In the wake of the IHF’s decision to reallocate Oceania’s World Championship spot to the wildcard entry of Germany, Handball Australia is attempting to figure the best course of action for the future of the sport in the region. The Australian national men’s squad is together in Sydney this weekend for the first time since the announcement, giving Handball Planet the opportunity to speak with some of the younger members of the squad about their goals and hopes for the team and Handball Australia’s future.
Tim Anderson and Caleb Gahan both represented Australia at the 2013 Men’s World Championship in Spain. Avery Edmunds and Harry Watson joined the squad in the lead up to the 2014 Oceania Handball Nations Championship.
Now that the shock ofthe reallocation of Oceania’s spot has lessened, how are you feeling about the decision?
Caleb Gahan: To be honest, I don’t think we can say we weren’t expecting itat all – there had been rumours. I think we were all expecting that beyond 2015 there would be a change to our qualification, but we weren’t expecting anything to happen within six months of the World Championship.
Avery Edmunds: It’s very last minute. I guess we felt safe because we’d already played the qualification. We thought we had our spot.
Do you think the rest of the team is feeling the same?
Gahan: I think most of us are in agreement that the best thing going forward is that we qualify through Asia or something like that,so that we can have a more regular tournament closer to our level.
Tim Anderson: We’re not so angry at the fact that it happened, we’re just angry at the timing of it all. It’s very hard for someone to cancel the opportunity, and to give us no option to attempt to qualify.
So what’s next for the team? What are you working toward now?
Gahan: That’s the biggest question for me. We don’t know what is happening.
Edmunds: We really just have a lot of questions and no answers.
Gahan: It would be so much easier for us to move on if they said: you’re not going to the World Championship, but you can come to this, for example, challenge trophy, and then in 2016 you’ll go to the Asian Championships.
Anderson: We just want some clarification as to what the IHF is going to do to ensure they are assisting us, as they promised via their statement online. They said they were very much interested in helping us in other means as oppose to just a direct entry into a World Championship. It would be good to have a bit of clarity as to what that looks like, because as a team, it’s very hard to get motivated to train and work hard when you don’t know if you’re going to get an opportunity to play at a proper recognised international tournament in the foreseeable future. But, we don’t want to limit our goals to one tournament – we need to be thinking beyond 2015.
Caleb and Tim, you played at the 2013 World Championship in Spain – were you expecting something like this in the wake of that tournament?
Gahan: There was definitely talk of this after and even while we were in Spain – that we might have to qualify through Asia. But then they didn’t say anything for a year and a half, until a week before Oceania. If they’d said it to us as soon as we got home from Spain in February 2013, and gave us two years notice it would be a different story.
Anderson: The experience in Spain was incredible, but as it is with Australian handball, in the last ten years there’s always been other teams barracking for us to be removed or the spot to be changed because of the level of competitiveness.
For the way it was doneto be so sudden and with all of the opportunities these young guys have to be lost because of it – it’s hard to see our core group of guys who have just started to develop over the last 6-8 months stay together when there’s really no long-term goals for them. That’s really detrimental to what we’ve been doing. The team we were looking to take to Qatar was going to be a young side but a side that’s played together for well over a year, and that’s pretty big. We played in the state competitions together, we played in the club competitions together, so we’ve spent a lot of time and it would have been a pretty good shot for us in Qatar, I think, had we gone.
Harry and Avery, this was an exciting time for you until this decision. How are you feeling?
Edmunds: Pretty disappointed. It was probably my best shot at making the Australian team so far. I was really looking forward to it, I was looking forward to the challenge. I mean it’s not every day you get to go away and play against people who are that good. You learn a lot from playing against people that much better than you – it’s a chance to grow and hopefully take that experience back and develop further.
What do you think of all the support that’s been shown to the team from not just the Australian community but from around the world?
Anderson: I guess the best thing for us would be for that support to lead to opportunity. If we were able to leverage this to actually gain something out of such a horrible situation, it would be beneficial. At the end of the day, support is great but a few months from now at the World Championship, there’s not going to be a thousand people at the stadium barracking for Australia to be there. It’s good now but unless we utilise that support for something beneficial it will almost be wasted I guess.
Edmunds: It’s nice to know that people still recognise us as a country that plays handball though. Just knowing we’re out there at least. And even if they don’t recognise us for our skills, even if it’s just for our attitude of showing up and giving it our all, I guess that says a lot about the guys that have gone and played there before.
Obviously this decision has affected the team and you each individually, but do you think it also has a big impact on handball in Australia overall?
Harry Watson: You go through all of juniors being told [about the ultimate goal of representing Australia] and hoping to play at World Champs. If World Champs is gone, you lose a lot of motivation. That was always the final goal, and now it’s not there – and if there’s not as much motivation to play then handball in Australia will struggle. If it’s only juniors playing then it might just die out.
Gahan: If the highest level you can reach is national championships, it’s not really a good thing for the sport.