Lillehammer, Vienna, Limassol, Cologne and Copenhagen – sounds like a trip to Europe, but was, in fact, a successful journey lasting two years to install a body in which all stakeholders of European professional handball could sit at one table with equal rights and decision-making capabilities: this is the Professional Handball Board (PHB). The starting point was the Extraordinary Congress during the final weekend of the Men’s EHF EURO in Lillehammer, Norway.
In Lillehammer, the decision-making bodies were created – men and women’s Club Boards, men and women’s Club Committees and the Nations Board.
One of the first decisions resulting from this was to hold a ‘Competitions Conference’ in Vienna, to which all stakeholders were invited – players, coaches, clubs, leagues, national federation as well as external experts such as physicians and marketing experts.
At this time, Group Club Handball – an association of top clubs - had been active for two years and had launched legal proceedings against the IHF and EHF before the European Commission, at the heart of this was the sporting calendar and the releasing fees at major tournaments.
With the decisions taken in Lillehammer, which gave the clubs greater involvement but no decision-making rights in the EHF bodies, as well as the fruitful discussions arising at the ‘Competitions Commission’, the first steps towards a successful convergence were taken. In each case, five representatives from men and women’s clubs as well as the national federations formed the first committees; this was also valid for the two marketing boards.
The next step towards the Professional Handball Board was the EHF Congress in the autumn of 2008 in Vienna – among other things, the clubs were taking a percentage of the income from the European Championships.
To bring resolution to the issue, a team of experts were called upon and they concerned themselves with the problems of complete competitive calendar in the sense of joining to find a common solution. This working group as well as the bodies decided in Lillehammer were lastly the preliminary stage of the Professional Handball Board.
The EHF Executive Committee had also worked intensively to prepare for this body and presented it to the participants at the EHF Congress at the end of October in Limassol, Cyprus – however, in the end, only a simple and not the two-thirds majority necessary for the creation of the a new EHF instance was registered.
Nevertheless, those responsible for the new board within the EHF did not give up. This led to many meetings taking place, mainly with Group Club Handball, which in the meanwhile had created Forum Club Handball (FCH) as a significantly enhanced agency in European handball founded with approximately 64 clubs.
The EHF accepted the FCH as the official representative of the clubs and in February 2010, a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ was prepared. This document regulated the future cooperation between the two organisations and presented the cornerstones of the Professional Handball Board.
The MoU was signed within the framework of the celebrations on the final day of the inaugural VELUX EHF FINAL4 on 30 May 2010 (Photo) and renewed in 2014. The signatories included the then EHF President Tor Lian, Secretary General Michael Wiederer, FCH President Tomaz Jersic and FCH Vice President/GCH President Joan Marin.
For the first time, the composition of the future Professional Handball Board was publicised: two representatives from each group – leagues, clubs, national federations, players and the EHF Executive composed the body, the yet to be elected President of the PHB would eventually sit on the EHF Executive Committee as a member.
Shortly after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, Group Club Handball retracted their complaint against the IHF and EHF lodged at the European Commission. The Spanish league, ASOBAL also withdrew their complaint. This was because, prior to the anchorage of the PHB in the EHF Statutes, many demands of the clubs were met, such as the releasing fees and insurance for national team players.
On 24 September 2010, everything was set: with an overwhelming majority, the national federation delegates voted for the introduction of the Professional Handball Board at the EHF Congress in Copenhagen.
‘This decision is a step towards more democracy’ lauded the then EHF Vice President Jean Brihault: ‘all parties were part of the decision-making process. The idea of the Professional Handball Board is to preserve the unity and the coherence of European Handball and to serve the interest of the various stakeholders to be involved in the opinion exchange and decision making process in order to optimise the future development of handball in Europe.’
On 24 November 2010, the PHB met for the first time and submitted their first proposal for the future. In February 2011, the next steps of the PHB were taken: foremost, a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ was signed with the European Professional Handball League Association (EHPLA).
At this inaugural meeting of the PHB, the course for the future was set; numerous proposals of the PHB went to the Executive Committee for consideration and were later accepted, for instance, the introduction of additional rest days at the EHF EURO events, the merging of two European Cup competitions, a general insurance for national team players and much more besides.
A version of this article first appeared in the publication 'HeartBeat Handball' released on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the European Handball Federation.