Throughout Europe and indeed the world, the sport of handball can be, and is, an influential voice in shaping sport, community and health policy at a Governmental level.
Last month the EHA Men’s Cup was presented to victors Salford HC by Clive Efford MP, the Shadow Minister of Sport, who attended the event in his role as Parliamentary Fellow for the EHA.
This growing sign of the recognition that handball is playing politically within Great Britain and England in particular was further reinforced recently when the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of England Handball, David Meli was invited to give evidence to the Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy Inquiry on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy at the Houses of Westminster last month.
David, alongside Robert Sullivan (Head of Corporate Affairs, Football Association), James Munro (Communications Director, Lawn Tennis Association) and Richard Caborn (Chairman, Amateur Boxing Association of England) gave their thoughts on legacy in front of Lord Harris of Haringey, Lord Addington, Earl of Arran, Lord Bates, Lord Best, Baroness Billingham, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Baroness King of Bow, Lord Moynihan, Lord Stoneham of Droxford, Lord Wigley and the public.
David was asked a series of questions, of which his replies follow. To access a video of his answers and a full transcript of the whole session then please visit these following links.
Please note that David’s answers and the transcript online are in the ‘unrevised’ format which Parliament uses when transcribing sessions.
To view the ‘Unrevised transcript of evidence’ please visit this link:
To view the session on Parliament TV, please visit this link:
England Handball CEO David Meli, answers questions at the Houses of Parliament:
Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy: How did the four weeks of Olympic and Paralympic Games last year affect your sport and did the Games alter public perceptions or affect levels of public interest in your sport? I think you have a story to tell.
David Meli: For handball, unlike some of my bigger counterparts alongside me, it was probably the first time many people in this country saw handball at an elite level.
It is the second biggest team sport in Europe, a huge spectator and participation sport, but probably under the radar in Britain. We certainly saw the impact of the Games, in the lead-up to it, during and after, simply from people seeing it for the first time and then wanting to know how they get involved. That is probably our biggest challenge.
We need the biggest indoor court of any indoor court sport, so consequently facilities are at a premium, but certainly in terms of schools, there has been a huge, huge increase, and it is a real participation buzz for us at that age; we are really going to see the growth through primary and secondary schools.
That was people coming out of the Copper Box on the day of games and phoning us saying,
“How do I get involved?” It was a real plus point.
Certainly it has raised the level of profile and interest, and it is up to us now to try to capture that in the best possible way. It will probably not be at elite, seven-on-seven handball, certainly at adult level. It will be in schools, primary and secondary schools—a new generation. So in terms of participation legacy, I would like to stick our hands up and say we are probably one of the biggest beneficiaries of it.
Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy: Are you receiving public financial support to enable you to capitalise on that increased public interest?
David Meli: The funding story for handball is a tale of two. At participation level from Sport England, we had a good increase in our four-year funding for this whole Sport Plan award, but at the British level, at that elite level, they lost all of the funding, so in terms of legacy at an elite level from the Olympics there is none.
It is disappointing and a challenge for us now to have to say to young people coming into the sport, “At this moment in time there is no outlet at a senior level apart from what people can fund themselves.”
When you see players travelling to Italy, having to pay £140 for a flight, and then it goes up by £90 and that scuppers them going, that is a disappointment, but it is one that we will look for ways to solve.
Certainly from an England Handball perspective we cannot complain about the increase in funding that we received from Sport England, and it will all go into developing participation.
Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy: I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about the legacy planning you had in your individual sports before the Olympics, and then how your expectations and aspirations changed between 2005 and 2012?
David Meli: As a small governing body with very limited resources, we have to work with partners, and therefore it is about understanding what their needs are, as well as perhaps what we want to do.
Often it is not a discussion about the sport; it is a discussion about other agendas that sport may be able to provide a benefit to, whether that is social inclusion, obesity, health or whatever else.
Those are perhaps the discussions we need to get involved with. If I go back to the question about what our planning was, the best analogy is that it is a bit like waiting for the birth of a first child. You know what is potentially coming, but no-one really knows what is going to happen until it actually arrives.
We did quite a bit of planning in the lead-up to it, working with partners on how we would cope with the interest and what the increase in interest might be. We did not know. A lot of it was about being very targeted in where we would allocate our resources, and not being too brash in terms of trying to spread it too far and wide and then really only scratching the surface. We were very clear whom we could work with, where we could work and how we could work, and now it is about growing a workforce to deliver on our behalf. We cannot do it all on our own.
In terms of comments around who is best placed to do that, we can do some of it, but we need to work with others to help us to do that. Our planning and our focus was about who those partners could be, so certainly we focussed our efforts and energies in the lead-up to, and during, the Olympics on education, local authorities and facility providers. From that, we take the interest and go back to those same people and say, “Right, how do we capitalise on that?”
I think it is about creating an offer. Ours has been about creating a very simple offer that other people can buy into, and therefore becoming our advocates and our leaders on our behalf, not doing it all on our own and recognising that we cannot. Why should we try? We are better off working with those people already in situ who can do it for us than we are trying to deal with all the interest ourselves.
Committee on Olympic and Paralympic Legacy: What were the limiting factors in your sports facilities to stimulate or respond to increased demand inspired by the Games? What were the physical factors, coaches, administrators or other forms of resource—like people who actually know about their sport?
David Meli: I will start, because it is a mixture of all of the above, as far as handball is concerned.
Certainly in terms of facilities, they will not spring up overnight, so one of the key things we have to do is take recognition of the need to adapt our sport. You do not have to play it in its full format, which is why it is great for kids to be able to do it in a school hall, whether it is the size of one badminton court of bigger.
Certainly if we are to grow the full-size version of the game, facilities are a limiting factor, but it is not something that we as a governing body can directly do something about. Coaches, yes: we need more people to deliver our sport.
Training up a qualified workforce is central to our plans and strategy to develop the sport, because we are not going to get people playing if there is nobody there to lead it. Our aim is to get a good-quality, qualified workforce out in the field.
Funding? Yes, we would all like more money, but we have to be realistic about the funding that is there. It may not always be directed to sport.
I come back to the point I made earlier: a lot of governing bodies could benefit from going to partners and saying, “What are your key issues? What points are you trying to address? What is your agenda at a local level?” Actually the answer might be handball, boxing, tennis, football, but the starting point may not be the sport, and that is where I think some of the discussions will open doors into other areas of funding.