Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Website and Podcast in Development

A short note to let everyone know that I am working with Bjoern Brembs and Bogdan Pasat to develop a new website for Team Handball information. The newest element to this website will be the addition of a podcast to interactively discuss different issues.

As you might expect, the current issues related to the new USA By-Laws (Constitution) and Board of Director’s vote to remove President Hurdle will be a prominent topic for the first podcast. Last night I had an interview with Matt Van Houten (the Athlete Advisory Council Board Member) and I look forward to having an interview with Mike Hurdle (the current or former President- take your pick) later this week.

Producing a podcast, however, is a challenging and time-consuming venture, especially the first time you do it. It will probably take us a week or two to sort everything out. Stay tuned.

Brazil's Performance at the World Championships (A Good News/Bad News Story for the US)

Previously, I wrote that Brazil was one of the teams with an excellent chance to break out of the pack and advance to the Main Round. Well, they not only advanced out of the Preliminary Round, they finished Fourth in their pool and beat South Korea for 7th place. Along the way they nipped Ukraine 33-32, thrashed defending champion France 35-23 (I saw the match on TV and there was no question which team was better), and scared eventual 2nd place finisher Romania 33-35. Clearly, they've shown that they belong with the big dogs. For the US this is a good news, bad news story.

The Good News: Brazil has demonstrated that it's possible for a Western Hemisphere team to break out of the 2nd tier and move into the 1st tier of Handball nations. They've done it through a combination of internal development and the exporting of several top players to European leagues. The US should carefully review how Brazil accomplished this feat and apply some facets of their program to ours. Another positive aspect of Brazil's 8th place is that they have earned an additional qualifying spot for the PANAM nations. Barring a change in the qualification process, 4 teams, instead of 3, will qualify for the 2007 World Championships in France.

The Bad News: It was nice of Brazil to add a World Championship spot for the PANAM region, but it's not so good that they have further widened the gap between themselves and the rest of the teams in the region. 4 teams are guaranteed a spot for the World championships, but only 1 PANAM team is guaranteed a spot for the Olympics. It was nice when the teams in this hemisphere were all bunched together. Any nation could put together a decent team relatively quickly and have a shot at winning PANAMs and playing in the Olympics against the top nations. Unfortunately, Brazil is now a top nation. And to make matters worse the qualification for the 2008 Olympics will be the 2007 PANAM Games in Rio de Janerio, where it would be difficult for an evenly matched US team to win. This past Summer the US lost to Brazil 27-8 in Sao Paulo. As dramatically inferior our program is right now (December 2005) it is simply not realistic to think that in a little over a year in a half (July 2007) we will be in a position to win there.

How the US can develop the sport so that we can compete with the top teams, of course, has been the $64 Million question. Several models have been tried and the US has never had significant success at the highest level. I don’t think necessarily that we can apply the Brazil developmental model in a US context, but certainly we can learn from it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

World Championship Betting Lines

Well, while I will chastise the IHF for officially sponsoring gambling that certainly doesn’t prohibit me from analyzing the more interesting betting lines that have been posted for the World Championship. In fact, other than playing the actual matches there is probably no better way to assess and compare how good the different National teams are.

From www.Nordicbet.com here are the odds that were posted to win the Championship prior to the tournament

Russia 2.80 to 1
Korea 4.80
Norway 5.80
Denmark 6.50
Romania 12.00
Hungary 14.00
Ukraine 25.00
Germany 35.00
France 60.00
Croatia 80.00
Slovenia 80.00
China 80.00
Austria 80.00
Fyro Macedonia 80.00
Poland 150.00
Netherlands 250.00
Japan 500.00
Angola 999.00
Brazil 999.00
Uruguay 999.00
Ivory Coast 999.00
Cameroon 999.00
Australia 999.00
Argentina 999.00

I think they put 999-1 up just because their system doesn’t go any higher. I would have thought Brazil would have been shown a little respect. A more realistic perspective of which teams are perceived to be improving can be seen with the odds posted for the final placement for each team. In particular, here are the odds for the lower seeded teams to simply advance out of group play and into the main round.

Australia 300-1
Cameroun 100-1
Ivory Coast 100-1
Uruguay 100-1
Argentina 50-1
Angola 50-1
Brazil 12-1
Austria 5-1
Japan 3.6-1
China 2.5-1
Slovenia 2.5-1
France 2.4-1

Strictly looking at the odds, these 12 teams were not predicted to advance out of group play. To advance out of group play a team needs to finish in 3rd place, or in all likelihood beat the weakest European Team (+ Korea) in their group. The best chances for this are for China or Japan to finish ahead of the Netherlands in Group A and for Brazil to beat Poland (which they’ve already done) and Austria in Group C.

There were also a few interesting proposition bets which focused directly on the gap between the Handball powers and the Handball minnows. These even money bets were:

32.5 goals: Over/Under for biggest margin of defeat in one match
45.5 goals: Over/Under for most goals scored by one team in one match
13.5 goals: Over/Under for fewest goals scored by one team in one match

It took approximately 2 hours for all of those bets to be resolved as Hungary pummelled Australia 57-9. 48 Goals better? 48 Goals! I guess the 25.5 point spread wasn’t very accurate. No word yet if there was some unusual betting activity in Sydney or Melbourne on Expekt.com. But kudos to the Aussies for bouncing back today and covering the 33.5 spread against Slovenia. I’m sure someone in Ljubljana is not happy.

Monday, December 05, 2005

IHF Marketing Policy on Gambling (An Open Letter to IHF President, Dr Hassan Moustafa

Dear Dr Moustafa,

I am a big fan of Team Handball and I am concerned (no actually, I am amazed) at the close relationship that Team Handball has developed with Internet Gambling sites. The following is now proudly posted on the IHF webpage:

“The international online bookmaker Expekt.com is the new official title sponsor of the IHF XVII Women's World Championship taking place in St Petersburg, Russia from 5 to 18 December 2005.

A World Championship is a high profile event, which covers a broad range of markets. In 2003 the Women's World Handball Championship produced 198 hours of global television coverage. An audience of over 40 million watched the coverage of the event.

Expekt.com has the exclusive championship naming status in all media channels and will receive exposure on site in St Petersburg as the Expekt.com logo is placed on court.

“This event allows Expekt.com to reach our target groups on an international level. We believe in communication through channels that attract our desired customers based on their own interest of the existing event,” says Jacob Lindorff, Global Sponsorship Manager Expekt.com.

Expekt.com offers a wide variety of opportunities for its customers. Sport is an important channel for Expekt.com to achieve these goals since it is closely related to the target group and their interest in betting on sport related events.

Expekt.com has closed the deal in close collaboration with their European sponsorship agency S&B and SPORTFIVE, the exclusive representative for marketing and media rights of the IHF XVII Women's World Championship.”

As anyone who follows sports closely knows, nothing undermines a sport more than the possibility of match fixing. Does your marketing staff read the sports page? Just recently, German soccer had a scandal which resulted in a referee going to prison. http://msn.foxsports.com/soccer/story/5088730

In the US, scandals have affected several sports, but the most vulnerable sports have been collegiate sports where athletes are not paid to play. Are there any amateur athletes in St Petersburg this week, who after getting soundly beaten by a European team, might decide that if they are going to lose they might as well lose by more than the point spread and make a few dollars while there at it? Could one of the better teams decide that they don’t need to win by so much on a meaningless game? Might a ref decide to make a few well placed bets prior to a match?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that sports betting should be outlawed or ignored. In many respects organized and regulated gambling sites can actually safeguard the sport, by monitoring and detecting unusual betting patterns. Say for instance, an unusually large number of bets being placed in Montevideo on Russia beating Uruguay by more than 26.5 goals.

But it’s one thing to acknowledge that betting on sporting events takes place. It is entirely another thing to proudly display the Expekt.com logo on the playing court. What kind of message are you intending to send to the players, the referees, and the fans? We support and encourage gambling on Team Handball?

I certainly hope the next gambling scandal isn’t Team Handball related. If it is, don’t be surprised if the conflicted message the IHF currently has on gambling is part of the legal defence. I hope the IHF can see the light and adopt a policy prohibiting marketing relationships with gambling sites. In the mean time, at the very minimum, standards and penalties in regards to match fixing should be widely distributed to all participants in IHF events.


John Ryan