Marriage of beauty and athleticismArticle
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BLOG: Women's handball is not a different game, it is just different style of the game, ehfTV commentator Tom O'Brannagain argues before he makes his trip to Budapest to commentate the Women's EHF FINAL4.

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Marriage of beauty and athleticism

Jane Austen is perhaps one of the most universally recognised names in literature, yet when her books were originally published in the 18th century, the cover read:

“Published by a lady”.

Even then in a male dominated world, regardless of the recognition of superb writing, it was impossible for society to give the woman her due by printing her name.

Have we come very far? Not really!

The nadir was Raymond Moore’s comments on women tennis players:

“If I was a lady player I’d go right down on my knees and thank god that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport”

He neglected to mention that it was in fact mothers who had carried the two boys for at least the first 9 months of their lives.

Is this what we have been reduced to in our world?

Perhaps Honore de Balzac was correct when he said

“Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact”

From the time of Austen and previously, women have been struggling to gain equality and recognition for what they have achieved.

Names like Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, Marie Curie, and Cleopatra are all names to conjure with and that is only scratching the surface. Even the L.B.D. (little black dress) that we all adore so much came from the genius of Coco Chanel.

The suffrage movement that fought so hard to get women recognised might as well not have bothered when you read the above stories. The glass ceiling that exists in the business world exists in sport just as much.

I’m as much to blame as the next guy. Throughout the year I am so engrossed with men’s handball that I give the female side a cursory glance. It is only when I sit down to prepare for the Women’s EHF FINAL4 that I really sit up and take notice.

And why should it only occur then? Why do we accept that maybe there could be some truth in comments about men’s and women’s sport. You try telling the crowds of spectators that go to games across Hungary, Scandinavia, Romania and the Balkans that women’s handball doesn’t deserve its place at the high table.

As a friend said to me, I prefer women’s tennis, because there is a subtlety to it. He was right and the same could be said for women’s handball.

There is a subtlety to it. It’s not all about speed and strength. It has a feminine grace too, that adds to the beauty of the game.

Not a different game, just a different style

I heard the old comment; “Same rules different game” again this season. It’s not a different game; it’s a different style of game. In some ways it is a better game, because it is not all about pace and power. It is a more artistic version of the game and the greatest compliment I can pay all the teams playing in this FINAL4 is that the level has gone up even more since last year, without losing the emotional soul that is women’s handball.

They have married beauty and athleticism and made handball sexy.

There is a sense that because women get pregnant and miss huge tracts of the season and change their names because they get married that somehow they shouldn’t be taken as seriously, but I say, do they not bleed, do they not bruise, do they not injure themselves for the cause of their clubs and fans.

If you needed a better example, look at the story of Stange and Frafjord at Larvik and how one woman gave a percentage of her wages to her friend so that she could play with her on the team. That is team play. That is a story that would bring a tear to your eye and drag you kicking and screaming into the realm of women’s handball.

I don’t want to make it sound like everything in the garden is rosy. There are far more technical fouls, easy goals missed and glaring opportunities passed up, but in some ways this adds to a sense of excitement. A feeling that nothing is assured, nothing is certain in the game.

They are the modern day suffragettes, fighting for equality in a man’s sporting world. But perhaps Djokovic was correct when he referred to Raymond Moore’s comment by saying: “It’s up to women to fight for what they think they are worth”.

Only by increasing their level, pushing the boundaries and finding their “point of difference” and exploiting that, can women’s handball truly find the parity it seeks. Then and only then will the naysayers accept that this is a quality product.

The female handball players of Buducnost, Györ, Vardar and Bucharest are edging towards that and Budapest will be a fitting climax to what has been an incredible season.

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator