One of the fastest Olympic sports, handball, has not made huge inroads in India. A team sport of seven members each, handball players pass and dribble a ball up the court in an attempt to throw the ball into the opposition's goal – sometimes to see 60 goals or more in a single match.
Although the sport offers a huge adrenalin rush, it has not picked up pace in India. The reasons could be multifold, from a lack of awareness to infrastructure to lack of publicity. In short, the sport has always been under the shadows.
The advent of professional leagues has done some good for many sports in the country. The leagues have helped several sports with exposure, money and status - a case in point being the Indian Premier League, the Indian Super League, the Pro Kabaddi League and many more.
On the same lines, handball is soon set to benefit from a professional league in the country. The Premier Handball League (PHL) (managed by Bluesports Entertainment Pvt Ltd under the aegis of Handball Federation of India) is set to be launched soon. Abhinav Banthia, the president of the organization handling the league, outlaid the plans in an exclusive conversation with Sportskeeda.
“There are a few team sports, which are at an Olympic level, probably not getting the limelight yet and handball is one of them. In a country having 60% population below 30 years of age, you want them to watch fast sports with a lot of goals, a lot of excitement. So, this is the right time to start a professional handball league in the country and it also helps us in giving a popularity for the sport.”
Abhinav feels the pace of the game and the minimal infrastructure needed for the sport will make the task easier. He adds:
“Surprisingly, handball has not gone through the limelight or the time it deserves. There is a reach in the tier two and tier three cities because the infrastructure needed is very minimal. So, it makes handball quite popular. I think taking the sport to the people will be a very easy task once a company like ours takes the league online or, through the broadcasters, creates an excitement. I think more hands will join to make this a success.”
Handball league for both genders and foreign players
Abhinav says the Premier Handball League will be the first to have both genders and feels the involvement of foreign players will boost the state of the game in the country by leaps and bounds. He explains:
We will have a league for both the genders. However, the inaugural league will only be for men, keeping in mind the challenges posed by the pandemic and more. The women’s league is our future plan. We will have a league format and then the knockouts, and will have one of the leading broadcasters on board. We are planning to get players from the Asian or European region as it is a big place for handball. They are happy and some of them from Europe are in touch with us on a one-on-one basis too. This is happening because India is a big marketplace. So, if we get the opportunity, we'll get them to be a part of the league and each team will have two foreign players too.”
According to Abhinav, the handball federation has also been supportive of the league and has been helping the organizers reach out to all the players. Abhinav adds:
“We are in close connect with the Indian Federation and they are supportive. They want the sport to grow and I'm really happy with the kind of support they have shown. They have given us a reach out to players from all states and are sourcing players. I feel at this moment that both the Federation and us are trying to build a league which will help the sportsmen in the country.”
The professional league is leaving no stone unturned in delivering an enriching product. Abhinav says winning an Olympic medal from handball is a long-term target of the league.
“Our short-term target and one and only mission now is to deliver a world class lead product for handball in India to help Indian players improve their skills by using this opportunity to play with foreign players, and so on and so forth. The long-term goal, of course, is to make this reach better, in terms of number of teams, and getting a women’s league too. A lot of countries have given a mandate to have women's sports as a priority. You want both the genders to flourish, and eventually want India to have a medal in the Asian circuit, then the World Cup, and even at the Olympics.”