In Part 1, I endorsed the first five “business case” reasons that the IHF listed as the rationale for selecting the United States to compete in the 2021 IHF Handball World Championships. However, I will not endorse the 6th reason listed:
- Of the teams that registered for the scheduled qualifying event and expressed an interest in playing the qualifier (Canada, Greenland, Puerto Rico, United States), the United States is the highest ranked team in the last official competition, namely the 2019 Pan American Games.
Why? Because, although true, it is a dull slap in the face for Greenlandic handball since Greenland is not allowed to participate in the PANAM Games. And, if you cannot participate in a competition, it is impossible to be classified in this competition!
An Introduction to National Team Handball Tournaments in the Americas
When it comes to national team competitions in the Americas, a lot of people are confused, and for good reason, as these competitions have similar names and participants. The best way to understand how everything is structured is to find out which sports organization has the general jurisdiction for that competition. Or, to put it another way, which final tournament are the nations trying to qualify for?
For the IHF World Championships, the IHF is ultimately responsible and until the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) split into two confederations, the event that qualified the teams for the championships of the world was the Pan American Championships. These Championships were held every 2 years and Greenland was able to participate because it is a member of the IHF.
For the Olympic Games, the IOC is ultimately responsible and Greenland cannot participate as it is not an IOC member. In collaboration with the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO), PATHF decided in 1987 to have the PANAM Games, which is essentially a mini-Olympics for the Americas as a handball qualifying event for the Olympics. The PANAM Games are held every four years and Greenland cannot participate as it is not a member of the IOC or PASO.
As to why Greenland is not a member of the IOC, it has to do with Greenland’s semi-autonomous status as part of Denmark. The IOC currently requires full independence for new memberships. Which, by the way, is why Puerto Rico participates in the Olympics despite their semi-autonomous state as they were “grandpa” as a member before the policy change.
Incidentally, since the North/South split of the PATHF, there is no indication that the IHF plans to grant both NACHC and SCAHC an Olympic berth. This status quo regarding Olympic qualification implies that the North and the South will continue to share an Olympic place which will be allocated to the PANAM Games.
The Tale of the Tape (all-time GRL-USA competition record)
So, although Greenland and the United States have never met in a PANAM Games competition, they have met eight times in Pan American championship tournaments, once in a North American championship and even once at the championships. of the world. Here is the all-time match record based on Wikipedia results pages.
As an American, all I can say is, “Wow, this head-to-head summary pretty much sums up the dismal performance of our men’s national team in the 21st century. 1-0-9 against Greenland. A population of 330,000,000 against 55,000. This is not a rivalry. He’s an asshole. Seriously, what is wrong with handball in our country?
At least that’s how it feels emotionally as someone who really, really cares about handball in this country. I put on my analytical hat, however, none of this should be so surprising. What if our population was almost 6,000 times larger. It doesn’t matter if more Greenlanders than Americans play handball. And, while our total GDP as a nation is huge, I suspect Greenland spends more on handball than the United States, from grassroots to national teams.
A trip down memory lane
Watching this historic record is quite a trip down memory lane and it truly reflects the decline of handball in the United States since the 1996 Olympics. A ten-goal victory with a formation that surely had vestiges of this Olympic team. But, as these players got older and nothing was really in place to develop athletes with traditional foundations or a residency program, the balance of power shifted. In 2001, thanks to Cuba’s retirement, the United States secured a ticket to the World Championship where the United States was completely uncompetitive losing an average of 22 goals, including an 8-goal loss to Greenland. A year later, with a trip to the 2002 World Championships on the line, the Greenland Steamer beat the United States 27-7. The score at halftime: 11-2. Two goals in 30 minutes? In Greenland? When I first heard this result, I was amazed. When I asked a former teammate, “What happened?” I got kind of a shrug and no real explanation.
And, for me personally, it was the start of a wake-up call, that times were changing. A wake-up call, which again materialized by living 5 years in France and having a close view of what we are facing on the world stage. With support from the US Olympic Committee drastically reduced and with no real grassroots structure in place, it was the start of some real lean years for the US handball team. Gone are the days when we could recruit great athletes, train them with a residency program and conquer the world. At least that’s what seemed ridiculously obvious to me. However, it wasn’t so obvious to others and we tried to recreate our “glory days” with an underfunded residency program that struggled to recruit athletes and couldn’t afford to travel to Europe. for the competition which had to improve.
A wake up call and a change of direction
The poor results continued, as did the United States’ losing streak against Greenland. In 2018 came the low point. In a North American championship, the United States finished 5th out of 6 nations and failed to even qualify for the Pan American championships. However, it ultimately set off a wake-up call for USA Team Handball
Coincidence or not, my call to switch to dual nationality was heard and a totally revamped roster was put together to qualify for the 2019 PANAM Games. qualified with relative ease against Canada who won a cumulative qualification of 2 games by 12 goals. And, having witnessed both games in person, I’d say it wasn’t even as close as the scores suggested. USA didn’t do as well as I would have liked at the PANAM Games, partly due to injuries, but the score lines were better and we got a win over a Cuban team who also considerably improved. The United States also performed well in the 2019 North American Emerging Nations Qualifier and the 2019 Emerging Nations Championship.
Is this new American team world class? No. Our best hopes play in the German 2n/a Divisions (Ian and Patrick Hueter) and the French 2n/a Department (Abou Fofana). And then we have several players (thanks to the support of the Forum Club Handball) who play with the best clubs like the Spanish Leon (Drew Donlin), Flensburg (Ty Reed, Tristan Morawski), Elverum (Nico Robinson) and Kristianstad (Rene Ingram ) . With the exception of Donlin, these athletes play with 2n/a teams, but also train from time to time with the first team. They are all great training environments and each of these athletes has improved since their opportunity at the PANAM Games last year.
They’re not going to beat Norway and France, but they have to put up a credible fight and we’ll see flashes of real promise. And, probably a few President Cup wins. Several of these athletes are also in their early 20s and will likely represent the United States in Los Angeles in 2028.
Better than Greenland? (Or, Cuba for that matter?)
Well, first to reiterate emphatically:
Anybody. I repeat, no one is happy that no championship could be organized to decide a winner on the field. Anybody.
That being said, my educated guess if the North American and Caribbean Championship had taken place is the percentage chance of who would have won.
- Cuba: 40%
- United States: 33%
- Greenland: 25%
- Another team 2%
Of course, that’s just an educated guess, and we’ll never know for real, but here’s some additional justification. Cuba and USA played 4 times last year and tied the games 2-2, but I would say Cuba is a bit deeper in terms of overall talent.
Neither the United States nor Cuba have played Greenland recently, so it’s harder to extrapolate. You could argue that Greenland’s performance at the 2018 Pan Am Championships would make them the better team. After all, they nearly overthrew Chile to qualify for the 2019 Worlds, but those results are somewhat tempered by the home crowd atmosphere they had going for them. Also, their team is aging with its top 3 players, Minik Dahl Hoegh and the Kreutzmann brothers, all in their thirties and stepping away from handball full time. And, there’s no depth on Greenland’s roster. That doesn’t mean they can’t overcome those shortcomings, it just suggests that it would be a little harder for them to do so.
Does it matter? Shouldn’t the IHF just look at the recent results?
But, why just spitball how good the current teams are? Let’s just look at recent results. I guess I could follow that logic if it was written down somewhere which is the process that needs to be followed. But, for lack of an established process, it becomes a bit of a game. Like the game of using the PANAM Games as a criterion for excluding Greenland. How far back do we go to determine relevant results? Should we take into account that Cuba and the United States are now radically different teams? Why or why not? Again, when establishing criteria after the fact, one can select criteria that improve their case. In the absence of such criteria, I would argue that the business case for the American couple, with its recent performance improvement, makes the United States the logical best choice to represent the NACHC.
An impressive set of rivalries taking shape
I guess to end on a positive note, this little confederation is shaping up to be very interesting. Cuba and the United States have already renewed their rivalry and Greenland will join them. I suspect the next GRL-USA game will be tough. Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are surely thinking of not forgetting us. Yes, we can really expect a real championship played on the court. The earliest would be best.