Handball has been on the rise in Great Britain since the Olympics, but is Great Britain ready to embrace the sport? There are a lot of talented handball players in Britain, but many of them do not hail from England.
Chris Higgins, a former student of St. Mary’s University College, is one of them. He plays for the Irish international team but has received his handball education in Twickenham at both St. Mary’s and Twickenham based Thames Handball Club.
Working in London as a PE teacher, Higgins recognises the importance of getting the sport out there although there is limited funding.
”There is funding but it is limited, so it relies on PE teachers using school budgets to be able to push it to the kids,” he said.
When he was a student at St. Mary’s he used to play football, a sport that has always been his main sport, but educating to be a PE teacher he had to dip in to other and minor sports. He participated in a couple of lectures in handball and played against the club he was later to become a member of.
“I trained for about two years quite a lot here (Thames Handball Club) learning the rules and everything. Then I got contacted, Sky Sports came here and they asked whether I would be playing for Great Britain or what have you. I obviously explained that my grand parents were Irish and wouldn’t be overly happy with me playing for Great Britain.”
Ireland and England are finding themselves in a similar situation where they trying to take the next step in international terms.
Higgins says in Ireland they are working really hard to promote the sport, and it might be easier there, where there is no Premier League to overshadow the sport.
Both the Irish Olympic Handball Association (IOHA) and England Handball (EHA) twitter accounts are popular with respectively 1658 and 2455 followers. And social media is one thing that could help handball seeing a rise in popularity but more can also be done according to Higgins.
“And then there is social media, we use that quite a lot, the twitter page which is @IrelandHandball, we use that a lot. The IOHA do a lot, on facebook as well, we are trying to get the likes up. We recently won a Coca Cola award as well that gave us extra funding. And that was based on the amount we’ve been doing and what we can offer to the community.”
After finishing last in their group at the Olympics, the English national team had their funding cut and again find themselves in similar position as the Ireland team. Higgins believes that England was blessed with the fact that they had the Olympics and received a lot of money from that.
”But I think with hard work there is no reason why they can’t (England can keep it up in the future). Ireland handball, we are doing a lot, we are doing a lot of fundraising as a team, so rather than relying on sponsorship and stuff, which we do get, and it is really important that we do get it, but we are doing a lot to ensure that we can achive what we want and trying to push ourselves as far as we can.
”it’s been a lot of hard work. We have a slogan for our handball team which basically translated to ”there is no success without hardship”, so we have to work hard.”