Wiederer: "We are investing into the successful future of European handball"
On Saturday, the European Handball Federation celebrated its 30th anniversary in Vienna. Michael Wiederer is a core person in the history of the EHF, having been Secretary General from 1992 until 2016, before being elected the fourth EHF President.
In the interview’s second part (read the first part here), Michael Wiederer explains the main tasks of his second term of office and what he hopes for the future.
In 2016 you were elected EHF President, after 25 years as EHF General Secretary. Martin Hausleitner became your successor, which means since 1991 there have been only four presidents and two Secretary Generals. How important is this continuity for the EHF and European handball?
Michael Wiederer: I would even calculate it differently. There were three presidents, one Secretary General and me as a “hybrid”. That is truly continuity at the top. With my election in 2016, there was also a decisive structural change in the EHF, as a professional president was implemented. Since this topic was not addressed at all before and during my re-election in 2021, I assume that this change was positively received by all sides.
Right at the beginning of your first term of office as EHF President, the EHF made the ground-breaking decision to tender for a new ten-year contract for marketing and TV rights. Was that your most important job?
Michael Wiederer: That was not planned before and it was a developing process. Above all, we laid the foundations for this tender process together with the clubs, because it was primarily about guaranteeing a mid-term planning for the competitions and game systems, but also a fair distribution of the income from this contract. After all, it includes no fewer than ten European Championships and ten years of European Cup competitions, plus younger age category and beach handball events. This resulted in the tender, which was signed with Infront and DAZN in 2018 and came into force with the 2020/21 season. The proceeds from this contract are, on all sides, the investments in the successful future of European handball. We, that means all employees, must fight for this every day. Fulfilling the contracts poses challenges for everyone.
Which brings us to the key point of your current term of office, the European Handball Master Plan presented at the Conference of Presidents in Stockholm in 2020. What are the key points?
Michael Wiederer: The support of all federations in many areas of their development, the success of the flagship events of the EHF, to increase the digital and media reach, to encourage children and sports-interested people across Europe to play handball and to create role models. It is generally about structures and projects throughout European handball, it is - even in times of a pandemic - about guard rails. If we support federations financially, it may be different and have different effects in Moldova compared to Germany. And we do not tell any association what to do, rather we offer our support.
As in your case, almost the top management or almost the entire EHF Executive Committee was re-elected at the Congress in April 2021. How do you describe the cooperation with this important body of European Handball?
Michael Wiederer: The cooperation is very trusting and geared towards complete transparency. I learned a lot from my predecessor Jean Brihault, who knew a lot about political communication and how things work from his position as the rector of a large university. I understand that you must get everyone on board. And we have the advantage that at the EHF Congress, only people with proven competencies in their area stand for election. That is why the first five years in this constellation were very successful.
What are your goals for the second term?
Michael Wiederer: I want to activate the Master Plan and fill it with life. And we all want to return to normal business, the pandemic has been determining our actions for almost two years and we are currently still operating in crisis mode. The first task is to get back to normal business. Then our common goal by 2025 is to increase the value of handball as a sport, by which I mean not only financially but also the ideal and non-material value of European handball. You have to see how the pandemic has changed the value of a sport. And another main task of the EHF, in this case more of Secretary General Martin Hausleitner, is the upheaval in the EHF Office. Experienced staff such as Peter Fröschl, Andrea Moser or Peter Sichelschmidt have retired, others such as Helmut Höritsch will follow. It is about the generation change. It turns out that the younger generations are causing a higher fluctuation. We have important tasks to assign, and the point is to fill these positions with good staff for the long-term perspective.
When you talk about the staff, the EHF's workforce has grown considerably in recent years - what were the reasons for this?
Michael Wiederer: The professionalisation and further development of our office. 76 people currently work at the EHF and EHF Marketing and we are proud that we exert such an international appeal, because these employees come from over 20 countries. This ensures fluctuation to the effect that many return to their home countries to occupy a top position in handball and to transfer knowledge. The fact that we need new staff over the years is due to the many new tasks - if you simply see how the media and communications department has changed, how it has grown. Or when you see what was on the agenda of the organisation of EHF EURO back in 1994 and what is needed today in terms of technology, venues and media.
In this context and in view of the significant increase in staff - what are the plans for the new building of the EHF Office in Vienna?
Michael Wiederer: The plans have been presented. If everything goes to plan, the construction phase will start in 2022 and we can move into the new building in 2024. The new location will be a bit more central, closer to the airport and very close to Vienna's planned 15,000-capacity multifunctional arena.
The aim for the next TV and marketing contract is to make the EHF – in start-up terms a ‘unicorn’ – from 2030 onwards, generating one billion euro in revenue, which would double the current figures. As President, when do you start preparing for it?
Michael Wiederer: I am elected President until 2025, so I do not have the mandate to lead the negotiations. But the past tendering process has shown that certain things such as playing systems, qualifications and awards of major events such as EHF EUROs, must be approached many years in advance in order to be able to plan a new tender. Therefore, the course will start during my term of office. To prepare the tender without time pressure, it must be launched on the market in 2027.
If this tender is not in the current focus, what is your wish for the future?
Michael Wiederer: That we all maintain our dialogue ability and transparency, that is the basis for any further development. And that we continue to find enthusiasts who are committed to handball regardless of their function.