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Moustafa against Pan-American. Winter is coming?

Written by SERGEY NOVIKOV

The new year 2018 has inherited a wicked conflict that escalated the last autumn between the International Handball Federation (IHF) and the one of its members, the continental Pan-American Handball Federation (PATHF).

The geographical remoteness of this region from the Old World and the atomic effort of one of the parties puts out the European interest to this hot-button issue. However, this story is worth being heard at least briefly.

On August, 18 during IHF Council meeting in Tbilisi the IHF President Hassan Moustafa came out with a radical idea: let’s split PATHF in two autonomous federation by territorial principle. One should unite all counties of the North America and the Caribbean, another – Central and South Americas.

A bolt from the blue suggestion. The discussion was not planned, neither before the meeting, nor in its agenda. Moreover, it had not been previously discussed with either representative of Pan-America. Needless to say, they were shocked by this idea and left with no opportunity to talk it over with their continental neighbors to find out their opinion, so they took a back seat in Tbilisi deliberations.

Argentinian Mario Moccia, President of PATHF, called an extraordinary meeting of his federation in Bogota, as a preemptive measure before this motion is included in the IHF Congress in Antalya held in November. 25 out of 26 members of PATHF joint the meeting. Their voice was loud – 24 voted against Moustafa’s idea, one abstained. They underlined their statutory right to make decisions about their reformation independently, without a third party involved.   

IHF Swiss headquarters stroke back with a peculiar accusation: you didn’t invite Mr. Moustafa for the assembly alleging that it was a sever violation of the IHF Statutes. Accusations were flavored with explicit requests-allegations about PATHF financials, specifically sponsorship income. Later on, in the absence of other strings to pull this will become the keynote of the IHF aggressive discourse in legal disputes.  

IHF headquarters prepared for Antalya Congress more thoroughly than for Tbilisi, the delegates were provided with a piece of paper that vaguely described the benefits on the proposed division of PATHF. Logistics was called one of the main reasons when localizing the tournament structures, one can save on travel expenses and compete more. 

Incidentally, the key benefits were hushed up although it was read between the lines. Once the North America is separated from the handball-strong South America in qualifications, Moustafa’s organization opens doors wide for the US teams for the top tournaments. In case it’s followed by the interest growth to handball in the US, it promises a great deal of financial inflow.

And one more thing. The list of proposed members is rather interesting. In addition to current 26 Pan-American states that develop handball, the Americas suddenly discovered 14(!) new members. The newly conceived “North” miraculously found handball in Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica, Martinique, the Bahamas, Caymans and American Virgin Islands, Sent-Kits and Nevis, in Grenada, Saint-Lucia and Guadalupe. The “south” newcomers are fewer in number: Belize, Guyana and Guiana.

I guarantee that you’ve never heard anything about this states in the handball context. It is clear that the game is known there by no more than a dozen of locals. It is also crystal clear that these locals will be ready for any move on the ‘sugar daddy’s’ instructions. Well, the new recruits’ input in handball development in the long run will be pretty much limited by providing their vote when necessary and to whom necessary…

It was hot at the Congress in Antalya. Pan-America found the outside support, one of the reasons was that Moustafa’s reform directly leads to disadvantageous distribution for other continents of the Olympic and world championship quotas.

Moustafa realized the gravity of PATHF intention to remain in a single unity and the risk of unveiled disregard to legal procedures. Under the pretense of additional analysis, he asked the Congress to vote in favor of his initiative but to delegate the in-depth issue research and the final decision of the IHF Council.

This scheming decision was pushed in Antalya using methods far from democratic propriety. For those who tried to ask questions or god forbid dispute, the microphones were turned off. The proposal to vote by a secret ballot was also hushed-up. During an open ballot vote they bluntly took photos of those who voted against.

Regardless the pressure, only 102 delegates voted in favor of this motion according to the official minutes, with 26 against and 40 abstained. The calculations were done carelessly with countless mistakes and many abstained were not taken in the account. But even so, the two-thirds majority required by the statutes for the motion to pass was not obtained (61%). Despite the math, Moustafa rushed to proclaim his motion accepted.

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In a far-from-lyrical digression it is important to outline that such methods of tyrannical management are already usual favorite tools for IHF executives. Another example of ‘fair play’ in Antalya revealed itself in the situation with the Handball Federation of Russia (HFR). Particularly the unmotivated rejection of its motion to the Congress. HFR asked the delegates to hear a motion on admittance of HFR President Sergey Shishkarev to the elections for IHF Executive Committee.  Earlier a certain ‘working group’ invented by Moustafa, vaguely rejected Russian candidate. Since it is only the Congress that has such authority, HFR tried to address the Congress directly. Unsuccessfully.  The motion was ignored and treated as a ‘letter’ after the voting. Such actions contravene the election procedures and IHF statutes itself. It’s not out of place to mention the cheap shots IHF relied on: disinformation of delegates, malfunctioning microphones, technical failures during simultaneous translation. Several years ago, using the same ‘technique’ the long-standing president of the IHF ‘killed the competition’ from the South Korea and Switzerland. The candidates were not admitted to the elections due to various technicalities and procedural loop-holes.

HFR and PATHF being companions in misfortune now try to defend themselves by legal measures, having addressed the relevant bodies with the appeal to annul the Congress results.

Pan-American Handball Federation claimed it will fight till the end to defend their independence and unity, even if it means going with their case to CAS in Lausanne. IHF headed by Moustafa definitely understands that legal proceedings will undoubtfully take a while. That’s why it plays the game authoritatively and treacherously.

During the recent Euro in Zagreb the IHF Council gathered again. Here’s a new turn. IHF Council leaning on the recommendation of the Arbitration Commission that was made up on the same day, practically imposed its direct rule on the Pan-American territory. They demanded PATHF to hand over its responsibilities and dissolve itself. Basel temporary took over continental qualifications for top tournaments.

Now the first victims of the ongoing battle became the beach handball players. The organizing committee refused to hold the continental championship in California due to failure to receive the financial support that IHF promised.

But dignified Americans don’t give up. PATHF Council meeting is scheduled for February, 9-10 to discuss the plan and procedures of legal defense. IHF has already preemptively argued the legality of future gathering. Meanwhile their opponents actively seek support and allies in the international handball community. Senior Moccia on behalf of PATHF sends out letters to different parts of the world, describing the situation in detail and flaming callings in pretty much Che Guevara style:

“The time has come to put fear aside and to make a stand against the flag of injustice risen by Hassan Moustafa’s abusive regime, which puts not only transparency and good practices in our sport in jeopardy, but also its entire sustainability as an Olympic sport”.

Stylistically bold and essentially correct words. The precedent actually urges the in-depth analysis of the IHF Statutes. It contains a variety of loop-holes, understatements, lacks clear definitions and procedural instructions. Disregard to legal clarity of such a document is unattainable luxury. This luxury allows IHF bosses to manipulate the future of international handball on own whims. The sane ones are long due to insist if not yet on drastic reformation of the IHF, then on strict compliance with its current unperfect laws.

Sergey Novikov

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