Paper federations call the shots in international handball

Photo: querpass bilder/Flickr

Photo: querpass/Flickr


By Stine Alvad
The number of member nations of the International Handball Federation has risen by more than 40 percent since Hassan Moustafa became president in 2000. Research done by Danish newspaper Politiken shows that many members can barely put up a handball team.

In his 15 years as president of the International Handball Federation, Egyptian Hassan Moustafa has recruited 60 new members to join the organisation. Research done by Danish newspaper Politiken shows that a large part of the member federations in the IHF is hardly active in the sport.

Among the 204 member federations only 84 have a national team active enough to be listed on the sport’s world ranking and more than half of the members are not directly reachable though websites or social media accounts. 

In a series of articles, Politiken looks into why such a large number of very little active handball nations have joined the IHF.

Among the member nations, that have joined the IHF over the past 15 years that the Danish journalists have contacted, all state that they were encouraged to become members by the IHF.

“Handball is not very old in Swaziland. We started in August 2013 as IHF contacted us through the sports African continental federation - they suggested that we set up a national federation, so we did,” said Sihle Siphesihle W. Mavuso, president of the handball federation in Swaziland when contacted by Politiken.

And Robert Doku, who heads the handball federation in Papua New Guinea, tells a similar story.

“Handball wasn’t a sport here, before IHF contacted us. You can question, whether you should have introduced us to the sport, before we were admitted,” Doku said to Politiken. “You can say that they put the cart before the horse,” says the handball leader from Papua New Guinea, where the sport is being played as a school sport but not on league level.

In an email, Viliamu Sekifu, head of the Tuvalu Olympic Committee, tells Politiken that although their handball federation has been an official part of the IHF since 2013, ”the sport is a new sport, we need a person that knows this sport to first introduce to us, before we can continue”.

Member recruitment to ‘consolidate’ power
According to Jens Sejer Andersen, international director in Play the Game, the new members are taken in for a purpose:

“This draws a very clear picture of a president recruiting a number of nations that do not have any real connection to the sport for the sole purpose of consolidating his power,” Andersen says to Politiken.

To explain why nations that have very little handball experience are encouraged to become members of the IHF, Christer Ahl, former head of the IHF Playing Rules and Referees Commission, says:

“The reality is that handball’s top leaders, especially those from Europe, do not worry about these questions. To them, the IHF is just a machine that organises various world championships. As long as the European countries get their places in the play-offs and win practically all medals, they do not worry much about how things are on other continents and in developing countries,” says Christer Ahl when asked by Politiken.

Why European federations do not use their influence more is “one of the big mysteries in sport”, Andersen says. “And therefore you must conclude that European sport is comfortable with this corrupt system.”

A distortion of democracy
Handball is by and large a ‘European’ sport. 17 of the top 20 nations are European, which also makes this continent the one that generates the most money to the sport.

“I certainly do not think that nations like Tuvalu, Andorra or Saint Kitts should not be able to be members of the IHF. But the problem is that there is no proper development work once these nations have become members of the great family of handball,” Andersen says.

“What is important is, that countries in which handball is hardly played have as big an influence as countries in which handball is a national sport. […] This is a distortion of democracy. If we regard the nation as the building block in the democracy of sport, it is of course a fair system, but if we regard the individual player as the defining element, the system is sick,” he says according to Politiken.

President of the European confederation of handball, EHF, Jean Brihault, agrees that the system is not perfect, but to him, it is ‘real democracy’.

“It’s always the problem with the system, that each nation has one vote. But it is a real democracy. The only alternative would be that not all countries were able to vote on certain issues. The problem with it is just that it would be very complex to determine who could then vote on what,” Brihault says to Politiken.

“Therefore, I see no better system, though it’s sometimes frustrating that decisions are made by the majority, who are not directly involved in the issues involved”.

More information


This article is based on the following articles (in Danish) published in Danish newspaper Politiken by journalists Jeppe Laursen Brock, Henrik Braad Jacobsen and Christian Heide-Jørgensen:



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