It was confirmed this week that Team GB would be allowed to field a handball team in the 2012 Olympics. As host nation Great Britain were always technically allowed to throw their hands into this particular court, but the British Olympic Association (BOA) sets both performance and legacy criteria before confirming our participation in some events. (The beach volleyballers are currently waiting nervously in their bikinis and briefs – although legacy for that particular sporting oddity will be difficult to argue in a country with harshening winters.)
Hugely popular throughout much of northern and eastern Europe, the previous lack of a British team has resulted in handball receiving little airtime on terrestrial TV. There are few sports in which us Brits won’t readily participate, however, and although UK Sport claim to have taken a ‘No Compromise’ approach to delivering performance success in funding decisions over the last few years – as, of course, is their right – nearly £6 million will have been squeezed out for handball from 2006 through to 2013, and it won’t buy success.
Team GB will not win any medals. Having won just the one competitive match since a national team was reformed in 2006 after a 20 year hiatus (against Bulgaria in the European Championship Qualification Phase 1 in London last year), it will be something of a miracle if the men’s squad have anything other than a series of heavy defeats to look back on after the Olympic flame is extinguished.
The money, however, is well spent. For Team GB handballers, this is all about the taking part – and that’s what our Olympics should be about. It is in sports such as handball that Olympic dreams really do come true, and although the level of funding looks peculiar in the context of a newly belt-tightened Britain, it’s just possible that with their nod to handball, the BOA may create a genuine lasting sporting legacy.
The game is well suited to British weather (it takes place indoors), requires minimal equipment, has simple rules, and is accessible to all (i.e. it’s not that hard to give it a go). Add in our almost certain failure at what is essentially a foreigners’ sport, and – in true Eddie the Eagle style – it’s hard to see how a nation won’t become obsessed with our plucky losers. Olympic tickets go on sale in less than 8 weeks. See you there.