INTERVIEW-Olympics-Watch handball, like handball - IHF president

LONDON, July 26 Thu Jul 26, 2012 12:02pm EDT

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LONDON, July 26 (Reuters) - International Handball president Hassan Moustafa offers a simple explanation on why the sport he played, coached, refereed and even wrote about for his masters degree will be a hit at the London Olympics.

"It's very fast. If you see handball, you like handball," he told Reuters, emphasising this year's tournament would be close-fought to add to the excitement.

"The teams have been preparing for a long time and I'm sure it will be a very attractive competition. We don't want the people to forget handball afterwards.

"The main thing for us is that there are not many big gaps between the different countries."

An early form of the game was developed in Denmark as an alternative to soccer in the 19th century because it broke too many schoolyard windows and handball is the most popular women's team sport in Europe.

Though there are just six nations in total from outside the continent at the Games, Moustafa feels positive about the game's current state as well as its future direction.

"We are working very closely as a family, always looking for ways to make handball better and better. We are growing up.

"There are a lot of new ideas coming from the trainers, coming from the refereees and international federations."

PROMOTE AND DEVELOP

Britain especially is where Moustafa wants to see growth and he speaks with knowledge of nurturing the sport in his native Egypt, who under his 20-year plus presidency reached fourth in the world in 2001.

"Handball is not strong in Britain but I hope they can get a good result at the Olympics and then afterwards continue to promote and develop in the UK. Especially in the schools.

"Britain is a very important country for handball. This is our job, to work together."

Handball resurfaced in Britain after London won the Olympics in July 2005 and despite an increase in popularity and exposure a UK Sport funding shortfall in 2009 threatened its progress.

Both British teams, the Montenegro women's and the men's Argentina side, all playing their first Games, know a good Olympic outing could boost the sport in their respective countries.

The sport has endured some tough times in England, monarchs Edward II (1307-1327) and Henry VIII (1509-1547) even banned an early form of the game because its soaring popularity was a blow to the practice of archery.

Excited looks on the faces of schoolchildren recording every second of the draw in May on their hi-tech mobile phones would suggest the little-known sport in football-mad Britain might leave an imprint.

Moustafa's tip to succeed in the frantic sport? An excellent goalkeeper, the subject of his masters degree.

"The goalkeeper is the last line of defence and the first attacker. They save the ball and start the breaks." (Editing by Greg Stutchbury)

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