The Beach-Handball in Paris 2024 may have its big chance

Most of the sports that started their Olympic dream in exhibition mode were left alone in that. Others, such as tennis, came back to stay. The reasons why this specialty deserves to have a space similar to that of rugby, in 3x3 and beach volleyball.

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Exhibition sports have been a regular feature of the Olympic program for many decades. In general, those disciplines that have occasionally joined the games have done so with the logical illusion of showing virtues that allow them, sooner rather than later, to join the calendar already with official status.

However, they have seldom succeeded in this regard.

It didn’t happen with the Basque ball competitions, which were played for the first time unofficially in Mexico 1968. Not even with roller hockey, which gave a fantastic final in Barcelona 1992 in which Argentina defeated Spain 7-5.

The case of tennis was different, to which it achieved an informal return in Los Angeles 1984 to automatically guarantee itself the place it never lost again after Seoul 1988.

In reality, this sport had also been in exhibition mode in the Mexican capital. But the big blow came on Korean soil. To secure the formal place, the sporting commitment of several of the circuit’s main young figures was fundamental: the German Steffi Graf (one of the three or four best in history) and the Swedish Stefan Edberg, who only a year later would win the first of his six Grand Slam titles, demonstrated a sufficient level of commitment to win the individual competitions, the only one held in Los Angeles.

Paris 2024 will be no exception and will also have its discipline out of the program. The so-called IHF Beach Handball Showcase will take place between July 27 and 29, at the headquarters of the French Beach Handball Federation in Creteil, a neighborhood in the Parisian suburbs. There will be four teams between women and men, one of which will consist exclusively of local athletes and the other three will be combined composed of figures from 18 different countries.

Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, with the Croatian team at the 2022 World Games. 
IHF credit
Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, with the Croatian team at the 2022 World Games. IHF credit

It is a very different discipline from the traditional game. As in tennis, it is played to the best of 3 sets, the first two of which last 10 minutes and, if equal, are defined as a series of shootouts in which the attacking team uses a goalkeeper and an attacker and the rival only a defender, who is not always the goalkeeper. There are goals that are worth one and others that are worth two, among which the spectacular nature of the so-called fly and 360 stands out.

With a climate similar to that of the beach volleyball party, this specialty has already taken its first exam with a sporting and attendance success at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

There is an extra argument, perhaps subtle, but significant within the inclusive logic that the Olympic world increasingly expresses. In this case, it is not only a question of gender but also of countries that manage to transcend a discipline that, in their original format, are not exactly the most outstanding.

Just a fact: in Buenos Aires, the local teams won gold in women and bronze in men. In traditional handball, Argentina only managed to play one women’s Olympic game and never made it past the first phase of the four consecutive games it played with the knights.

Regardless of a deeper analysis, there is one element that stands out in this case and in a few others: the reduced versions of several sports make it possible to highlight countries that do not have as wide a base of the pyramid as the main powers.

There are three very recent examples. All refer to Tokyo 2020.

Beach volleyball. Norway, which rarely qualifies for world championships and games in the indoor specialty, won the gold medal among men. And Qatar, which has the same logic, kept the bronze one, even though it used two players from nationalized African countries that, by the way, are not flags that usually stand out in indoor volleyball.

Fiji became Olympic champion both in Rio 2016 and in Tokyo 2020.
Fiji became Olympic champion both in Rio 2016 and in Tokyo 2020.

Rugby 7. Fiji, the nation of the great wizards of the specialty, repeated in Japan the title won in Rio. In the game of 15 they achieved a quarter-final in the first edition of the world championships in 1987, a performance that they never managed to repeat.

Basketball 3x3. Even with some isolated meritorious performance and with Kristaps Porzingis as the reference player in his role as center forward or center of the Boston Celtics, Latvia is not a frequent part of the mainstream of the traditional game. However, with a brilliant 4-player squad, he won the gold medal in Japan and the European title two years later. Belgium, with a similar background, achieved a meritorious fourth place.

All of these sports in a reduced version came to Olympism to stay. They involve more teams than the original disciplines, since the small squads occupy fewer beds in the Villa, they are dynamic shows and, from time to time, they allow us to discover how many more countries than we really thought there are talents to stand out.

Beach-handball has absolutely everything not to be just a “Showcase”.

Hopefully the politicians of Olympism will give it the status it deserves.