Dr Frantisek Taborsky: “Handball has no limits”

16 Jul. 2021

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: “Handball has no limits”

You may have already read our International Handball Week 2021 feature ‘Evolution of a discipline, of a sport: Wheelchair handball and the IHF’ where we look at the evolution of the sport since its early beginnings in the 1990s.

One of the key protagonists in global Wheelchair Handball is the Chairman of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group, Dr Frantisek Taborsky, who is also an IHF Council and Executive Committee Member – and ihf.info spoke to him about his experience of the sport.

ihf.info: When did you first hear about or watch wheelchair handball? 

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: The first time I ‘met’ wheelchair handball was at the Coaches Symposium in Leipzig, Germany in 1993 and the second time was in Thailand at the 2005 IHF Symposium for Coaches and Referees in Bangkok. On both occasions, it was a demonstration match being played.

One year later, in 2006, I was involved again, but for the first time at a personal level as one of the organisers on the occasion of the EHF Youth Handball Convention in my role as Chairman of the EHF Methods Commission in Vienna, Austria. This time I also tried to play the sport and I remember it not being easy for me.

The EHF Methods Commission later organised two International Wheelchair Handball Seminars in Vienna around this period and elaborated on the first EHF Wheelchair Handball Rules of the Game.

ihf.info: What do you enjoy about wheelchair handball?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: I am a big admirer of the enthusiasm of wheelchair handball players; how they get absorbed in the game and their excellent control of the wheelchair.

ihf.info: What is the purpose and aims of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: Our main goals are to initiate interest in wheelchair handball, support the development of it organisationally, methodically and economically at national, continental and IHF levels. 

We also have the aim of creating a system of regular competitions and providing organisational facilities for them, for example: rules, classification, regulations, organisers, referees, technical delegates, volunteers. Finally, we aim to build ties to the International Paralympic Committee – and Paralympic sport in general – as well as those in sponsorship and government institutions at all levels.

ihf.info: Tell us about your role as Chairman of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group….

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: According to the IHF Council discussion about wheelchair handball I was nominated as Chairman of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group. I lead on coordinating the entire duties connected to the development of wheelchair handball with the IHF.

ihf.info: How were the members of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group decided/elected and when?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa sent a letter in February 2019, to the leading representatives at the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), European Handball Federation (EHF), French Handball Federation (FFHB) and Japanese Handball Association (JHA) asking them for nominations of wheelchair handball experts to join the working group. We were looking for people with wheelchair handball experience, the working potential and knowledge of English. 

The members for the working group were then nominated and confirmed in March 2019, receiving their nomination letter outlining the main goals, tasks and working programme of the working group.

ihf.info: Tell us briefly about each member of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group…

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: The working group consists of four members from three continents. Nicole Rabenseifner (AUT) a long-term member of the EHF Office who has been involved in many different activities and organisation of events. Flavio Anderson Pedrosa de Melo (BRA) is a university lecturer with a variety of experience including the holder of a PhD in Special Education. Minoru Kino (JPN) is a former elite handball player who represented his country at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games and President of Wheelchair Handball in Japan. Jerzy Eliasz (POL) is a vastly experienced handball administrator who, amongst many other roles in the world of handball, was Chairman of the EHF Methods Commission until April 2021.

In addition to the working group members, there are numerous collaborators most notably Vicens Breto (ESP), who is responsible for the recruitment and education of referees and technical delegates and Kees van Breukelen (NED) an expert on the classification system for players.

ihf.info: What was the global wheelchair handball environment like at the time of the first IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group meeting in October 2019?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: At the start we were met with an unclear and fragmented organisational structure of the game with missing links to the IHF and inconsistent different Rules of the Game. There were at least three different sets of rules in Europe, three in South America and specific ones in Japan.

Other problems included further development of the sport within handball activities being limited due to human and economic resources, and also connected to competition with other wheelchair team sport games and high costs and difficulties with organisation, especially when travelling across longer distances.

ihf.info: How did the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group work to rectify this situation and what other work as it completed?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: The working group formulated two official Rules of the Game, confirmed by the IHF Council. Firstly, the six-a-side version, in February 2020 and then the four-a-side version, most recently edited last February.

Ahead of the formation of the working group, Wheelchair Handball was presented at the XXXVII Ordinary IHF Congress in Gothenburg in July 2019. It is noteworthy to say that at least 23 National Federations around the world were actively conducting activities in the sport or were supporting it. In total, around 40 National Federations at that time in 2019 showed their interest.

After the working group was formed there have been numerous meetings and discussions. In 2020, these included meeting with the EHF and with the IHF Council in relation to preparing materials for a mutual World Championship and European Championship. These included the Rules of the Game (six-a-side), Competition Manual for future IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championships, Classification Manual (draft), Organiser Contract (draft), a 12-team Competition Schedule (draft), Procedure and Guidelines (draft) and logos amongst other things.

However, in June 2020, due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation it was decided that the competition couldn’t be held and was later postponed to 2021. Towards the end of 2020, and to mark one year since the working group formation, we had the first IHF Wheelchair Handball Seminar in October.

Alongside the entire working group, presenters also included Ivan Dragic (CRO), Andras Pitz (HUN) and Pedro Sequeira (POR) with a second future one planned to include those involved with the sport such as Danilo Ferreira (POR), Martijn Dokkum (NED), Christian Kaschuetz (AUT) and Marc de Sousa (POR).

As we entered 2021, it became further evident, that due to COVID-19, we had to further postpone it until 2022, however the working group continued making decisions with the IHF Council approved the four-a-side rules and in June, the IHF Wheelchair Handball Classification Rules and Regulations were finalised.

ihf.info: What is the current state of conversations with the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) regarding introducing the sport into the Paralympics?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: The IHF is a ‘Recognised Member’ of the IPC and both organisations are in close contact including at many levels, including Presidential. Most recently, in June and July 2021, two members of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group and three other collaborators participated in three Zoom meetings with the IPC concerning the new IHF Wheelchair Handball Classification Rules and Regulations.

For the IHF to receive full membership we need to not only have at least three continents and 24 countries playing the sport, but to have organised at least two world championships and have at least a four-year programme. 

Currently, 22 National Federations support wheelchair handball under the IHF umbrella: 12 in South America (SCAHC), eight in the European Handball Federation (EHF) and two in Asia (AHF).

ihf.info: Why is it important that the IHF offers wheelchair handball as another discipline of handball?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: It is incorporated in the slogan “Handball for All”. Handball without any borders worldwide. No limits concerning age, gender, physical condition and geography.

ihf.info: How can wheelchair handball help make handball more inclusive with people and countries across the world?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: Wheelchair handball is an inclusive sport in its essence. People of all abilities help a lot in the logistics of training, in competition through transport, for example. In training everyone often gets involved in the game as well.

ihf.info: Wheelchair handball has mixed gender teams, what is the theory behind that?

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: Gender mixed teams are used because in the majority of countries interested in playing wheelchair handball it is nearly impossible to find enough players in identical gender. It is also a nice example of inclusivity. Both the four-a-side and six-a-side versions of the game, according to the Rules of the Game can be men’s, women’s or mixed.

ihf.info: What is the theory behind having two versions of the sport: six-a-side and four-a-side? Wheelchair Handball Working Group member Flavio Anderson Pedrosa de Melo has said in the past that the four-a-side is “like beach handball”.

Dr Frantisek Taborsky: The IHF Rules of the Game are for the four-a-side and six-a-side versions of the game only with both using the same playing court and same equipment.

The four-a-side version follows some characteristics from beach handball but its real advantage is it is easier to recruit enough players to play meaning cheaper transport for matches and the more intensive involvement of all the players in such a dynamic game.                    

ihf.info: Where do you see the future progression of wheelchair handball in the future?

Frantisek Taborsky: In 2022, we will organise the postponed six-a-side World & European Wheelchair Handball Championship as well as a four-a-side Men’s and Women’s IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship in a SCAHC (South and Central America Handball Confederation) country.

In the same year, we also aim to have at least 25 National Federations and three Continental Confederations having what we call ‘an active approach’ to wheelchair handball and become a full member of the IPC and thus, apply to participate in the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympic Games.

By 2030 we want these numbers to rise to at least 40 National Federations and five Continental Confederations.