PtG Article 12.09.2007

International governance mess threatens Greenland's handball future

South American power games are threatening the future of international handball in Greenland. Earlier this year, the Panamerican Team Handball Federation (PATHF) suddenly downgraded Greenland from full to associate membership. The International Handball Federation (IHF) says PATHF is wrong but has done little to solve the problem, and without access to international tournaments, Greenland is rapidly loosing sponsor support and fears development may be set back by 15 years.

Play the Game has earlier reported on the strange and undemocratic behaviour that PATHF exhibited when it changed Greenland’s status without as much as passing a resolution at a congress or informing the Greenland Handball Federation about the decision until months later (see Greenland victim of foul play in regional handball federation). 

Greenland missed out on three qualifications already

The change in status essentially means that Grenland can no longer take part in international tournaments to qualify for World Championships. The IHF has told the Greenland Handball Federation (GHF) that PATHF’s decision is wrong but an attempt to settle the issue is dragging on, and Greenland is now beginning to feel the effects.

Kurt Lauritsen, national team coordinator for GHF, says to Play the Game that already Greenland has lost the opportunity to play qualifying matches for the World Championships for Men under 21, and Women’s as well as Women’s Junior Championships. PATHF has also seeded the countries for the next round of qualifications for the Men’s World Championships, and Greenland is not on the list even though Greenland qualified for the last World Championships in 2007 and ended up as number 22.

"GHF has spent a lot money in particular on developing the Women’s Junior team over the last three years and it is really unfair that these young players are denied the opportunity to take part in the qualifications for the World Championships," Lauritsen believes.

During the past few years, handball has become one of the main sports in Greenland with both national and international attention, and it has taken over the position and popularity of skiing as a national sport. Much of this development  has been thrown into jeopardy by the actions of PATHF, as sponsorship in Greenland is closely linked to international competitions.

"If we [lose] these sponsors, it will set the development of handball in Greenland back by 15 years," Lauritsen and GHF President, Palle Jerimiassen, write in a letter to IHF published on the website Team Handball News (click here to view).

The letter is an attempt to get IHF to move faster on resolving the issue, as it appears that intervention from IHF is necessary. According to unofficial minutes from a PATHF executive meeting, also posted on the website Team Handball News (click here to view), PATHF is prepared to take this case through the entire legal process before resolution. This could include taking the case to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Frustration over Panamerican envy

In Greenland, frustration is mounting over the limbo GHF finds itself in while it waits for the IHF to take the official decision that Greenland should be re-instated in PATHF.

"Many of our young male and female players have invested themselves heavily in their sport and travelled to Denmark to play handball at a higher level. Now bureaucracy and envy on the part of some handball officials in the Panamerican countries have put an end to their aspirations in a way that does not correspond to the nice words by the IHF President about fair play and the big handball family," Lauritsen says to Play the Game.

Play the Game have been informed by Carin Nilsson-Green, a member of the council of the International Handball Federation, that Greenland's case is currently being considered by the IHF Arbitration Committee.

However, until a decision is reached, Greenlandic handball players will continue to be denied the chance to compete on the international stage.