At the last Men’s World Handball Championship in Germany and Denmark the Russian national team came 14th showing one of the worst results in its history and losing last but one chance to get into the qualification tournament for the Olympic Games-2020 in Tokyo. Unlike the women’s team who won 2016 Rio Olympics, the men’s team hasn’t been to this top tournament since 2008 Beijing. During the interview President Sergey Shishkarev shared his outlook for future Olympic ‘waybills’, the plans for future national handball development, the prospects of hosting large international tournaments in Russia and the intention to continue working as HFR President after 2020.

Mr. Shishkarev, firstly I’d like to ask how you evaluate the results of the men’s national team at the world championship? Do you take it as a failure or wouldn’t be so critical?

It is definitely not a failure, not a tragedy or a catastrophe. Such evaluations may come from an amateur blinded by the success of the women’s national team. Even as the head of the Federation I don’t want to evaluate this championship now. I take the responsibility of saying that the goal to get into the Olympic qualification was not reached. But the performance was very contradicting, and we need a qualified, consistent and comprehensive analysis. In the mid-February the HFR Executive Committee will hold a meeting to analyze the performance and decide on the next steps. I’m looking forward to hearing the experts’ and EC members’ opinion for the assessing of their performance.

You’ve mentioned the contradicting nature of their performance. How so?

The team had the game, positive atmosphere, right attitude, dedication during the training. That gives confidence that the team will get to the Olympics. The luck cannot be that blind! The guys fought. Yes, there were some set-backs and they couldn’t stand out in the hard situation. But basically, we lost one game – to the team of Brazil. The other lost match to Qatar had no significance. Eduard Koksharov allowed young players to play – Aleksey Fomin, Maksim Mikhalin, there were no difference between the 13 and 14 places.

Let’s recall the composition of our group. I don’t want to criticize, it was a toss of a coin. But how can you have four best European teams in the group A and two in the groups C and D each. On the other hand, it gave us a chance to try out our abilities. We lost 1 goal to the French when we had the chance to win but lacked the skill to hold on to the result. We showed a tie game with the Championship host Germany. The morning after this late match we came for the earliest match of the day against Brazil. That’s not right. If our team would be drawn in the Group D, we would be 5th or 6th at the Championship.

The performance of the Russian national team is the result of the natural team update process that can’t be done fast.  One cannot play with no medals for 15 years, go on and win the tournament. But we were ought to overcome this tendency. Meanwhile I was pleased with big expectations the fans had for our team and a big discussion afterwards.

Is there some positive results after this championship?

A new team established itself and the players believed in themselves. We didn’t have a long enough bench. It was nice to see the guys perform at the high European level. Sergey Mark Kosorotov for example. It’s clear that he lacks defensive skills, right phycology but at 19 he is already an adult established man. Sasha Shkurinsky was amazing, Maksim Mikhalin was great, Sergey Gorpishyn showed a good game. I’d like to outline an outstanding play of Viktor Kyreev who was so keen on the result. I guess if it was not for such an extra urge and extra responsibility he would play even better.

Given what you say, am I right to suppose the Eduard Koksharov will continue as Head Coach preparing the team for EURO-2020?

I wouldn’t like to go ahead of time. He must report on his work first and propose further actions. The EC must hear him out and draw its own collusion. I’m sure that Mr. Koksharov is fully aware of his responsibility and he has all it takes to continue working. For example, we had an agreement with the Head Coach of the women’s national team Evgeniy Trefilov: no medals at the EURO – no job. He held his end of the bargain, the girls played wonderfully and won silver. In that case I could say out-front that he will stay.

We see an emerging tendency for the shift of generations in the men’s handball. But prior to the qualification matches for EURO we once again count on Grams, Atman, Gorbok and Dibirov. What’s the reason for manpower shortage in men’s handball and what can be done with it?

On the one hand, we do have young talents: Aleksey Fokinm, Mikhail Vinogradov, Sergey Nikolaenkov, Denis Zabolotin, Maksim Popov. We’re constantly working on getting the results and popularizing handball. On the other hand, we need the harmonious update. The other problem is a smooth transition of youth to the adult sport. The agenda of the EC meeting I mentioned before incudes discussion of the strategy – we need to sort out everything and develop the means to improve the situation. At the same time, we cannot forget that it is the pre-Olympics year. The fans don’t need the theory and seminars, they want to hear how we’re going to get to the Olympics. That’s why the people you’ve mentions will be an asset. They are skilled professionals and the team needs them, hoping they’ll be in good health. Given the correct training process and timely recovery we have all chances to fight for the Olympics qualification.

Many handball fans are wondering why there is such a big gap between the results of the women’s and men’s teams. What would you say?

The problem isn’t new, the men’s handball teams won nothing in the last 15 years. It takes years to improve the situation. We have to direct attention at the youth and junior handball. Women’s handball has schools that traditionally provides champions – Tolyatti, Astrakhan, Rostov-on-Don. Women’s youth and junior teams constantly win medals at the European and world championships. Unfortunately, men’s handball lacks such an effective system of nurturing young talents. Moreover, we cannot forget that the competition in the men’s handball is much higher than in the women’s handball.

What’s the reason for the different competitiveness level in the men’s and women’s handball?

Dominancy of the one club for 20 years in not a normal situation, it led to a total deprivation of necessary competition. To develop a sport one needs victories, schools, desire of children to play handball…But the competition is the key. Now we see it. Spartak aims at the first position, Neva fights its way up, SGAU-Saratov challenges European trophies, SKIF can beat the top-3. When was the last time we saw that? Difficult matches bring out the best and the most perspective players.

When would you guess the men’s and women’s Super leagues even-up the level of competition?

Firstly, we need a completely different infrastructure. Only the two clubs in men’s Super league have quality arenas. But the one Spartak rents is badly located. We need arenas that people would like to visit, only then can the handball become popular and our events - massive. We cannot do that without the state help. With all due respect to football we have to admit that we’re a northern country and an indoor sport have better prospects. Handball is a very low-cost sport. I keep saying that if we had 1% of funds and infrastructure that football has, we’d show the best results.

What does Russian handball need to start earning money itself?

We need infrastructure, sport results, and the increase of people playing handball, children are not just the future players, they are the future fans. This should be followed by a proper marketing policy and TV broadcasts. We need to create a good TV product. TV shows us – fans see us – fans comes to our matches. That’s it. When we have the audience, we will have the merchandise, adequate ticket prices, families of the children playing handball visit the matches. In the country where winter lasts over 6 months in many regions, handball can and should become a national sport.

During our conversation you’ve mentioned the necessary infrastructure improvement. Are there any positive shifts?

We have plans to create Handball House in Moscow: the arena for approx. 6,000 spectators for the national teams, Super league matches and a museum of handball. I’m prepared to finance the construction – not as President of HFR but as President of Delo Group. We also have agreements with other investors.

What about the regions?

I problem is solved in Rostov-on-Don. The land is designated. Ivan Savvidi is a person devoted to handball, he is also ready to build the arena at his own expense. On many occasions I did propose to build such an arena in Krasnodar, but we didn’t have a chance to meet with the regional governor Veniamin Kondratyev to discuss the specifics. There is a good infrastructure in Tolyatti. There are also perspective ideas of the handball “Zenit”. I have a proposal for Aleksand Dukov a candidate for RFU President to organize a unique children and youth competition in mini-football and handball. I hope that a dialogue with RFU will help finalize “Zenit” project. It would also be great if Republic of Tatarstan had its own team, there is a good school there and a good arena.

Was the establishment of “Spartak” worth it?

There were three players of “Spartak” at the last world championship: Egor Evdokimov looked good, Dmitry Kovalev showed a great game regardless limited play time, Aleksandr Dereven helped the team. In this sense the club established itself and it was worth it. It is also nice to have a Moscow team in the national championship, look how many people go to see their matches, especially with “Chekhovskiye Medvedi”. I would like to thank once again the “Spartak” community and the football club for their support and the army of fans. Fans follow the team to St. Petersburg, Stavropol, Krasnodar. The club has a big future, we will help its development. It is very important for the club to perform at a good level in European Cups. They have to make the brand recognizable on the international arena – due to the reformation of the Champions League it will be the elite club for 16 top teams, same as in volleyball and basketball. And we must grab on.  If “Spartak” and “Chekhovskiye Medvedi” get in there our level will rise and such clubs as PSG, “Barcelona”, “Montpelier” and other top teams will come to us.

Many sports practice exhibition matches at big stadiums lately. Is this idea attractive to you? Is it perspective for handball?

We like all ideas directed at popularization of handball in our country. Two years ago, in the framework of the world men’s championship one of the matches was held at Lille football stadium with 27 thousand audience. It would be great to organize a match between “Chekhovskiye Medvedi” and “Spartak” or derby between two capitals – “Spartak” and “Neva” at the football stadium. But we should keep it real. Handball in our country is not as popular as in France or Germany. Firstly, we should create full-house at home matches, for example in Krylatskoye arena.

How would you describe current relations between HFR and International Handball Federation?

We have good working relations, comfortable and perspective. Recently I’ve been to the IHF headquarters where we talked about the development of handball. It was nice to find out that the President Dr. Moustafa follows the results of our national teams and knows their history. We discussed all questions and the ways for further cooperation.

Is it possible to hold the IHF Congress in our country in the future?

We’ll see how the preparation for the Congress in Goteborg goes. We’re always loyal and welcoming. Moreover, we’re aware that organization of such important international sport forums improves the country’s reputation. We have what to show and what to tell. The Congress is not that expensive, and we can get new impetus for handball development.

Is there any intention for HFR to stand for the next elections in the IHF? Which positions can representatives of Russia bid for?

Talking about myself, I won’t be standing for the elections for the position of a Treasury, I have enough financial obligations as it is. Theoretically and practically it is difficult to put out Russian candidates for financially related positions. But surely it is important to prepare candidates for different positions. My team has a valuable and perspective experience. We will lobby savvy qualified professionals. It is necessary because without the participation in the governing board, there’s little chance of influencing anything in the handball world. We need active specialist there. We have good examples: Mariya Sidorova – head of the women’s national team, Mikhail Chipuryn – head of handball department at the Academy of the Olympic reserve. Bringing into the light Russian representatives – young handball specialists is very important.  

What about the bidding for the World or European Championships?

We will bid for the Women’s EURO 2024 or 2026. There is enough time for preparations, and we have a preliminary bid prepared. Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Tolyatti, Krasnodar showed interest to host the EURO.

What about the men’s tournament?

The prospects are vague and it’s not only the infrastructure. We don’t’ have the necessary audience to have full-houses and it will be one of the most important criteria after Denmark and Germany. We should wait and see couple of years.

What do think about the relations between the Russian and international sport? Is there any concern that there might be some problems with admittance of our players to the Tokyo Olympics?

Of course, there is concern but I don’t want to dwell on it. We should nurture own sport diplomates and advocate them at the international level. It is great that Stanislav Pozndyakov headed the Olympic Committee of Russia and we need not only the OCR to advocate for Russian sport. We need a systematic government help on protecting our interests.

Talking about the Olympic prospects of the beach handball, what’s IOC attitude to this sport? When can it be included in the program of the Olympics Games?

It is hard to say. The Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball Championship held in Kazan was accompanied with a great audience interest. As far as I know a lot depends on the Tokyo Olympics where it will be presented as a demonstration sport. Later it will be decided if it gets in the LA and Paris Olympics. Personally, I think it has 50/50 chances. And I think it deserves a place in the Olympics program as a very dynamic and a technically interesting sport, more so than beach football or volleyball.

Did you ever think of leaving handball? HFR will hold Presidential elections in 2020, will you participate?

I’m deeply in love with handball and I’m used to giving all of myself to what I love. Yes, there is an obvious success in women’s handball but there are plenty of problems, tasks and objectives. It would be strange if I was completely satisfied with the current state of affairs. Surely, I sincerely intend to continue working in the Federation. Sometimes secret complaints or anonymized critics can be upsetting but they’re not enough to make me decide to quit handball. I simply never mind them. I like what we do, we created a very good management team. There are no premises for me to refuse to participate in the next elections of the HFR President.

Source – TASS, 04.02.19