moustafa: A very impressive fact for a Junior WCh. At the beginning of the semi-finals we already had more than half a million visitors on this site. I expect that the final numbers will go far beyond that. Furthermore the games of the Greek team were televised live in public television. That is impressive and shows that Greek media is really interested in handball.


And the attendance figures?

Moustafa: At the games of the Greek team the attendance figures were great. The halls were packed and the atmosphere was fantastic. That’s also something that cannot be taken for granted at a Junior WCh.


The IHF has decided to use the knock out system again. Was it worth while?

Moustafa: Also in this aspect I am convinced that we have taken a very important step. This system is much more interesting for the visitors and the media and it provides a great opportunity also for the smaller handball nations to come far in an event. That is the future, because as from the eight-final every game will be a hard fight. Then there is no such thing as tactical manoeuvring.


In Greece a few other things which do not have a wide-ranging significance for the game itself were tried. Coaches had the opportunity to take a third team-time-out, they could nominee 16 players each and half-time was extended by five minutes.

Moustafa: In my opinion these aspects help us to further our sport. But after this WCh we will evaluate accurately all results of the WCh in Sweden (A-WCh in January), Greece and Argentina (Youth WCh in August). At our council meeting during the Women’s WCh in Brazil we will then analyze the results. But after all, our main focus always concentrates on the players. They are the most important for us.


All in all you seem to be on the right track.

Moustafa: Much indicates that we made some really good decisions in the past. But of course this is no reason to lean back. Rather it is important to build on this success and to continue to work with even more commitment to make handball even more attractive and to make more progress. Handball is a global sport – and that’s exactly what we want to achieve.