British Handball is creating huge public and media interest just eight months before the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The dream is on its way
The Olympic Games in London are edging closer and closer and suddenly the Brits are beginning to take an interest in sports other than football, cricket and rugby.
The “London Handball Cup”, handball’s test event for the 2012 London Olympic Games, was attended by more than 10,000 spectators and a large number of the British media – an ideal chance for the British women to present the sport and themselves.
A large number of British people still think that “handball” is something you shout at a football match, but things are beginning to change as the sport gains a greater profile.
“Slowly we are beginning to reach the public and the media,” says Paul Goodwin, the Chief Executive of the British Handball Association. Goodwin is one of the handball pioneers in Britain and one of the fathers of the “from zero to hero” project.
His mission started in 2005, when London was awarded the Olympic Games 2012. Having no national team at this time, but qualifying directly for the handball events, the BHA organised “Olympic castings” with sportsmen and sportswoman from other sports, whilst at the same time searching for handball players with British origins and roots from all over the world.
There are still eight months to go until the Olympic Games, and the British Handball project is starting to grow. After some good results in test matches and the EHF EURO 2012 qualification, the Olympic test event in the Olympic handball arena was the next step.
“It is still a great adventure for all of us. The dream is getting closer and closer,” said Lyn Byl, who played professional handball with German Bundesliga club, Bayer Leverkusen, before moving to London to train with the British squad.
“In 2008, China showed us just what is possible,” she said. “They did not have a top team before and ranked sixth at the Olympics at Beijing.This is our aim, and we hope to proceed to the Quarter-finals.”
The women are the locomotive for British Handball, so it was obvious at an early stage that the Olympic Test Event would be an international women’s tournament. The men’s national team will hold a 4-nation preparation event in April 2012.
Handball grabs national headlines
The British girls grabbed their chance Olympic Test Event with an opening victory against Angola, the same days as the UK’s media gathered for a BHA press conference in the Olympic Handball Arena.
“After this victory it took our girls 40 minutes to reach their dressing rooms through the mixed zone, said Goodwin. And even coach Jesper Holmris was positively shocked: “Four years ago we did not even have a national team, now we have beaten the African champion. Incredible,” he said.
And the next day the media – including all big national newspapers – published extensive articles about the team and the Olympic dream.
Even the British Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, became a handball supporter during the test event. “The Olympics are a once in a lifetime opportunity for handball. And I believe that British Handball Association will do everything they can to take full advantage of this,” he said.
London 2012's legacy
Some 40,000 pupils play handball at school – and more than 3000 of them were at the London Handball Cup to cheer for their heroes.
And – as Goodwin hopes – the Olympics will not be the end of their efforts, but the starting point: “This is a sustainable project, in the future we are looking to qualify for World and European Championships,” he said.
And another step has already been taken – the Olympic Handball tournament in London has been sold for months.
After the Olympic tournament, the Olympic handball arena will remain as a multi-purpose-hall with a capacity of about 7500 spectators. A new training venue for handball with four full-sized courts has always been built and this will play an important part in the handball project in the future.
TEXT: Andrew McSteen
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