Despite the sport's low profile, Germany is celebrating being crowned European Handball Champion. The win may help boost support for the team in the run up to the Olympic Games this summer.
The German national squad beat Solvenia on Sunday.
Many sports fans around the world probably didn't know that a major European handball tournament wrapped up this weekend. But that makes the victory no less sweet for the German national team, which lifted its first European Championship trophy on Sunday after defeating the host nation Slovenia 30:25, in the final in Ljubljana.
But with the majority of Europe and Asia concerned with the weekend’s soccer results in the continent’s top leagues and most of North America absorbed in the Super Bowl, it was a victory lost in a whirlwind of more popular spectator sports. Only in Germany did the local press savor the highest profile handball success in the men’s game since East Germany claimed Olympic gold in 1980.
German national handball coach, Heiner Brand, left, and the assistant coach Frank Löhr.
Although the sport remains a third-tier affair even here, winning the championship could eliminate some of the indifference. The success of the German team, under the tutelage of coach Heiner Brand (pictured celebrating with assitant coach Frank Löhr), may very well lead to an explosion in interest if Germany transfers its scintillating on-court form to the Olympic Games in Athens this summer.
The road to Athens
In fact, the German effort has already been endorsed by leading figures which is a sure sign that a campaign to get behind the team for Athens is underway.
“This was a great team achievement. Congratulations to Heiner Brand and his team. It's an excellent prelude for Germany in the Olympic year 2004,” German Minister of the Interior Otto Schily said in a statement.
Stefan Kretzschmar with his daughter and the Champions League trophy.
The European Championship victory should also help bring more sponsors to the sport. German handball already has a national superstar -- Stefan Kretzschmar -- who missed out on the latest tournament due to injury.
With his tattooed and pierced rockstar persona, the television companies and spectators alike should flock to the possibility of Olympic success. If the team continues to play well and Kretzschmar returns to fighting form, the sport itself could receive a media boost akin to that of the country’s basketball team on the back of German NBA star Dirk Nowitski.
The raising of profile for the sport would undoubtedly open up the world of German handball to a much wider audience. But the sport itself here may be small compared to soccer or basketball, but Germany boasts professional leagues for both men and women, with 18 teams 14 teams respectively.