EHF from 2011 to 2021: Creating the master plan for European handball's future
With the European Handball Federation’s anniversary being celebrated on 20 November 2021, this is the third and final part of a series looking back at three decades of European handball.
These are the years from 2011 to 2021
The third decade in the history of the European Handball Federation started with its third President: Frenchman Jean Brihault, who had previously been Vice-President, was elected as the successor of Norwegian Tor Lian in 2012 at the Congress in Monte Carlo. But Brihault only had one term of office as there was no two-third majority for removing the age limit at the Extraordinary Congress in Bucharest in 2015. “I will become a good gardener now,” Brihault said, when the result was announced.
Already in Bucharest, EHF Secretary General Michael Wiederer, who served this job since 1992, announced his candidacy for the Presidential role and he was elected the fourth President of the EHF at the 25-year anniversary Congress at Lake Wolfgang in Austria in 2016.
After 25 years, the EHF structure changed, as Wiederer became a full-time President. Another Austrian was appointed new Secretary General, Martin Hausleitner, the former organising committee chairman of the Men’s EHF EURO 2010 and Secretary General of the Austrian Federation.
The biggest task for Hausleitner, Wiederer, the EHF Executive, administration and EHF Marketing was the tender process of a ten-year contract for all EHF TV and marketing rights, EHF EURO events, beach handball and club competitions. In 2018, the deal worth half-a-billion euro with Infront and DAZN was announced at the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. Before the tender process could get started, the ‘Mallorca contract’ was signed with the Forum Club Handball in September 2017. The renewed Memorandum of Understanding expires in 2030 and includes all major topics such as representation and financial compensation.
In December 2018, on the fringes of the Women’s EHF EURO in Paris, a new playing system for the European club competitions was confirmed. Both EHF Champions League competitions would be carried out with 16 teams, the second tier competition was renamed the EHF European League and the third tier the EHF European Cup, with all changes coming into effect at the start of the 2020/21 season.
Much earlier, in 2013, the second final tournament at EHF club level made its bow, the EHF Cup Finals as pinnacle event for the new EHF Cup. The 2011/12 season was the last with both the Cup Winners’ Cup and EHF Cup in their old formats, from 2012/13 on, the competitions merged into one, featuring a group phase and a final tournament. The first champions were Rhein-Neckar Löwen from Germany, beating hosts Nantes in the final. The Women’s EHF Cup was merged four years later.
In 2014, the Women’s EHF FINAL4 at the Papp László Arena in Budapest started to become a story of success. Unsurprisingly, the last winner of the old playing system was the same team as the first EHF FINAL4 winner: Hungarian side Györi Audi ETO, who went on to win four titles in Budapest. In May 2022, the new Budapest Arena will be host of the event for the first time.
While Györ dominated the women’s club game, the men’s pinnacle event in Cologne saw seven different winners from 2011 until 2021: Barcelona (3), Kiel (2), Vardar (2), Flensburg, Hamburg, Montpellier, Kielce - and still no team managed to win twice in a row in the LANXESS arena.
Not only did the club competitions undergo a major change, also the EHF EUROs - the younger age categories were split in different events for the same age groups to engage and involve more nations in international competitions.
The Men’s EHF EURO 2020 enjoyed a very special premiere as it was the first event with three hosts (Sweden, Norway and Austria) and the first with 24 teams instead of 16. Whoever thought the first stage would be boring with eight more teams, was left mistaken as we witnessed the elimination of record world champions France and reigning world champions Denmark in the preliminary round. Spain became the first winners of a 24-team tournament and defended their Men’s EHF EURO title for the first time since Sweden in 2002.
In 2024, the first Women’s EHF EURO (in Hungary, Austria and Switzerland) will be played with 24 teams - and when the Extraordinary Congress this Saturday in Vienna will be concluded, the hosts of the Men’s and Women’s EHF EURO events until 2028 will be confirmed.
One major part of the last decade was the technical development and digitalisation of European Handball. The new website “Home of Handball” on eurohandball.com and many social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and TikTok became part of the daily business of the EHF, while technology also hit the court with devices to support referees and officials such as instant replay, goal-line technology, the time-out buzzer, goal-light technology and the Kinexon/Select invention of the iBall, which delivers real-time data.
In terms of education/development, the major innovation was the implementation of the European Handball Manager, an advanced studies in cooperation with German Sports University in Cologne, as result of the increased request for club manager workshops. The Master Coach licence became obligatory for federations and clubs, which want to take part in EHF competitions and the Scientific Conference became a constant platform for the exchange of medical and science experts.
The EHF also changed their suppliers with Select (balls) and Salming (clothing) replacing Adidas and now Hummel is the clothing supplier, succeeding Salming.
And then the pandemic caused the first ever complete shutdown of European handball from March to September 2020. Besides EHF Champions League Men, all club competitions of the season 2019/20 and the Women’s EHF EURO qualification were cancelled, the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne was postponed to the end of December with THW Kiel as first winners in COVID times.
Despite all the problems, the 2020/21 season was played in a fairly normal manner, mostly without spectators, but finally with all final tournaments carried out, including the premiere of the Women’s EHF Finals as the highlight of the first European League season.
The Women’s EHF EURO 2020 was even more special, as joint-host Norway had to withdraw their home right due to the pandemic situation and Norwegian laws. Denmark managed to organise the event on their own, with only some days of preparation. And finally the DHF was praised from all stakeholders for being a brilliant host in such challenging times, while the Norwegian team made up for not hosting by claiming their eighth title.
Though the pandemic shocked the whole world, European handball remains on the road to a successful future with one project the umbrella for everything: the European Handball Master Plan with its 'seven players', which was presented by EHF President Michael Wiederer at the EHF Conference of Presidents 2020 in Stockholm.
These are the seven players and the area of development they stand for:
- Good Governance (goalkeeper) - democracy and transparent organisation, integrity and high ethical standards, heritage and sustainability through sport & CSR programmes
- Commercial Success (right wing) - EHF partner programme, higher revenues from ticketing and hospitality, new business activities and funding opportunities, increase revenue from media and marketing rights)
- Fan Appeal (right back) - digital marketing to engage with more fans beyond EHF channels, entertain and make the game more attractive through engaging content, channel strategy, rights distribution to maximise reach, new EHF website & new EHF app
- The Game (centre back) - player environment, technology use for officials and fans, rules & regulations, competition structures
- Highlight Events (left back) - hosting standards, entertainment, highest standards of TV production to ensure best possible coverage for viewers, legacy for the hosting countries, strengthen the presence of handball at major multi-sport events
- Grassroots Growth (left wing) - life-long handball, youth handball, handball workforce to create more opportunities for officiating and volunteering, be a truly pan-European sport through development of handball in key markets
- Strengthening Networks (line player) - provide stakeholders with resources and expertise to deliver growth, share best practice and pass knowledge from event organiser to organiser, develop the knowledge, skills and expertise of the handball workforce, improve interaction, cooperation & partnerships with external institutions