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Gazette Premium Content USA Team Handball in financial fight with USOC

BRIAN GOMEZ Updated: August 30, 2011 at 12:00 am

The national governing body for team handball is facing a $30,000 shortfall as it prepares to send its men’s squad to the Pan American Games, and assuming the U.S. doesn’t win, players might have to pay their own way to continue the Olympic qualification process.

A 20 percent reduction in funding this year from the U.S. Olympic Committee has landed USA Team Handball on thin ice, with the Colorado Springs-based USOC also denying a proposal for a $100,000 travel stipend, as well as a request for the team to practice at the Olympic Training Center before heading to Guadalajara, Mexico, in October.

Fifteen players, including Air Force graduates Carsen Chun and Danny Kimmich, were “almost entirely at their own expense” in earning the first Pan American Games berth for the U.S. since 2003 by competing in Canada in December and in Guatemala City in June, said USA Team Handball general manager Steve Pastorino. The U.S. women were in the same boat as the American men, however, they qualified for Guadalajara without having to enter an additional tournament – neither team has made the Olympics since 1996.

Chances are the U.S. men, grouped with Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, won’t triumph in Guadalajara, where Argentina and Brazil rank as the heavy favorites. A second- or third-place finish would land the Americans in a world qualifier for the 2012 London Games, in May in Europe, and Pastorino insists USA Team Handball “will figure out a way to get there.” He joked, “Maybe I’ll call Stephen Colbert and see if he’s ready to pick up another sport,” a reference to the TV host financing U.S. Speedskating.

Pastorino said a “majority” of USOC grants to USA Team Handball (allocations from the USOC totaled $335,552 in 2010, according to USOC tax returns) are going toward travel to Guadalajara. But money is tight, with 12 players requiring airfare from Europe to Lake Placid, N.Y., for a training camp next month, coupled with the NGB slashing its staff by 70 percent in November and just now beginning fundraising at its Salt Lake City offices.

A training camp in the Springs would have worked better than in Lake Placid, taking into account the high altitude of Guadalajara, although USA Team Handball, in its second full year as an NGB, wasn’t a “high enough priority with the USOC,” said Pastorino, whose NGB closed last year with $72,984 in net assets. He said he asked the USOC, “How can you turn your back on the commitment that some of these athletes will make?”

Pastorino categorized the USOC funding cut as a “near-catastrophic blow,” noting USA Team Handball is “a small NGB, and we need every dollar that we can get. We felt that we were on an upward trend with the USOC. We were demonstrating the progress that they wanted to see. We were making the progress in our high performance plans that we had laid out for them … To have our funding slashed was a difficult pill to swallow.”

The USOC is primarily “going to fund sports that are going to win medals in London,” Pastorino said, maintaining that “there ought to be some credit given for building a long-term development program, a grassroots program, to get us to our ultimate goal. … The message we got this past winter completely counteracted that.” He claims the USOC told NGBs, “Forget about what we said in 2008. Medals talk. Make due with less.”

USOC spokesman Patrick Sandusky said the USOC “has finite resources to allocate, and we work closely with each of the NGBs to ensure they are distributed in a fair manner that focuses both on long-term success, as well as the immediate needs of the team, as it prepares for the London Games. By allocating resources to more than 40 NGBs, we will always have to make tough decisions that will not always be popular with everyone.”

For more Olympic coverage, visit www.gazette.com/olympics

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