Bobby White: Bringing handball to Great Britain this summer

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LEADING his country out at London 2012 will be the proudest moment of Bobby White’s life – but the British handball skipper isn’t just going along for the ride.

The 29-year-old’s place in the 14-man Team GB men’s squad was confirmed on Tuesday, just over three weeks before their opening match of the Olympic tournament against France – the reigning World and Olympic champions.

Having been captain of the side for more than a year, White’s place was never really in doubt, but the former Newport Pagnell footballer said he felt the nerves like the rest of his team-mates before the final selection, with Great Britain sending a handball team to the Games for the very first time.

“The build-up to the squad selection was quite nerve-racking with a lot of the players – including myself – feeling the pressure, so it’s been a huge relief for those of us that have made the final 14,” he said.

“Unfortunately it’s the nature of elite sport that some of our friends will miss out and it’s a hard time for them, but they have helped drive this team forward so we will also be fighting for them when we step on court in London.”

The men’s handball event takes place from July 29 to August 12, with group stage games being played at the Copper Box, and the knock-out ties at the Basketball Arena.

The 12 competing nations are divided into two pools of six, with the top four teams in each pool progressing to the quarter-finals. After taking on the French on Sunday evening, Team GB play Sweden, Argentina, Tunisia and Israel, with a 48-hour break between each game.

White says a quarter-final place will make it a successful tournament for the hosts, but he’s also hoping that the exposure handball will receive in those two weeks of competition will open the nation’s eyes to the sport he loves.

White is one of just a handful of Brits to move overseas to pursue a career in handball, currently playing for a club side in France. Half of the 14-man Team GB squad announced on Tuesday were born outside the UK in either Sweden, Norway, France or Germany.

“Progressing to the quarter finals has been our aim since the beginning of this programme and it’s still a possibility for us if we play to our maximum,” said White. “In reality we have a very tough group.

“Of course, our performance is the most important thing and winning one game from the five will be a good result, but we’re hoping we can do more than that and upset a few of the ‘bigger’ handballing nations by progressing through the group phase.

“For us it’s also important that the sport is seen for what it is by the British public. The majority of people have probably never witnessed a handball match, so hopefully we can generate a lot of interest and inspire people to get involved with the sport.”

After playing three pre-Olympic warm-up games in the next couple of weeks against Hungary, Spain and Serbia – where the team are currently training – White will win his 43rd cap when Team GB take on France.

One of those games provided him with his proudest moment to date when the side recorded their first ever competitive victory against Bulgaria in 2010 – underlining the huge challenge ahead of White and co.

“For me to lead our team out at the Olympics is a huge honour. I don’t know how to put it into words, but I’m sure it will be the proudest moment of my life,” he said.

“Personally I cannot wait to get back to the UK to really begin to feel the hype that must be starting to build at home.

“No matter what happens for me and the team now, over the last five years I’ve been on an incredible journey that I never thought I would take.

“I’ve been all over the world playing a sport I love and now I will get to share this amazing game with the people of Great Britain.”