The world’s best have had enough: They send open letter to handball presidents

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Mikkel Hansen og franske Nikola Karabatic er to af de spillere, der står frem og udtrykker deres bekymring. Foto: Annegret Hilse / Ritzau Scanpix

The world’s best players are uniting with one common goal: They will no longer put up with the working life that the handball politicians offer them

Dear Mr President’ is the opening of a letter that has arrived this week on two different desks:

the one that belongs to the President of the International Handball Federation, Dr. Hassan Mustafa, and the one that the President of the European Handball Federation, Michael Wiederer sits behind.

TV 2 SPORT is in possession of this letter. It was sent in the wake of the two championship tournaments held in December and January.

A group consisting of the world’s best handball players, both women and men have sent the letter on behalf of their joint organisation, the European Handball Players Union, EHPU.

“With this letter, we wish to inform you of our continued concern about the current situation in the sport of handball and its consequences for the physical strain of the players,” the players write in the opening of this letter to the two presidents.

The letter has a clear message: The best handball players in the world will no longer accept the everyday life that being a professional player entails.

“First and foremost, we wish for a little more attention to be paid to the tough match schedule that we have. As time goes by, we players no longer feel that we are being listened to,” Mikkel Hansen says to TV 2 SPORT about the reason for writing the letter.

The letter suggests that the players believe that the controlling bodies of handball (IHF and EHF’s committees and commissions) force more and more matches down the players’ throats, without taking into consideration the match schedule, which is already very tight and puts a heavy strain on the players - both physically and mentally.

“The countless consequences are, therefore, irresponsible vis-à-vis the players and they end up being harmful to our sport,” the letter states.

Too many injuries

The European Handball Players Union, EHPU, has, as an appendix to the letter, compiled the number of injuries immediately prior to and during the World Cup tournament in Denmark and Germany in January 2019.

It shows that 38 potential World Cup players were injured prior to the tournament, while an additional 23 were injured during the 17 days that the tournament spanned.

31 of the total of 61 injuries are categorised as ‘serious injuries’.

“The number (of injuries, ed.) is cause for worry. The future challenges of handball must, therefore, involve and take into account the real lives of the players.

“The continued infernal intensity and frequency of the matches that have apparently been accepted in order to gain greater exposure for our sport in the media make us players afraid. There is no positive development in terms of taking into consideration the health and futures of the players,” they write to the two presidents.

The players, however, want to emphasise that this is not just a question of the top, and also most stressed players in the world complaining to the leaders of the sport.

“I don’t want to criticise anyone. I just think that we as players want respect for what we do on the handball court. We just want our voices to count and be heard too. We also want to have influence,” says Nikola Karabatic, whom TV 2 SPORT met in Paris.

Invitation to a meeting

The players also acknowledge the challenges faced by the sport as a whole.

That is why they are also extending an olive branch to the two presidents by inviting them to meet with representatives of the players when the Champions League Final4 is played in Cologne later this season.

However, the players are already pointing out a number of requests that they would like to see become reality.

“We want more rest days during international tournaments. For example, by ensuring a minimum of one rest day between each match in the qualifications for the Olympics - and two rest days between quarter and semi finals at the World Cup.

“In the future we also want to have player representation in the decision-making bodies: for example, in the International Handball Federation, IHF’s, council.

The letter is part of a new campaign that is being launched under the name #dontplaytheplayers, supported by the best handball players in the world.

TV 2 SPORT’s handball magazine, KONTRA went to Paris to speak to a group of the world’s best handball players about the problem.

Watch the whole broadcast on TV 2 SPORT tonight at 8 pm CET.