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A hand in politics
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 12 - 11 - 2014

Earlier this week, the International Handball Federation (IHF) announced on its website that the Bahrain Handball Association had informed the IHF that Bahrain had withdrawn from the upcoming men's handball World Championship in Qatar from 15 January to 1 February 2015.
Two days later, reports said the United Arab Emirates had also announced its withdrawal from the bi-annual event. If the UAE withdrawal is confirmed by the IHF, then it will join Bahrain on the agenda of the IHF council's next meeting and both countries will have to wait for a decision.
The IHF confirmed that the issue will be dealt with by the Council of the International Handball Federation in its next meeting scheduled for 21 November 2014, “when a corresponding decision regarding this matter will be announced”, the statement said.
The council panel is chaired by IHF president Hassan Mustafa of Egypt.
The IHF gave no reason for Bahrain's decision. Bahrain qualified for the championships nine months ago. But it pulled out amid tense political relations between the Gulf neighbours.
Bahrain and Qatar have had rocky diplomatic relations this year. In March, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from Doha to protest apparent Qatari support for Islamist groups across the region.
The news of the withdrawal fired up the Egyptian social media and sports talk shows as well as divided Egyptians into two. While some urged the Egyptian Handball Federation (EHF) to follow suit and withdraw from the World Championship, others were against.
Those in favour of a withdrawal believe that the Gulf countries withdrew for the sake of Egypt – which is battling a low-level insurgency of jihadists and other Islamist militants -- and therefore Egyptians should return the favour. “Egypt should pull out and yes, sports and politics should mix,” said former Ahli club footballer Zakaria Nassef, now a sports TV show host. Nassef was referring to those against a pullout under the slogan ‘Sports and Politics Don't Mix'.
The Egyptian Handball Federation executive director Ihab Al-Azzab told Al-Ahram Weekly that the decision will not come from the federation but the government. “It's not us who decide. This is a political decision which has to come from the government or the presidency.”
President of the EHF Khaled Hammouda confirmed the fact that the decision is not in their hands and must come from above. “If the government takes such a decision, then we can do nothing,” he said, adding that the federation is maintaining its preparations to take part in the championship.
Obviously, the EHF is against the idea of withdrawing from the World Championship. According to the EHF president, the federation and the handball team need to participate for two reasons: to return back to the glory days of handball and to avoid the consequences of a withdrawal.
“We can't afford the consequences of such a decision,” says Hammouda. “Withdrawing at this time in particular means severe sanctions and penalties from the IHF. First, we will be deprived from taking part in any international and world championships for at least two years, including of course the Olympic Games in 2016.
“This goes for all IHF championships – men and juniors in addition to continental events and qualifications for the Olympic Games. We have been rebuilding the team for the past four years which has seen instability in Egyptian sports in general, not only handball. During that period North African teams like Tunisia and Algeria passed Egypt and we are now lagging behind. We have been working hard to regain our dominance as before on the continent.
“It's not only the teams but also the referees who are now returning to form, to officiate in the various world championships.
“Withdrawing also means that the Olympic Games qualifying tournament will be moved from Cairo, an event which we have fought with other competing countries to win the votes to host here.
“To sum up, I can say that if Egypt withdraws and we are sanctioned by the IHF, Egyptian handball will deteriorate or go 10 years back and all what we have been doing in the past years will be dashed. Still, if the decision would be that of the government then we can't argue,” Hammouda told the Weekly.
The withdrawal of both Bahrain and Qatar comes after the Qatar 2015 Men's World Championship match schedule was announced. With 17 match days and 88 matches the World Championship will be played from 15 January to 1 February 2015 in three competition halls in one city, Doha.
According to the preliminary round draw, Bahrain was placed in Group D, while the UAE joined Egypt in Group C.
Altogether 24 teams will battle it out for the most prestigious title of the sport. They are divided into four groups of six teams each.
Group A includes Spain, Slovenia, Qatar, Belarus, Brazil and Chile while Group B sees Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Austria, Tunisia and Iran.
France, Sweden, Algeria, the Czech Republic, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates comprise Group C while Denmark, Poland, Russia, Argentina, Bahrain and Germany are all settled in Group D.
All matches will be played in the three newly built arenas: Lusail Multipurpose Hall (LMH), Qatar Handball Association Complex (QHC) and Al Sadd Multipurpose Hall (SMH).

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