AFL footballers representing Australia in handball at the 2000 Olympic Games... we'd like to see that. But it will happen, if a top handball coach has his way, Amanda Buivids reports
*** WANTED: AFL STARS FOR OLYMPICS ***
AFL Players in their prime are being wooed to play European handball at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. Footballers aged between 23 and 27 and taller than 185cm are being recruited to raise the standard and profile of handball in the lead-up to the Olympics.
The Australian Handball Federation wants to recruit 24 AFL players with "excellent" physical and psychological qualities" who meet certain criteria.
Professor Radivoj Dedic, assistant coach of the national women's handball team and a former top-class player in Germany and Yugoslavia, is backing the plan.
"I think Australia could become one of the leading countries in the world (in handball) if they have the people to complete this project," Dedic said. "I'd love to see Australian footballers against (handball players from) Russia, Germany, Japan and Korea just to see where they are."
"We do not want to take footballers out of footy". "The AHF realises it can not interfere with the professionalism of football. We want to add to that training". "There are skills in handball that will greatly benefit football."
Dedic has first-hand knowledge of an AFL player making a smooth transition to handball, coaching Hawthorn midfielder Anthony Condon at stage league club Doncaster.
Dedic stressed that while he welcomed recently-retired footballers his aim was to pursue those still playing in the AFL. "We would consider players over the (age) limit if they are up to top international handball standard." he said. "If they are playing at a high level in football, there is plenty to say they can play at a high level in handball."
Dedic sent a detailed submission to the AFL in August proposing a link between the league and the handball federation. The report included an outline of the ideal footballer needed to play handball at the elite level, coaching and training programs. It expressed the mutual benefits of a liaison, including promotion of Australian football overseas and ensuring the AFL had an international profile at the Olympic Games.
The report said AFL football would improve players' decision-making and peripheral vision and encourage them to make better use of space an the field. There also would be improvements in team bonding and set plays, it said. Dedic met AFL officials this week and was permitted to deal with clubs and players.
He has spoken with Carlton coach David Parkin about the possibility of integrating handball into the Blues' training program for next season. He suggested Parkin would be the most qualified person to lead the AFL arm of the link with handball. Dedic, 40, began investigating the possibility of a close relationship between the country's most popular sport and handball 15 months ago soon after arriving in Melbourne as a refugee from Bosnia. A physical education professor at the University of Sarajevo, Dedic said he had an instant rapport with football and could not believe the similarities between the game and Europe's second-most popular team sport.
He said no other country or sport in the world had athletes the calibre of AFL footballers who could make the switch to handball as easily. Handball would provide an ideal cross-training game for footballers because of its speed, aerial skills, teamwork, physical contact and set plays. Dedic believes the link between the two sports provides a perfect opportunity for AFL footballers to win Olympic representation.
"Football will become part of the Olympics" he said. "The words Australian football would go around the world. People will be asking where these players come from. Australia has the spirit and the ability to do it if they like the challenge and are not afraid of anything."
Dedic said he wanted the two sports to link up soon, with the International-Handball Federation lobbying for Australia's possible inclusion into the 1999 world championships in Cairo, Egypt. That gives Dedic 18 months to prepare a competitive squad of 16. There is also a push from the AHF for Melbourne to host the 2001 world championships, the first time the event would be held in the southern hemisphere. Australia must prove it can hold the event and have a competitive team leading up to the 2000 Olympics.
The AHF and the Seven Network are negotiating a deal for the network to inject $700,000 over four years into the sport. As host Olympic nation, Australia has automatic entry in handball. But this country has not qualified for any world championship or international competition. AHF senior vice-president Lutz Bartels said co-operation from the AFL and league clubs was vital if Australia were to become competitive by 2000.
"We are an Olympic sport and have the responsibilities to represent Australia at the 2000 Games" Bartels said. "The Australian public expect this team to perform with dignity and we just can't. As it stands now, it's equivalent to sending a team out to the OK Corral with a bamboo stick. We as a federation have the responsibility of what is the pinnacle of the career for some athletes is not the nightmare of their lifetime."
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