TWO months ago Bobby White represented his country at London 2012 – now he is one of the men responsible for trying to make handball a mainstream British sport, while trying to find a full time job.
The 29-year-old last threw a ball in anger when Team GB took on Iceland in their final group match of the Olympic competition in August – a game watched by more than 6,000 spectators.
That brought an incredible five-year dream to an end for the former Newport Pagnell goalkeeper, who went from playing United Counties League football to taking on the best handball players in the world almost overnight.
Selected as part of a UK Sport talent identification programme to put a handball team together for London, White would go on to captain his country and become an integral part of what the sport hoped to achieve post-London 2012.
However, with UK Sport likely to cut funding for several Olympic sports in the lead up to Rio 2016, White’s task looks set to be made even harder. Sports like handball and volleyball, which relied on host-nation places to compete in London, could be affected.
The allocation of funding is determined on the success of each sport, and as Team GB’s men’s handball team failed in their challenge of reaching the quarter finals, the sport is likely to miss out on future funding as a result.
“There’s no point funding sports that are not going to qualify,” said sports minister Hugh Robertson recently.
The policy is known as ‘no compromise’. Supporters say it is the fairest and most accountable way of channelling public finances into developing elite level athletes for competition.
Critics, however, insist that investment is needed to develop Britain’s less popular sports to allow the country to compete at international level.
White considered retiring from handball after the Olympics to focus on a new part time coaching role with the Biddenham International School & Sports College in Bedford – heading up one of three UK programmes to attract and develop the next generation of British handball players.
However, with fellow Team GB goalkeeper Jesper Parker injured, White says he will carry on playing for the national side when needed. His first competitive game after the Games will see him fly to Greece for the team’s first 2016 European Championship qualifying match.
Great Britain take on Greece and Italy in a three-team pre-qualifying group, with only the winning country progressing to the next stage.
And just to illustrate how much things have changed since the Olympics, White has been required to fund the cost of travel himself. Fortunately for him, he has had support from the Midsummer Breakfast Club, but others are not so lucky.
The team that takes on Greece at the end of October is likely to include just half of those who played in Team GB’s final London 2012 game against Iceland, with some players choosing to call time on their handball careers to work full time.
But despite the struggles, White remains optimistic about the future of handball in the UK – and has every reason to be given that it was one of the most entertaining and most watched sports at London 2012. However, for whatever reason, it just hasn’t taken off in this country like it has in most other parts of Europe.
Plans to make handball more accessible to people are starting to pay dividends though, with various teams popping up all over the country. The challenge is getting them to compete at a level that actually improves the quality of those playing.
Milton Keynes could also boast a team of its own in the months ahead, with Bletchley Leisure Centre the venue for beginner courses starting next week.
Offering handball to adults and 10-15 year-olds, the scheme is organised by England Handball with the aim of increasing participation and potentially finding the country’s next Olympic team.
You can find out more about the adult course by contacting Vicki Clark on 01908 253229 or Caroline Moran on 637341 for the youth course.