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12.10.2015, 16:10
Failing to play within the spirit of the competition
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BLOG: Rhein-Neckar Löwen's selection of a second string team against Vardar raises questions about playing within the spirit of competition and the format itself
 

Failing to play within the spirit of the competition

The VELUX EHF Champions League is a journey of substance and style. 

For my part, a small part, it is an honour to be on this journey. But the other night in Skopje, I was dismayed and severely disappointed by what I saw.  

My father used to say it's not the winning that matters it's the taking part. I never signed up to that. Not that I was used to winning, I wasn't, but I lived by the mantra, it's how you take part. 

There is a spirit that drives a competition. All the elements are put in play by a framework, a schedule, but within each and every competition there is a unique divine set of hands that guides it. Call it what you will, there are times that we have no answer for what we see.

And in this karmic flow, this unique set of circumstances, there is a formula you must follow. It is called fair play. It is called respect. Not only for the opposition teams, but also for the competition proper. 

The competition embraces everyone who has even the slightest interest in the outcome of the game. From the fan on their couch, to the media, to the physio, coach, players and referees, we, all together link to create the competition.

We are all, in a strange way, morally responsible to each other to make sure the competition works. 

Rhein-Neckar Löwen didn't break any rules with the team they played in Skopje, but in the spirit of the competition and to my mind, they broke every rule there is. 

The TV graphics showed the lineup we all expected. You know who they are. The actual line up was completely different. RNL effectively played their second team. And I will state quite clearly now, that this showed a complete lack of respect to the competition, the fans and the media. 

Andrea Lekic was dying to see Andy Schmid play. She got him for ten minutes at the end and only the because of a red card for Kneer. Groetski got a run at the end as Jacobsen saved poor Steinhauser from further misery. 

The coach of the opposition team must have been scratching his head. His week of tactical analysis down the drain. Clever coaching by Jacobsen? Mind games? No! Saving players for a grail they find more important than this competition. 

But what of the fan? We were treated to a dour, sterile game that dampened the normally exuberant fans of Vardar. They must have been frantically searching their programmes for news of injuries to the opposition’s star players. There were none. 

On a selfish note, I travelled thousands of kilometres and we chose this game as Match of the Week. I am majorly disappointed. Not because I don’t think young players deserve a chance, but because we didn’t see the match we all signed up to see. The two points for Vardar are eagerly received, but do they know where they really stand, at what level they are actually playing?

None of this is of any concern to RNL. They must do what they think is best for their club. Let me be clear they did nothing wrong. Their young guys did a great job. But it begs a very serious question already in the new format of the VELUX EHF Champions League. 

With so many games, can a team pick and choose when they want to win? Can they target certain games as losable? 

And if so, are they playing within the spirit of the competition. 

No is my answer and a resounding no! Surely every team has a moral responsibility to try and win whatever the circumstances. Players can be rested of course. No one appreciates the demands on the modern player more than I, but this was not the way.

Too many people felt aggrieved at what they saw. If, and this is important, if, the team had injuries we would understand. 

We travel to Poland this weekend to watch Kielce play FCB. Will either field a weakened team?

No, because they need the tough games. And in needing it, they will perform within the spirit of the competition and I expect a fantastic game. 

PS: My mother always told me not to put all my eggs in one basket. Maybe there's a lesson there for all involved. 


TEXT: Tom O'Brannagain, ehfTV commentator
 
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