Like it or not, Football still is the undisputed No. 1 sport in Germany. But the race for No. 2 is not so easy to decide. One of the strongest contenders is arguably Handball. Germany’s Bundesliga (HBL) has been regarded as the world’s strongest league for many years, with German clubs like THW Kiel or SG Flensburg-Handewitt winning the Champions League a record 19 times. Lately, the national team has had its own remarkable triumphs, winning the world title on home soil in 2007, in an overall memorable tournament. Not to forget the recent successes of the ‘Bad Boys’, consisting primarily of young players.
Public interest in Handball is a bit ambiguous around here. First, there are strong local fanbases, though interestingly in most cases in comparably small cities and certain regions where a majority of Bundesliga-Clubs are located. Media coverage and, connected with that, a broader public interest are on the other hand visibly dependent on current successes, mainly by the national team. After the glorious World Championship in 2007 many people thought that the sport would now experience a major boom. Well, it didn’t. On the contrary, coverage on German TV was cut short again in the following years, until the ‘Bad Boys’ emerged, unexpectedly winning the European Championship in 2016.
And suddenly it was a problem that belN Sports from Qatar held the TV rights and that ‘those greedy Qataris’ wanted the ‘poor German broadcasters’ to pay more than they could (=wanted to) afford. Indeed it was a disaster that the recent World Championships weren’t shown on German TV at all, and indeed belN’s demands were in part outrageous. The only problem is, for many years nobody really cared about this issue. The same German TV stations who are now crying foul were in total disregard for the sport of Handball and didn’t even try to get TV rights for the previous tournaments. And all of this only refers to Men’s Handball of course. The Women’s Handball league and national team are virtually non-existant for German media.
But enough complaining, let’s turn to one of the more enjoyable features of this sport: watching it.
March 18th was marketed as ‘Day of Handball’, some sort of ‘Super Saturday’, with both national teams playing in Hamburg’s Barclaycard Arena. So, for me it was an obvious choice to watch some Handball that weekend. But since there are more important factors than the level of play when choosing how, where and with whom to spend your free time, I went to a Landesliga (6th division) match in Telgte with a very dear friend. Turnverein Friesen Telgte vs Sportclub Münster 08, a match-up that could hardly sound any more German, and some sort of a local derby, not only because Telgte is only a few kilometers outside of Münster, but also because many of Telgte’s players actually live in Münster.
After a few minutes of back-to-back scores, it became clear quite early in the game that Münster would have a tough stance against phyically dominant Friesen, even though several of Telgte’s players, were hampered by injuries. A relatively weak phase halfway through the first half was effectively ended by Telgte’s coach taking a time-out at exactly the right moment, followed by seven unanswered goals.
At halftime Telgte lead comfortably by five goals, causing some discussions in the stands on how on earth they could have managed to merely draw the last encounter between the two sides, a few months ago. The second half held a possible answer for that, with Telgte significantly reducing both speed and effort in their gameplay and almost allowing Münster to catch up. But this time they had their senses together and so the high-scoring game ended with a well deserved 36:32 victory for the home team.
For Telgte finally another win after two losses and a draw in the last league matches. And for me just another example that you don’t need to look for world class athletes, top level events and internationally renowned arenas to spend some wonderful time watching decent and exciting sport, practised by people who simply love what they are doing. And when if not now, amidst all those Doping allegations, TV rights disputes, corruption investigations, etc., could be a better time for sports enthusiasts everywhere to start at the basis again?