Updated: Aug 12
Following a month of determined silence, last week the International Handball Federation (IHF) responded to the equitysport #WeStandWithLama campaign.
In July, we wrote to the IHF to express our serious concerns about the governance of handball in Egypt, an International Handball Federation (IHF) member and hosts of the World Handball Championships in 2021.
In our letter, we brought attention to the ongoing campaign by female handball players to establish a womens national team in Egypt. A campaign that has been rejected out-of-hand by the Egyptian Handball Federation; a decision that jeopardises the commitments of the EHF and the IHF to equality, and non-discrimination.
We made two specific requests in that letter.
The first, we urged the International Handball Federation to immediately disclose how they are engaging with the Egyptian Handball Federation (EHF) on this matter.
The response from the IHF was:
"The IHF do not tolerate discrimination of any kind and we have contacted the Egyptian Handball Federation (EHF) to clarify the situation.
The EHF have informed us that they have two women’s national teams in the younger-age categories (junior and youth). However, regarding a senior national team, according to the EHF, the female players in Egypt are amateur and not professional players. This is also the reason why the clubs refuse to sign contracts with them."
This explanation fails to address multiple reports in the international media from current players and a member of the Egyptian Handball Federation (EHF) board who have quoted the President of the EHF: Hisham Nasr as having suggested that the real reason there is no senior women’s team is that:
“The girls are not ready, the girls get married, the girls get fat.”
— Mona Amin (EHF Board Member) told BBC Sport Africa
We urge the International Handball Federation to immediately start an investigation into the discriminatory remarks made by the President of the Egyptian Handball Federation. We also request that they clarify how these alleged remarks are consistent with the rationale the EHF has provided the IHF.
The IHF also made the following comment in their letter to equitysport:
“Please be informed that we cannot force a National Federation to form a national team, we can just support them in getting there.
The EHF have now again two competitive women’s younger-age category national teams after they have been absent from competitions for a long time, which shows that the EHF are not opposed to women playing handball – on the contrary, women’s handball is on the way up in the country – but that the main issue is to keep those players involved in the sport at a level that is good enough for a national team. That’s the challenge the EHF is facing right now and they assured us that a national team will be created once a good basis is found.”
Aside from the apparent abdication of responsibility and failure of leadership from the IHF articulated in the first sentence; the cohort of athletes calling for the establishment of a national women’s team in Egypt are those who have represented Egypt at various age-groups they are citing. They have won bronze at the Mediterranean U18 Championship in Tunisia, gold at the African Championship and placed ninth at the World Championships.
Farah Elshazly was named the best goalkeeper of the group stage at the Women’s Youth (U18) World Championship in Poland. Two Egyptians, Marwa Eid Abdelmalek and Rehab Gomaa, play professionally abroad and are excelling at their respective French clubs.
The basis for the establishment of a national womens team in Egypt is clear to see for everyone but the EHF.
We ask both the EHF and the IHF, what more can these players do to prove their worth to the sport, especially as they now have no platform from which to do so?
The second request we made in our initial letter was for the immediate disclosure of how the EHF was deemed to be in compliance with Article 4 of the IHF Statute on discrimination when it was awarded the IHF flagship event; the World Handball Championship for 2021?
Article 4 of the IHF Statutes state that:
“The IHF tolerates no discrimination of any kind … on the grounds of racial origin, gender, language, or politics. Organisers of official IHF events [including competitions] shall be compelled to make a declaration to that effect before the IHF allocates the event.”
We are disappointed that no such disclosure has been made by the IHF. We urge the IHF to demonstrate transparency and immediately disclose what, if any, declaration was made by the EHF regarding discrimination prior to being awarded the hosting rights to the World Handball Championship in 2021 as stipulated by Article 4 of the IHF Statutes.
At this stage, we would like to remind the IHF of their responsibilities and obligations, not only as the international federation for handball, but also a member of the Olympic movement.
Moreover, we are confident that the IHF would not want to preside over one of their members, and hosts of their flagship competition next year acting in direct contravention of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. On 21 March 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted the resolution 40/5: Elimination of discrimination against women and girls in sport.
This resolution recognised:
“the imperative need to engage women and girls in the practice of sport and to enhance, to that end, their participation in sporting events at the national and international levels.”
Let us make it clear, that this is not only a matter of equality and equal opportunity, two things that take time to translate policy into practice, but of brazen gender discrimination; barring athletes who have earned the right to compete internationally from the opportunity to do so on the basis of, among other things, their gender, possible future marital status, and generalised misconceptions about their bodyweight.
It seems the federations set up and charged with protecting the rights and interests of all its participants, male and female, are actively, or through complacent inaction, upholding broad but highly damaging cultural norms; that sport is an exclusively masculine activity and that the participation of women is periphery to the development of the sport in general.
We look forward to a timely public statement from the IHF on the matters we have raised. equitysport will continue to raise awareness of this issue and will exhaust appropriate mechanisms to hold both the EHF and IHF to account. We will not stand by as the constructs of an old world stand in the way of dreams.
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Notes to Editors
For interviews or further comment from equitysport Chief Executive: Tim Harper, please call +44 (0) 7869516106 or contact the team via email@example.com