EHF from 1991 to 2001: A great start for European handball
With the European Handball Federation’s anniversary being celebrated on 20 November 2021, this is the first of a three-part series looking back at three decades of European handball.
These are the years from 1991 to 2001.
17 November 1991 was the birthday of the European Handball Federation, the place of birth was Berlin, Germany - after 30 years of discussions to establish a continental handball federation. Finally, the fall of the Berlin wall and the Iron Curtain, opened the way for the federation’s foundation, which was officially announced at the IHF Congress in 1990 in Madeira, Portugal.
One year later, 29 national handball federations established the European Handball Federation, Staffan Holmqvist from Sweden was elected first EHF President, Hans-Jürgen Hinrichs (GER) became Vice President, Carl Güntzel (SUI) was the first treasurer - and big names such as Claude Rinck (FRA) and future EHF President Tor Lian (NOR) were part of the first EHF Executive Committee.
One of the most important decisions of the first Congress period was to locate the EHF Office in Vienna - finally it was opened close to Hotel Bosei in 1992. Michael Wiederer, who was Secretary General of the Austrian Handball Federation before, became Secretary General of the EHF (until 2016, when he was elected EHF President). Wiederer and his Danish office assistant were the first two employees, the third was Swiss Markus Glaser, who was brought in to implement the system for European Club Competitions such as the EHF Champions League.
With the years going by, the number of staff increased - and in 1998, the EHF moved to their newly built home in Hoffingergasse 18 in Vienna, officially inaugurated with the first “Conference of Presidents”.
Many of today’s EHF administration leaders such as Glaser, Helmut Höritsch, Monika Flixeder, Vesna Lazic and Doru Simion had started their work already by that time.
We play handball
The first official EHF competitions were held in September 1992, only some weeks after the first Ordinary EHF Congress - the premieres of the Men’s and Women’s Youth European Championships in Hungary and Switzerland, the qualifications for those events took place in March 1992 and the first champions were the Norwegian girls and Portuguese boys.
In 1994, the EHF flagship events - the EHF EURO for Men and Women - started in Portugal. The team hotels had not even been built when the EHF delegation arrived at the venues and it required a bit of “freestyling”, but finally 12 men’s teams competed in Porto and Almada from 3 to 12 June - and the first EHF EURO champions were Sweden, who are still record champions of the men’s tournaments with a total of four trophies. The famous “Bengan Boys” (nicknamed after their coach Bengt Johansson) beat Russia in what is still the largest winning margin at a Men’s EHF EURO final - 34:21. Croatia won the bronze.
As it had always been a principle to have equal women’s and men’s competitions, the first Women’s EHF EURO followed in December 1994 in Germany - and Denmark took the first of three trophies, beating the hosts in the final.
While the women’s competition was always held in December, the Men’s EHF EURO moved from May/June to January from the 2000 edition in Croatia, following the famous statement of Secretary General Michael Wiederer: “The perfect time for handball is winter.” At the same time, the number of EHF EURO participants was increased from 12 to 16. And the Youth and Junior European Championship became the first stage for eventual world stars to display their skills and ambitions.
Parallel to the start of the EHF EURO events, the club competitions, previously organised by the IHF, became a core market of the EHF with the start of the 1993/94 season. The first EHF-organised club match was played on 25 August 1993 in Skopje, when the women’s team of Djorce Petrov Skopje beat Lokosport Plovdiv (Bulgaria) 34:17. This team, later-on named Kometal Skopje, became EHF Champions League winners and Skopje is still the only city with Champions League winning clubs in both men’s and women’s competitions.
The Balkan wars caused many organisational problems to Markus Glaser and his staff, but looking upon the development of competitions such as the EHF Champions League, EHF Cup, Cup Winners’ Cup and City Cup, Glaser, Wiederer & Co. paved the way to a professional club system all over the continent. The first EHF Champions League winners were Teka Santander (with Talant Dujshebaev as a player) and Hypo Niederösterreich with Ausra Fridrikas, who won the competition a total of six times, a record high alongside Bojana Popovic.
The original playing system was equal for men and women: 32 national champions played two knock-out rounds, followed by a group phase with eight teams in two groups. The group winners duelled in the final. This system was updated several times in the early years, with many teams and larger group phases, quarter-finals and semi-finals.
In the first decade of EHF, Barcelona was the leading force in men’s handball, winning the Champions League five times in a row from 1996 to 2000, a feat which has never been matched. All men’s winners until 2001 were Spanish clubs. On the women’s side, Hypo were the club to be beaten but the titles were widely spread.
In the 2000/01 season, the City Cup was renamed the Challenge Cup to give clubs from emerging countries the chance to compete on an international stage. And to increase the revenue, the EHF installed central marketing of the EHF Champions League with an external agency.
Handball for all age groups
The first decade of EHF did not only mark high-level competitions, but also many grassroots projects to increase the interest in handball across the continent, such as Mini handball for children, the Masters tournaments for older players of beach handball (first tournament in 1996) as a core part of the business.
Right from the start in 1993, an EHF working group for development was installed, promotional and education material was produced, many balls and equipment were shipped all over Europe. Tailor-made concepts and programmes for developing nations were created, with “bigger” nations giving them a helping hand. Coaches’ and referee course started all over Europe, including the famous young referee project, the EHF joined forces with universities from their early days to have a scientific platform for European handball, and finally at the end of the first decade, in 2001, the EHF Master Coach license was implemented.