Kickbacks & match-fixing:
An everyday story of Olympic handball
By Andrew Jennings
Sunday April 18, 2010
The officials of one of the most popular Olympic sports meet in Rome next weekend for an acrimonious special congress that could end in a walkout by European federations.
Handball, which achieved the third highest television viewing figures for the Beijing Games and is played by 20 million people worldwide, is now tainted by allegations of match-fixing, contract kick-backs and lavish life-styles for top officials.
Nonetheless the besieged International Handball Federation president, Egypt’s Hassan Moustafa, is determined to celebrate a decade in power by persuading an ‘extraordinary’ congress to give him more power – and control of the federation’s finances.
A report in the German news magazine Der Spiegel in late January this year alleged that Moustafa took a 600,000 Euros kickback after signing a contract giving handball’s TV rights to the French Sportfive marketing agency.
The money was channelled through a company set up by Moustafa that offered to exploit his “good relations” with sports organisations for the exclusive benefit of Sportfive.
That contract has now expired and Moustafa has signed a new one that runs until 2013 with the same executive – but who has now moved to the UFA agency. There’s whispers around the corridors of the IHF that this deal wasn’t any cleaner than the previous one.
When the story broke Moustafa issued a statement saying the Federation was confident he “has acted correctly in all matters.” But it only went to German media and was not posted on the IHF website. So as many as 120 of the 180 affiliates may have no knowledge of the scandal.
The IOC does know and while many think it could have done more, President Jacque Rogge said in February that if Moustafa was an IOC member he ‘would not tolerate such behaviour.’
But it is the organised match-fixing during the Asian regional handball qualifying games for the Beijing Olympics that has brought Moustafa’s regime into disrepute. Fans were shocked at the biased refereeing when Kuwait defeated a hot team from Korea 28 goals to 20.
The row that followed went all the way to the Court of Arbitration in Sport where one expert witness testified ‘the referees saw fouls or infringements that obviously did not happen, essentially they were “inventing” decisions’ that favoured Kuwait.’
Two neutral German referees were slated to handle the game but sidelined by two officials from Jordan. This had been allegedly arranged by Moustafa working with Kuwaiti officials.
The CAS threw out the result saying, ‘the majority of them (decisions) were impossible to understand or explain’. Moustafa was scheduled to give evidence but at the last moment declined to attend and explain his dealings with Kuwaiti officials. The game was replayed and the Koreans won.
It has also been revealed that last year Moustafa quietly increased his annual presidential ‘honorarium’ from 30,000 Swiss Francs to a staggering 500,000. This was approved by the IHF Council who also voted themselves increases of up to 800% - and neglected to record it in the minutes of the meeting. There’s also been complaints that Moustafa hasn’t been producing receipts to justify his expenses.
Moustafa was re-elected last year during a bizarre congress where he frequently turned off the microphone when his opponent, from Luxembourg, attempted to speak. At the special congress this weekend he hopes to make major changes to the rules installing himself as managing director, financial controller and head of marketing.
If he succeeds it may bring a split with clubs from Germany, France and Spain threatening to boycott the handball world championships, sharply reducing their value to television. Their spokesman has warned of ‘conflict in Rome.’
The European federation has written to Moustafa warning that his proposals are so badly worded they ‘cannot be used as a legal basis for the future of world handball.’ They also note, acidly, that ‘the suspicion of financial malpractice is so often made against the President of the IHF.’
Sponsors Adidas have been silent. But if the Europeans walk away and they lose their own German market, they may be forced to take sides.