By David Gold

British HandballDecember 5 - Paul Goodwin, the chief executive of British Handball, has spoken to insidethegames about the organisation's plans beyond London 2012, which he hopes will culminate in either the men's and women's team qualifying for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

With the London Olympics less than a year away now, handball is one of the sports in which Britain is not expected for a medal, meaning that it will face a fight for the limelight in the Olympic Park next summer.

That was underlined last month as a valiant display was not enough to prevent Britain's women finishing sixth in the Olympic Games handball test event with a 22-17 defeat to Slovakia.

Both the men's and women's teams will be competing at the Games next year, and despite their outsider status, they have both been making progress.

The men picked up the first competitive win in their history in 2010 against Bulgaria, whilst the women lost by just eight points to world champions Russia last month.

Britain v_Russia_womens_handball
Goodwin, who has been involved with British Handball for 17 years, believes it has made significant progress in that time, though he knows there is a long way to go still.

One of the main challenges he identifies is in gaining more media coverage for a sport which is more popular on the continent than the British isles.

"I would say we have had as a minority sport our fair share of media coverage but our issue is consistency," he said.

"We have had a lot of stories from the time our funding was cut and generally about funding and whether we can make a successful team for 2012."

The British Handball chief executive believes that the most important part of that challenge is getting people to watch a game of handball for the first time.

He insists that people who come to watch the sport for the first time find it exciting, and that this is part of their big challenge as handball looks "to move from the middle of the sports pages."

Though he knows this is a big ask, there is plenty of potential there, insists Goodwin, who believes that having a really strong club team is necessary to generate interest.

"People [don't] come and see handball – that's why it hasn't had exposure," he says.

"All sports will be exciting but I think that it is easy to understand.

"We need to get the interest of our future audience and not necessarily people in my age group – how do we get the sport to those younger people?

"When my kids grow up they support a football club buy the shirt, how do we get kids to do that for handball?

"There are many tens of thousands of children up and down the country involved in handball.

"But you can't create a sport from top to bottom in five or six years.

"There is a lot of focus on the top – but we need something in the middle ground to be sustainable.

"I don't think it is about national teams - I think it is about having a strong club team.

"We have 50 or 60 clubs across the country but they are not at a high level in Europe and that is where I think we have to create one or two really strong clubs to really bridge that gap.

"My passion for the future is to create a super club maybe in London that competes in Europe and then people will start supporting them."

Currently one of the most successful handball teams, London GD, rely predominantly on foreign players, with just one of their squad from the UK.

Their recent progress past the first round of a European competition was a major step forward in the right direction for club handball in Britain, but for Goodwin, the key is to get schools to encourage youngsters to play handball, and for them to then have structures in place to take the game up more seriously and compete at national level.

That is where the idea of the super club comes in, which youngsters who enjoy the game can aspire to become a part of.

This is a key part of the four year plan for British handball following next summer's Olympic Games, and Goodwin explains that the ultimate goal is to get one of the teams to Rio de Janeiro.

"The signs are all good," Goodwin argues, pointing to the narrow loss to Russia recently as evidence of the progress being made.

Handball Arena_during_test_event
Though London 2012 is on the horizon, with the test event a visible reminder of that, Goodwin's eye is very much on the long term.

The target for the teams next summer are to win two group games and qualify for the quarter finals, but Goodwin is very much focused on promoting handball in schools and beyond as much as funding will allow him to.

"If we built the sport in a short space of time I think it would be boom and bust – let's not try and do everything at once, let's be satisfied with today and then take up the next four year plan.

"We just need the support of the funding body to let us do that.

"I think there is real scope for private sport coaching companies not to substitute for schools but to support them with handball."

Comparisons are also drawn with other sports, and Goodwin explains that not only could it help schools teach basic sporting skills, but that key figures in the world of sport were using things gleaned from watching handball.

"Clive Woodward came and said why do they do that, why do they do this?

"He said he'd take a lot of this back to rugby – it wasn't the other way around as I expected.

"It's quite like chess with a ball – where are my opponents going to go where are my pieces?

"And when you are defending you are always ready to go on the attack, so you have to not make the first move."

For all the planning and ambition, the end goal comes down to 2016, and whether a British handball squad can make it to Brazil.

"The challenge we've got in the next four years (post 2012) is that we have to qualify through Europe to get to Rio.

"So we've got to do really well in Europe from now on to get a place in the next Olympic Games.

"That will be our aspiration, we'll have to say to our funding partners that we are looking to get at least one of the teams to Rio in 2016.

"It will be difficult," he concludes, and it is certainly a daunting task which lies ahead for a nation well outside the European elite, but by no means is it impossible.

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

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