Handball: Inside job threatens European reign

Fri Jul 29, 2016 12:24am EDT
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - European nations have long cleaned up at Olympic handball but at the Rio de Janeiro Games, their dominance may be ended by their home-grown players competing for Qatar.

Since the 2012 London Olympics, the oil-rich Gulf nation has assembled a formidable roster of naturalized Europeans who helped sweep the last two men's Asian championships and took a stunning silver at last year's world championship on home soil.

European nations have grumbled that Qatar has become a 'world all-stars' team rather than a true national outfit but the Qataris retort that they are just playing by the rules.

The International Handball Federation allows players to switch allegiance if they have not competed for their home nations for three years and handball-mad Europe offers a wellspring of surplus talent.

A Qatari triumph at Rio could prove controversial, given 24 years and five Olympics have passed since a team outside Europe has won gold in the sport in either the men's or women's events.

Olympic champions France, who became the first men's team to win back-to-back golds at London, defied Qatar in the final at the world championships and will hope to repel them again at Rio in their bid for a hat-trick of titles.

France have not had it all their way since, however, finishing a disappointing fifth at the European championships in January where Germany defeated Spain in the final.

Norway will also aim for a hat-trick of Olympic titles in the women's event to match Denmark's triple from 1996-2004.   Continued...

Players of Qatar's team wave during the award ceremony after second third place of the 24th Men's Handball World Championship in Doha, February 2015.    REUTERS/Mohammed Dabbous