FEATURE: Success on the club level goes hand in hand with a further development of the sport by the national federation
Dutch beach handball boosted by Camelot’s success
The women’s team of Paksoft Camelot is eager to defend its title at the European Beach Handball Tour Finals in Thessaloniki, Greece from May 30 until June 1. Another successful result for the Dutch side could give the sport in the Netherlands a welcome new boost.
Camelot, which is based at Tilburg University in the south of the Netherlands, has always been at the forefront of beach handball in its home country.
Its annual international tournament attracts top teams from all over Europe, with the next edition running in Oosterhout from 25 to 27 July.
Winning the 2013 ebt Finals has obviously been the biggest triumph in the 22-year history of Camelot. That memorable achievement in Umag, Croatia, has also been a wake-up call for Dutch beach handball in general.
On the rise
"Beach handball is firmly on the rise in the Netherlands but we won’t say this is just because of our results at the ebt Finals," team spokesman Kevin van Loon says.
"We hope it provides positive headlines for the sport and it encourages young children to start playing beach handball. We could gain a lot if the (Dutch national federation) NHV acted more proactively."
The coaches of the women’s team, Bas van den Dungen and Leon Budé, point out that Camelot has been playing a key role in promoting the sport for several years now.
"That title has hopefully been an eye-opener to the national federation as it shows what you can achieve in handball even with very limited financial resources," Van den Dungen says. "Beach handball is a young sport which is still growing. It’s about time now to pick it up on a nationwide level and that is what’s missing. We’ve laid the fundament."
Work in progress
For the NHV, beach handball is work in progress. The federation started a national beach tour for youth teams last season and has further extended the competition with senior teams this year.
"It’s great to see how a group of young people is taking up the initiative," says Bart Erich, chairman of the federation’s beach handball workgroup.
"We’ve got a separate website for the beach tour now where teams and tournaments can be registered. People are still getting used to this system but it’s very helpful to participants, organisers and the NHV as well because all entries and standings are done automatically.
"Also requests for referees and coaches are better handled by the NHV now. We are trying to professionalise the sport. That requires time and patience from everyone."
According to Erich, Camelot’s success is one of the main reasons for the growing popularity of beach handball in the Netherlands.
"The women from Camelot becoming European champions, and our referee Jeanette Markvoort being in action at the World Games and now getting invited for the World Championship, that’s all great PR of course. It puts the Netherlands back on the map again. Being one of the countries which developed beach handball, we have been less visible for years."
Another European title would bring new vibes to Dutch beach handball. But can Camelot pull it off again at the ebt Finals?
"We’ve had some changes to the team since last year and we are missing several key defenders and goalkeepers," coach Budé says. “We’ve addded a couple of new talents who are broadening the squad but we’ll have to see how these more inexperienced players pick it up."
To Van den Dungen and Budé, there is not one outspoken favourite for the title. "The best teams are close so you can’t afford to make too many mistakes. We play the national team of Norway in the group stage and we expect a lot from them. Otherwise we don’t see a clear favourite, it’s going to be a close tournament."
Team spokesman Van Loon expects four teams to be in the hunt for the title in Thessaloniki.
"We believe Paksoft Camelot, the Norwegian national team, OVB Beach Girls (from Hungary) and Detono Zagreb to battle it out for the top-four spots," says Van Loon, who is part of Camelot’s men’s team which also qualified for the ebt Finals.
"The men have a lot experience and tactical knowledge from which the women’s team has been learning a lot. The strength of the team is that every one of them really loves beach handball."
TEXT: Eric Willemsen / ts
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