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Page last updated at 17:14 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 18:14 UK

GB handball issues Olympic plea

By Matt Slater


Report: GB handball team sweats on 2012 place

British Handball has warned the country's Olympic bosses it would be mad to stop funding its elite squad.

With a 59m hole in Team GB's budget for London 2012, developing sports like handball face an uncertain future.

It has made great strides in a short time, but without backing any hope of competing in London will be gone.

"It would be criminal to cut us off at the knees before we've had a chance to show what we can do," said handball's performance director Lorraine Brown.

"Other sports have had much longer to create their systems - cycling took three Olympic cycles to get to the stage they're at now.

"We would be very disappointed if our funding was cut, but more importantly the athletes would feel they've not had a chance to shine."

Team GB took 311 athletes to Beijing and competed in 20 of the 28 sports. As hosts in 2012, Britain has the opportunity to field a team in every event.

With 639 athletes, China had the largest team and competed in every event. The British Olympic Association wants to do the same in London and believes a failure to do so would break government commitments to boost participation in sport across the UK.

There are still four years to go until 2012, but we're on the right track and we'll make huge improvements

GB women's handball head coach Jesper Holmris
British handball player Louise Jukes is convinced the chance to showcase every Olympic sport should not be passed up.

"It's so important for the country to see what handball is all about," the 24-year-old said.

"I played it once and was hooked. It's such an exciting sport and if everybody else got the chance to see it they would be straight down the gym to try it."

But UK Sport, the agency that distributes money to Olympic sports, is faced with a difficult decision: spread the cash more thinly and back developing sports like basketball, handball and volleyball; or stick with the Beijing formula and only fund sports with proven medal-winning potential.

The "no compromise" strategy of backing winners delivered 19 golds in Beijing - 70% of them coming from cycling, rowing and sailing - but the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (some say obligation) to field a full team at home clearly means some compromises are necessary.

This conundrum has been made more challenging by the economic downturn and UK Sport is still 59m short of its planned 600m budget for 2012.

It must announce funding packages for each sport by early December, although Team GB's "big three" that proved such a success in Beijing - plus the medal-rich sports of athletics and swimming - have already been told what to expect.

Handball is in a group of sports anxiously waiting to hear how much money, if any, they have to spend over the next four years. This seems particularly tough on handball as it has hit every UK Sport target since the programme was established from scratch in 2005 - the only team sport to do so.

South Korea won a stunning gold medal in women's handball in 1988
Korea's women proved what can be done in a few years with gold in 1988
"We're almost a model sport in terms of what we've put in place and the athletes have already shown considerable commitment," said Brown.

Part of that commitment has been to give up jobs and university places to move to handball-mad Denmark. What started with just seven men and three women at the academy in Aarhus has grown to 30 full-time athletes, with more on their way, and a world-class coaching and support structure.

The programme has cost 3m so far but the investment appears to have been worth it. The men's and women's teams have gone from struggling against sides in Denmark's fifth division to beating teams from the country's top two leagues.

Brown admitted the missing 59m was a concern but was still confident the money would be found.

"For us, it is crucial as it will allow us to continue the work we've started," she added.

"Not just so we can reach our goals but to help Team GB to achieve its goals, perhaps not in 2012 but maybe in 2016."

It is with this in mind that British Handball has set up a 2016 development squad in Sheffield and entered the men's Under-21 team in next year's world championships.

This month, British Handball hosted its first senior international tournament - a four-team women's competition between Britain, the Faroe Islands, Latvia and Turkey's Under-21 side, in Sheffield.

The hosts lost their final game 16-15 to the Faroes (a tougher proposition in handball than in football) but won the other matches to finish as champions.

The Faroes defeat was disappointing, particularly as Britain had beaten the Danish province in March, but it should be noted the islanders beat them by 30 points when they first met in 2005.

Huw Goodwin of GB men's handball team

Jesper Holmris, coach of the British women's team, is convinced the team is on the up.

"There are still four years to go until 2012 but we're on the right track and we'll make huge improvements along the way," the Dane said.

The official goal for the men's and women's teams is to reach the last eight - the knock-out stages - in London, although Brown pointed out that South Korea started a handball programme in 1982 and won gold and silver in Seoul six years later.

Matching that feat is probably too much to hope for but there is genuine ambition in this fast-improving squad.

"I've only been playing for nine months but I'm now in Denmark's second division against girls who have been doing the sport all their lives," said Jukes.

"If I'm making that kind of progress who knows what we can do in four years."

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see also
British women win handball title
20 Oct 08 |  Olympics
Cash boost for 2012 medal hopes
06 Oct 08 |  Olympics
French crowned handball champions
24 Aug 08 |  Handball
Norway clinch first handball gold
23 Aug 08 |  Handball
GB get to grips with handball
18 Feb 08 |  Handball
New handball coach for GB women
05 Feb 08 |  Handball
Handball addict gives up day job
27 Sep 07 |  Olympics 2012
Handball hopefuls take next step
20 Jun 07 |  Handball
British handball eyes 2012 glory
28 Feb 07 |  Olympics 2012
Tall athletes targeted for 2012
27 Feb 07 |  Olympics 2012

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