President of the International Handball Federation (IHF) Dr. Hassan MOUSTAFA and President of the Handball Federation of Russia (HFR) Sergey SHISHKAREV visited the editorial office of the Sport-Express Newspaper where they told us about the nerve-wrecking path of getting our national team to Rio Olympics and the hard work that lies before Russian handball players to hold on to the champion status.
HANDBALL WAS THE SECOND MOST VISITED KIND OF SPORT AT THE OLYMPICS
Dr. Moustafa, you are in charge of the International Handball Federation for 15 years. How has this sport changed over these years?
Dr. Hassan Moustafa: – We promote our sport restlessly. Handball is my great love. I’m in this sport for all my life – in various capacities. For 15 years I have been a player of the national team of Egypt, then for ten years – a coach, I completed two thesis researches and defended two dissertations on handball. When I just headed the IHF my prime objective was to bring handball to every corner of the world. Now IHF has 204 member-states, another 2-3 are on course to joining the IHF. The second objective was to increase the budget fund of our organization. Quantity increase of the member-states is not an objective in itself. The key objective is so that people in these states really played handball. But this is impossible without proper infrastructure. We help those who need such infrastructure.
How do you determine who really needs the help?
Dr. Moustafa: – All countries can be divided in three categories: those who need help, those with average development of handball and the top-nations. For each of them we have their own development program.
And what are the results?
Dr. Moustafa: – At Rio Olympic Games handball was the second most-visited team sport, surpassing volleyball, basketball and gymnastics. It is a very good news for us. It was only football that overrun us. But if you remember, Brazil was playing in the finals there.
What can you say about the level of development of handball in Russia?
Dr. Moustafa: – Your country plays a very important role – not only in Europe, but in the world. It’s not the first time that I am a guest in your country. At the time, the ex-head of the HFR Aleksandr Kozhukhov supported me. He was a very decent and honest man, who unfortunately passed away. Russian teams showed good results at that time – at the Olympic Games, and world championships. Then we witnessed a recession due to the conflicts among people in the Federation. I remember several times I came to Russia to talk to coaches, organization men…
Did you support one of the sides?
Dr. Moustafa: It was important for the IHF that everything in national Federation was in good order. National teams can win medals only in calm atmosphere. And I was very glad that Sergey Shishkarev headed the HFR. I’m sure that not only Russian women, but men too can score a success – you have great players and good infrastructure. Now you’re on the right path thanks to the HFR President and thank to the Chairman of the HFR Board of Trustees Dmitry Rogozin. He is one of those who simply loves thins sport because he played it himself for years. Owing to this love, he managed to unite right people.
TREFILOV SHOULD TAKE CARE OF HIS HEALTH
Were you surprised that Russian women’s national team won Rio Olympics?
Dr. Moustafa: – By no means. I was sure that Russia would become a world champion-2015 in Denmark. And I told that to Sergey Shishkarev. It was not a compliment; I was really ready to argue for that. I watch your national team because they show beautiful and spectacular game. But you have lost in the quarter-finals to Poland.
Sergey Shishkarev: I watched quarter-finals match with Poland from Moscow and believed that we should have gone forward. After the game I was, of course, the most disappointed, but nonetheless I went to Denmark, met President Moustafa there and received almost a reprimand from him: “Sergey, what happened to you?! You should have been in the final!”.
Dr. Moustafa: – Russia has a great team, but this is sport. It was just not the best day for it in quarterfinals in Denmark.
Mr. Shishkarev, after the loss at the world championship where you not tempted to make some changes in the team prior to the Olympics?
Mr. Shishkarev: Since the victory vs. Germany on 7 June 2015, when we got to the World Championship, our women’s team had 25 matches and lost only one of them – this very match vs. Poland in the quarterfinals. At that time, I wasn’t too much involved in the team’s life. First thing that I noticed at World Championship-2015 was that we didn’t have to team in itself. We had strong players, tons for contradictions among them and Trefilov over all of that. Then I set up an objective to create a “team”. The tactics and inter-game cooperation that’s what the coach would deal with, my task is so that the players formed a collective from separate individuals.
Dr. Moustafa, are you personally acquainted with Mr. Trefilov?
Dr. Moustafa: – Of course, we know each other for years. We talked several times and I kept insisting so he would take care of his health. Evgeniy is always so nervous during each game that sometimes loses control! Sometimes he says not very ethical things, like at the World Championship when it caused an unpleasant situation with Norwegian TV.
COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY IS INAPPLICABLE
Before the Olympics there was a risk that the whole Russian Olympic team including our handball players will not go to Rio due to the doping scandal. What was your viewpoint?
Dr. Moustafa: There were a lot of talks about doping in Russia. But since the very beginning I was sure that it is not right to punish all players. It wouldn’t correct and wouldn’t be fair. For example, if my brother is a criminal, will you put me in jail too? He is my family member but I personally did nothing wrong. In my opinion, collective responsibility is inapplicable here. Prior to the Olympic Games I got a call from one official from the International Olympic Committee and said that the decision about Russia’s participation in the Olympics will be made by the International Federations. I immediately decided to test the entire Russian team. These tests were sent to Lausanne and all came out clean. After that we made the decision about the admittance of the Russian national team. Why should I punish people with clean tests? I think it would be wrong step.
Have you felt any outside pressure from foreign colleagues during these proceedings?
Dr. Moustafa: If you are a good leader, you shouldn’t listen to anyone. You should be true to yourself. And no outside pressure was possible! I hold the post of the President for many years and everyone knows my character pretty well. I was never holding on to my post and now I don’t. If someone greatly pressured me – I would resign immediately.
Mr. Shishkarev: I want to tell you a story. We were very nervous while waiting for final test results and the admission to participate in the Olympics. I called Dr. Moustafa every day and probably was too persistent. On the day of the verdict announcement – 29 July I got a text from him: “Urgent matter. Call me immediately!”.
Dr. Moustafa: You probably had thought the worst has happened, hadn’t you? If I’m not mistaken at this time you were at the meeting with Mr. Vladimir Putin.
Mr. Shishkarev: I was at the meeting with Mr. Rogozin. Nothing was clear from the message – whether we were admitted or not. I urgently excused myself from the meeting, called Dr. Moustafa, he was in Argentina. I almost shouted “What has happened?!” and he calmly answered: “All players are clean, everything is alright”. And I cried: “Yeeeees! Thank you very much, Mr. President!”.
THERE IS A DIRECT LINK BETWEEN OLYMPIC RESULTS AND POPULAR SPORT
Dr. Moustafa, it looks like you’re used to stem, go against the mainstream…
Dr. Moustafa: – During my presidency at the IHF there were a lot of complicated situations. I am from Africa and the previous president was the Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Erwin Lanc. The elections showed that I won and people in Europe didn’t understand that. There were a lot of problems. But I was never worried about someone else’s opinion. It is important what people will say after you finish your job. Then it will be evident whether you just “occupied the chair” or indeed made the contribution in the development of sport.
Many people don’t like changes. Now, they’re saying that Russia made it to the Olympics thanks to my support. Why is that? When I became President seven teams were getting to the Olympics via world championship and all seven were European teams. Then I asked – what is the connection between these two tournaments? Surely, the difference between them is two years! During this time the teams change players, coaches and national federations might get new executives. That’s why we decided to hold an additional qualification. After this an actual Fronde has risen against me. But I said; if the Congress made this decision, as head of the IHF I have to stand behind it. Otherwise, today we do one thing, tomorrow we change our mind and do another thing, the day after that – the third. Well you know what I mean…
Many team sports face a problem of a large number of naturalized players. In handball, Qatar among others is the example of it. Aren’t you worried about such a tendency?
Dr. Moustafa: In fact, almost every top national team has a lot of naturalized players, but the Qatar team is not a very good example. I remember visiting a semi-final of Youth World Championship in France in 2001. I sit next to the President Jacques Chirac. Egypt lost one score to France. However, I couldn’t neglect the superiority of the competitors and said to Mr. Chirac: “You know, the French team has a lot of good French players”. (Laughs) And indeed, if you take a look at their national team you’ll see that more than a half of them are persons of African descent.
Mr. Shishkarev, there a lot of naturalized players in Russian football, basketball and especially mini-football. What do you think about this tendency?
Mr. Shishkarev: – I think that Russia dominates in several kinds of sport for decades. If we have backwatered in some disciplines, it is not a reason to change our player for foreign ones. I’m against of such a tendency, unless it helps to substantially increase popularity of certain sport in Russia. Imagine, if we give citizenship to Lionel Messi, thousands of boys and girls in Russia will immediately want to go into football. But as a rule, foreign players in national team squad do not add to the sport’ popularization. Few percent at most.
Many people say that the results at the Olympic Games and popular sport are two different problems. But I always say that there is a direct like between them. And we better invest in our own players. Take men’s handball for example. Many players leave the country because here they don’t get paid enough. That’s why we have to invest massively in candidates for our national team. Of course an exception should be made for players from Ukraine, Belarus and other ex-soviet republics. These are our brothers and sisters and coming to Russia is a new, higher step in their career. That’s the reason why we helped to get citizenship for Ukrainian Julia Managarova.
Dr. Moustafa: – I want to add something. Russia is a big country but unfortunately not a handball one. How many handball players there are in Russia? 35 thousand? In Germany – there are 800 players and 1.2 million of fans. The final match of German championship watched 18 million people on TV.
YOU CAN’T FIND PEOPLE IN RUSSIA WHO DIDN’T WANT RIO FINALS
What should be done so that handball reached the same popularity in Russia?
Dr. Moustafa: – Schools, schools and schools again. Handball is a very entertaining sport that requires little investment. To be honest, I don’t understand the Russian system. Over the long time Russia has been one of the leaders in handball but there are so little broadcasted on TV. Here is the main problem – you you’ll show handball; the popularity will grow. Once I was talking to the ex-President of FIFA Joseph «Sepp» Blatter and asked if he knew what was the difference between football and handball. In football you can sleep for half an hour and nothing will change on the scoreboard, whereas in handball if you shut your eyes for a second, everything will be different. If media focused on handball it could easily become sport No. 2 in Russia after football. You have everything for that – good team, good results, good players and so on.
Mr. Shishkarev, do you believe that handball will ever compare with football in popularity?
Mr. Shishkarev: – Handball is a very dynamic kind of sport, the mass media is not paying enough attention to it yet, however we try to change this situation. I wouldn’t compare football to handball – they are different kinds of sport, different entertainment.
But the final match of the Olympics-2016 created a furor at Russian TV/
Mr. Shishkarev: – Yes, after our victory my phone was bursting at seams from text messages and calls. I got calls even from those friends who were never interested in handball. I met a lot of people and not one person who hasn’t seen the final match in Rio.
Dr. Moustafa: – Handball is a kind of sport that attracts people’s attention. During the Olympics I met the head of Formula-1 Bernard «Bernie» Eccleston who asked me just one question: “Why don’t you develop handball in my country, in Great Britain?”. I said that we’re working on it. “If you need some help, let me know”, – said Bernie.
Will we be able to see any top-level international tournament in Russia?
Mr. Shishkarev: – We were looking into two options of the world women’s championships: in 2021 and 2023. I was for 2021 but the Ministry of sport was for 2023. For now, both projects are hanging in the air.
What’s your opinion on the subject of how can the success of the Russian national team in Rio help change something in terms of popularization of handball?
Mr. Shishkarev: Yes, of course we’re waiting for changes. During the awarding ceremony in the Kremlin Mr. President talked about handball and mentioned it again during the meeting with head of Russian Olympic Committee Aleksandr Zhukov. It is very important for establishment of handball generally in our country. We have a chance. For example, we hope that someday handball will be included in the school program.
WE NEED TIME TO UPDATE THE TEAM SQUAD
Let’s go back to football. You said that football is sport No. 1…
Dr. Moustafa: – Football is not sport. It is business.
What about handball? Isn’t it business?
Dr. Moustafa: – No, I don’t encourage that. When there are a lot of money in sport, it loses the fair play spirit. Money are important but it’s not the key objective.
We all know the world richest football clubs. Talking about handball, which clubs are most successful?
Dr. Moustafa: – I don’t know exactly; you can find this information on internet. To my mind it’s French Paris Saint-Germain Handball (PSG). However, I can’t tell you what is the budget of this club.
If somebody wanted to have own handball club, how much money should be invested so that is would regularly participate in international competitions? One million dollars? Or maybe a 100 million…
Dr. Moustafa: – No, I think a 100 million is over the top…
Mr. Shishkarev: – If we talk about something like PSG it is close to 20-30 million. I can’t imagine that salary of Nikola Karabatić is less than 1 million euro. The same goes for Dane Mikkel Hansen. Take Kielce for example – the winner of Final4 of the EHF League of Champions. Their budget is less than that one of the French club. I ask my polish colleague Andjey Kraşnitski about it, and he mentioned the sum between 10 and 12 million. Handball is sport No. 1 in Kielce: the host matches of the Champion’s League and the Cup. That’s why they have a nice gate revenue, which comprises one thirds of their total revenue.
What is the pay rate in Russian men’s and women’s handball?
Mr. Shishkarev: – It is a classified information, I can only guess. But I think that “Rostov-Don” has the highest level of compensation. The pay rate of the Norwegian legionnaire – Katrine Lunde is not more than 10-12 thousand of euro per month. Our national handball starts Anna Vyakhireva and Ekaterina Illyna get less than 10 thousand euro. If we compare these numbers with the salary of Mr. Karabatić, we see how great the difference is.
Dr. Moustafa, what does Russia mean to you if we put handball aside?
Dr. Moustafa: – Russia is a great country! And above all is its leader, a person who is very much respected all over the world, including the USA. He is very proud of his country and this is very important. It appears that thanks to such a person Russia keeps leading positions in the world now. First time I met him in Guatemala during the elections of the host country of the Olympic Games-2014, we were introduced by Claus Schormann, the head of the Union International de Pentathlon Moderne. Afterwards, we met in Sochi during SportAccord Convention, he invited us for dinner. He is a very agreeable person and an excellent leader.
Now Russia is a handball Olympic Champion. It is more complicated to defend a title than defend it, isn’t it?
Mr. Shishkarev: – You are absolutely right. As for the next Olympic Games, we will properly prepare the team but we should be ready for any result. Nobody is immune to losses. And I don’t want to cushion the blow. There is a question of motivation for the current Olympic champions. Evgeniy Trefilov already once told in the interview that many of them still have their head in the clouds. I can understand the girls, it’s not easy: to give interviews all the time and to promote our sport. Anyhow, their main work is at the playing field. They have to train a lot; it is their discipline of excellence that Trefilov is not totally satisfied with. And this needs to be changed.
But we can talk about this closer to the topic after our performance at «Golden League» tournament after the matches with national teams of France, Denmark and Norway. It will be a very difficult test, all more so, because half of the team was changed. We have new faces: for example, Dariya Samohina – our young up and coming star and Antonina Skorobogatchenko who is only 17 years old. We need time to refresh the team squad and give the new players to get used to each other.
Dr. Moustafa: – I can tell you one thing: when you reached the peak of your abilities you shouldn’t live in the clouds. Otherwise you can fall down back on earth really quickly. It is half the battle to reach the top. You should learn how to fly.
Does Russian handball have what it takes to hold on to the reached level in the long run?
Mr. Shishkarev: – Our youth teams made a good impression on me after their performance at international tournaments. Russian national tem under 18 won the World Championship and girls under 20 became silver medalists. We have good young players but we still lack strong players of middle age 27-28 years old. We can fill this gap. We have a strong reserve, good example and a great coach – we should keep working and then we’ll succeed.
Dr. Moustafa: I would also like to point out a fighting spirit of Russian national team. It looks like this team has equal skills as their competition from Norway, France, Brazil…But Russian team has one special quality. Even losing 6-7 balls, it doesn’t give up and keeps fighting. It is amazing!
You said that our handball players perked up a bit after the Olympic victory. How’s the mood of their coach?
Mr. Shishkarev: – To be honest, he is already tired from interviews. On the one hand, it is a pleasant occupation. But on the other hand, it distracts him from the key objective. Trefilov wants to go back to his work. He even told me one: “When will all these celebrations end?! We are three days in Moscow and had not one normal training”.
Can our team be headed by a woman one day?
Dr. Moustafa: – You know, I dream that one day only women worked in women’s handball – coaches, referees, managers. There are already plenty of them but I dream that someday there will be just women…
Mr. Shishkarev: – I might add that now a female coach joined our national team. The coach of Tolyatti «Lada» Lubov Kalyaeva will be training our goalkeepers. She will take up the duty at the “Golden League” in Denmark. I am very happy that there will be other girls in the locker-rooms amongst coaches. Moreover, the Chief of the women’s youth teams will be a double world champion Maria Sidorova. I personally insisted on her assignment.