Australia takes on the world: catching up with Sydney Uni before the Super Globe

The IHF Super Globe is a handball club competition that pits some of the world’s leading clubs against each other.  This year’s event is in Qatar starting on 27 August and will feature names such as THW Kiel and Atlético Madrid.  In amongst that group though is an amateur side from down under.  With a week to go before the tournament Handball Views caught up with Sydney University Handball Club to ask them about their preparation and, more broadly, what the situation is for handball at their level in Australia – and if there are any lessons Britain can learn from the Austalian Olympic experience.

HV:  Thank you for speaking to Handball Views. Tell me a little bit about your journey to the IHF Super Globe. Who you’ve had to play on the way to qualification and how that’s gonefor you.

Pascal Winkler, Sydney University HC:   The qualifying event was the ‘Oceania Club Champions Cup’ which was held in Tahiti in November 2011. This annual tournament – which alternates between Tahiti and New Caledonia – brings together the best club teams from French Polynesia (Tahiti, New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna), Australia and New Zealand.

It was the first time this tournament decided over the Super Globe participant from Oceania. Since the playing conditions are a bit different to Australia (gruelling heat and humidity, massive crowds, live TV coverage) and the French Overseas Territories have got a strong handball culture and some very good local players as well as French expats, it came as a bit of a surprise that Sydney Uni HC won. And all in all, we were probably also a bit lucky, having reached the final with some last minute draws and narrow wins, and having come back from 4 goals behind to snatch victory in the final against local favourite AS Dragon.

HV: How are you preparing for the IHF Super Globe?  You’re unbeaten in the NSW League season but I’m guessing you won’t have come up against anything like THW Kiel before.

PW: We’ve had an intense preparation since February: we’ve been bringing the squad together for 5 weekend camps on top of the regular weekday trainings. There’s also been a big emphasis on individual work to bulk up and increase speed and endurance. Being a team of amateurs who’ve got to give work and study some priority, there were obviously limits to how much time every player could invest – but we feel we’ve probably gone to the limit of what we can do to prepare within our means. But the increased intensity has at least meant that locally we’ve been unbeaten this season.

The biggest problem for us, same as for the national team year in year out, is the lack of real tests and games against strong opponents due to the isolation of Australia in terms of handball.  Strong Asian teams are all at least 8 hours flight (and AUS$20,000 [£13,200] in air fares!) away. This basically means we can only test ourselves against Australian teams, which leaves us without a real sense of where we stand.

HV: What expectations do you have?  Last year’s Oceania representatives [Southern Stars] lost by an average of 20points a game.  Do you think you can improve on that?

The Southern Stars – which represented Oceania in previous years – was a selection team consisting of mostly national team players and some international expats and students from across Australia. Our team is similar in its make-up, albeit maybe with one or two strong players less, but we’ve had the advantage of having the whole team together in Sydney. So we may individually be a bit weaker, but hopefully more than make up for it with a good team spirit and rehearsed play. We have a few players who played with the Southern Stars and therefore know what to expect.

HV: What’s the situation like for handball in Australia – is the game growing?

Handball is definitely growing, and it’s luckily recognised by many schools as a great game for physical education of children. So there’s a lot of school handball. Reaching the national teams (junior and senior) is obviously the big ambition for everyone, and thanks to the guaranteed spot at World Championships for Oceania (and Australia’s relative dominance in the region) there’s a good reward for players to put the time and effort in. This is absolutely crucial for handball here, without it handball would do it very tough because there’s so much competition from so many sports.

Due to the media coverage Sydney Uni got recently and the Olympics, we’ve seen enquiries soar by people who want to get into handball. Be it juniors or adults, we’re seeing a lot of interest right now.

The biggest issue is that generally the club infrastructure is fairly weak. There’s for example no national handball league – due to the massive distances between cities and the cost it would take to fly teams across the country, everyone just plays local competitions (with a national championships of state selection teams held once a year).

So we’ve got good interest and great work at the base in schools, and an attractive offering at national team level, but the middle layer – which would require a strong national league – is unfortunately missing. There are efforts being undertaken however to establish the national competition. The players are definitely there, but we really need funding to cover the massive travel costs a national league would incur, and also make sure we can market the league accordingly.

If any sponsors want to be involved in making handball a national sport in Australia, we’re open to chat!

HV: Finally, I don’t knowif you saw just how much the British people got into handball during theOlympics – the men’s final even found itself live on BBC1.  Did that take you by surprise at all and how does it compare to the experience of handball in the 2000 games?  Are there any lessons we can learn?

PW: Australians, just like the British, absolutely loved handball when it was on in 2000. Everything was focused however on getting a competitive team to the Olympics, and nobody probably anticipated the massive opportunities it would create for the sport after the games. Due to the lack of aformentioned club infrastructure, there was not much in place to capitalise on the interest. So if there’s one tip for Britain – it would be to create a good club competition quickly (even if it’s only with a few teams) and market it well. People need to keep seeing handball on TV and in the newspaper, so kids know where to go and play after school.

HV: And, finally, finally –GOOD LUCK in the IHF Super Globe!

PW: Thanks, despite all the effort and enthusiasm we’ve put in – we’ll probably need it.

The IHF Super Globe starts on 27 August.  Sydney University’s first match is against Saudi Arabian side Mudhar.  We’ll have a full preview of the competition at the end of this week.


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