Forum Club Handball: A voice for Europe's top clubs

Looking at the structures of today’s European Handball Federation, it is clear to see that the representation of key stakeholders is an important principle for the federation, with players', leagues' and clubs' organisations playing an important part in the business of the Professional Handball Board for example.

The origins of this development lie in the foundation of Group Club Handball in 2006, or as it has be known since 2011, Forum Club Handball.

The creation of the body was the club's reaction to three major changes: the creation of EHF Marketing GmbH, modifications to the EHF EURO qualification system and the new system of Olympic qualification.

Open dialogue with EHF

“Though all those decisions were reasonable by the EHF and IHF, the impact on the clubs was tremendous. This is why the idea arose to implement a structure such as the G14 in European football to defend the rights of the clubs,” said the organisation's current president Xavier O’Callaghan, who is himself a former FC Barcelona player, five-times Champions League winner, and now manager of FC Barcelona.

The German, Gerd Butzeck, became the managing director of Group Club Handball - and the founders had to take first decisions, which clubs to be included in the new organisation.

At the founding meeting in Düsseldorf, the clubs from Kiel, Magdeburg, Lemgo, Flensburg (all Germany), Leon, Portland San Antonio, Ciudad Real, Barcelona (all Spain), Celje (Slovenia),  Montpellier (France),  Chekhov (Russia), Kolding (Denmark), Veszprem (Hungary) and Zagreb (Croatia) became the founding members.

Additionally it was decided that every club that qualifies for the semi-finals of the EHF Champions League or the EHF Cup , would be added as a member - thus Kielce, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, Valladolid, Hamburg and Schaffhausen also arrived under the FCH umbrella.

The Spaniard Joan Marin (Ciudad Real) was elected as the first FCH President, Uwe Schwenker (Kiel) and Tomas Jerzic (Celje) were part of the Executive Board.

“We started from scratch,” O’Callaghan said “Our main goal was to have influence on decisions such as the international calendar, compensation and insurance matters as well representation in the EHF and IHF structures.

“From the very beginning, the EHF, and especially Michael Wiederer, were open for a constructive dialogue,” says the Barcelona manager.

First successes and expansion

At the beginning only 20 European top clubs were represented by Group Club Handball, and with a new name in 2011 came an expansion of the organisation, the new 'Forum Club Handball' accepting all national champions of EHF federations as well as clubs from the top 24 Champions League clubs. the best 16 EHF Cup teams and the best eight Challenge Cup teams.

After the start in 2006, the founders did not have to wait that long for success: In 2008, two new boards were implemented by the EHF, one being part of the EHF structure, one for the EHF Marketing and a GCH representative was automatically part of the EHF Competition Commission. In the same year, EHF installed a fund to compensate costs for players injured during EURO events.

The first Memorandum of Understanding was signed by EHF and GCH in 2010 on the fringes of the VELUX EHF FINAL4. And with this, the EHF had acknowledged the club organisation as part of its structure.

One representative of the club organisation became part of the newly founded Professional Handball Board and the EHF Executive - GCH president Joan Marin. From 2010 on, EHF paid compensation fees for EURO events and for injured players - later the IHF also followed that example.

Currently O’Callaghan, Bertusz Serwas (Kielce) and Dierk Schmäschke (Flensburg) head up the activities of Forum Club Handball.

“A good and well-functioning cooperation has been developed with the EHF in the meantime, we have certainly reached our goal of representing clubs in all structures, as today members of the Forum Club Handball are part of several EHF bodies,” O’Callaghan underlines, adding: “A lot of tasks still lie ahead, but we are optimistic that the voice of clubs now is heard in the European handball family.”

The Women's Forum Club Handball was also founded in 2014. The organisation is structured similarly to the men’s organisation, which is not a surprise, given that they share a managing director. The current president is the Hungarian Zsolt-Akos Jeney, assisted by his vice presidents, Kay-Sven Hähner (Germany) and Gordana Naceva (FYR Macedonia).

Common goals though to 2022

In 2016, the EHF announced that its Memorandum of Understanding with Forum Club Handball would be extended once it expires in 2018.

The next period of the agreement will see the two bodies continue to work on the positive aspects of their cooperation, which has included the successful introduction of the new playing system in the VELUX EHF Champions League and the development of the education programme for club managers.

Speaking at the time, EHF President, Jean Brihault, said: “As the representative of Europe’s leading men’s handball clubs, Forum Club Handball has become a key stakeholder for the EHF. Based on our examination of our work to date, both we and the FCH are more than happy to continue to work together to further develop the product that is top-class men’s handball.”

Looking forward, a new aspect of the agreement going forward will be the further development of top referees to ensure that the performance of Europe’s leading referees remains at the same level as that of the sport’s elite players.

A focus will be on the continued education of top referees as well as the use of technology. This includes the goal-line system used for several years at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and Men’s EHF Cup Finals as well as instant replay technology, implemented in Cologne for the first time in 2016.

Cover photo: On 6 November 2016, the Forum Club Handball celebrated its 10th anniversary, together with invited guests from the EHF and EHF Marketing on the island of Mallorca, Spain.

about me
Björn Pazen is a freelance journalist, writing here in an official capacity for the EHF. Since 2006, he has been reporting on an international level, covering all major European and World Championships as well as the Olympic Games and the finals of Champions League and EHF Cup competitions. In addition to his regular work across the EHF websites, he has also worked for the IHF, Olympic News Service and the SEHA League, and writes for numerous handball publications as well as the Germany Handball Federation (DHB).