EHF from 2001 to 2011: Ground-breaking developments and a new president
With the European Handball Federation’s anniversary being celebrated on 20 November 2021, this is the second of a three-part series looking back at three decades of European handball.
These are the years from 2001 to 2011
Founded in 1991, the European Handball Federation went into its second decade with 46 member federations.
The biggest change in the EHF occurred 13 years after its foundation. Having served the maximum of three terms as president, Staffan Holmqvist became Honorary President of the EHF and a fellow Scandinavian, Tor Lian of Norway, was elected as his successor at the 7th Ordinary Congress in Nicosia in 2004. Karl Güntzel, one of EHF’s founders and the first treasurer, was awarded Honorary Member of the EHF.
Lian’s biggest challenge in his first term as president was to keep European handball under one umbrella as European top clubs had created their own organisation: the Group Club Handball, currently known as the Forum Club Handball.
Lian, Vice-President Jean Brihault and Secretary General Michael Wiederer paved the way for a newly established cooperation, which managed to maintain all major handball competitions under the roof of the EHF. Later, the European top clubs became part of the Professional Handball Board, and they are meanwhile represented in the EHF Executive Committee.
A whole new structure of integration was presented at the ground-breaking 2008 Extraordinary Congress in Lillehammer, on the fringes of the EHF EURO 2008 in Norway. “The very large support of the European federations is a clear sign to preserve the unity of European handball,” EHF President Tor Lian praised the decision.
The EHF Congress in Copenhagen in 2010 finally voted in favour of the new structures, including the new Professional Handball Board – first for the men’s competitions, later also for the women’s competitions. The EHF Congress also decided to improve the situation of beach handball by installing a dedicated Beach Handball Commission.
In 2005, the EHF decided to market their club competitions in-house through the newly founded EHF Marketing GmbH. While Infront was, and still is, the agency for all TV and marketing rights concerning the EHF EURO events, the marketing arm of the EHF first became responsible for the TV and marketing of the men’s and women’s editions of the EHF Champions League, and later also for the final tournaments of the second-tier competition, the EHF Cup. Of course, EHF Marketing GmbH was also the driving force behind the implementation of the EHF FINAL4 events, for the men in Cologne since 2010 and for the women in Budapest since 2014.
Changes were also occurring on court. The Swedish series of success at Men’s EHF EURO events came to a halt in 2002 with their fourth trophy, while the Norwegian women just started their incredible series of winning five European championships in a row between 2002 and 2010. The Men’s EHF EURO 2002 in Sweden was the first one with a cumulative TV audience of more than 500 million, and with more than 276,000 spectators in the arenas.
The figures continued to rise: The Men’s EHF EURO 2010 was watched by more than one billion TV viewers cumulatively, while 10 million users followed the event on the dedicated ehf-euro.com website. Nearly 1,400 media professionals were accredited for the event in Austria. France won their first two EHF EURO trophies in 2006 and 2010 (before winning a third in 2014). And Denmark became the first nation holding both the men’s and the women’s EHF EURO titles, with Ulrik Wilbek the first and, so far, the only coach to win the golden plate with both genders. The year 2004 also marked the first time that one nation – Russia – won gold in both the men’s and women’s competition of the Beach Handball EURO.
One of the saddest days in the history of the EHF was marked by the sudden death of Siân Rowland, EHF’s head of media and communication for more than nine years, on 19 December 2008, who passed away aged 33 just after Women’s EHF EURO 2008.
A main highlight this decade was the instalment of the new format for the conclusion of the EHF Champions League season: the EHF FINAL4, an invention from Spain, professionalised in Germany and brought to perfection by the EHF with the start in Cologne in 2010. The EHF FINAL4 became a lighthouse event of European indoor sports and paved the way for more four-team final tournaments in the future.
The first VELUX EHF FINAL4 winners were THW Kiel. And right from that very first season, no winner of the trophy ever managed to successfully defend their title the following year. Many times, the defending champions didn’t even qualify for Cologne again, underlining the depth of European top club handball.
In 2002, for the first time a non-Spanish club had won the EHF Champions League when SC Magdeburg from Germany lifted the trophy. Montpellier (France) and Celje (Slovenia) followed, before four of the next five trophies went to Spain again. In 2007, Soviet-born Spaniard Andrej Xepkin made history when he became the first man to win the EHF Champions League seven times; he won it six times with Barcelona and once with Kiel.
The dominance of Hypo Niederösterreich in the Women’s EHF Champions League ended, as the next winners all came from Denmark (Slagelse and Viborg, each three times), before the second decade of the EHF ended with another Scandinavian winner: Larvik from Norway. It was the decade of two all-time greats, who are still holding the record of six titles each: Ausra Fridrikas and Bojana Popovic.
Both the men’s and women’s editions of the EHF Champions League changed their playing system several times: The group phase was enlarged and Last 16, quarter- and semi-finals were implemented to increase the thrill and excitement of the competitions.
In the Men’s EHF Cup, and later also in the Cup Winners’ Cup, the dominance of German clubs started, while the women’s competitions got winners from various countries. Austrian player Viktor Szilagyi, who is sports director at THW Kiel nowadays, won all three European club competitions with different clubs: EHF Champions League with THW Kiel, EHF Cup with VfL Gummersbach, and Cup Winners’ Cup with SG Flensburg-Handewitt.
In terms of development, the ebt Beach Handball Tour threw off all over Europe in 2001. Also, the RINCK Convention as mutual recognition of coaches’ licenses came to live and was underlined by the new EHF Masters Coach certificates in 2001. One year later, ‘Handball at School’ started in Greece but soon became a major project launched all over Europe. Thanks to the SMART programme and Foster Project, as bigger handball countries supported smaller ones, the sports became popular in more and more countries. In the decade, wheelchair handball was introduced in 2006.
The decade was concluded in style with a celebration of EHF’s 20th anniversary in the Pyramide event location in Vienna, with ‘Heartbeat Handball’ as the theme. Many stars and officials who had left their mark on the game, both on and off the court, attended the event, including 500 guests of honour. Additionally, the 10th Conference of Presidents and the 6th Conference for Secretaries General were held, as well as the 1st EHF Scientific Congress and several workshops to help shape the future of handball.