The Australia men’s handball team have arrived in Doha, Qatar for the 2015 Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament with more than their own nation behind them. Australia have been in the spotlight in the lead-up to the tournament, which will run from November 14 to 27, after the unprecedented success of a Go Fund Me campaign created by players Sebastien Traverso and Thomas Gerstch.
The fact that Australia is one of the only amateur national teams to compete on the level they have is no secret. With limited assistance Australia’s players funded their way to continental competitions in Oceania and IHF World Championships for many years before the International Handball Federation began to offer support for the developing nation to participate in its events. Players and officials are therefore well versed in sourcing sponsorship opportunities, juggling work and training, and encouraging fundraising within their local communities with mixed success, so when Traverso and Gerstch started the Go Fund Me page in September they did so with reserved expectations.
Many players were straining to finance their participation and the campaign was a last effort for the team to be able to attend the self-funded tournament. It started slowly but built momentum after media outlets in Europe began to draw the attention of the international handball community. Significant donations were received from 2015 IHF Super Globe champions and 2015 EHF Cup winners Füchse Berlin and Urs Akeret, long-time handball player, coach and fan and owner of graphic design agency artischock.net, along with a large number of smaller yet equally appreciated donations from supporters across Europe and Australia.
“I’m a big supporter of handball. Because of that I subscribe to the magazine Handballwoche, and I read about the campaign in there. As I read about it I immediately knew that I would like to support the campaign,” says Akeret.
“I always like the underdogs in sports, because the big teams have enough anyway. I heard that Australia was disinvited to [the 24th IHF Men’s World Championship in] Qatar this year – and that the team were looking forward to going there and trained a lot for the world cup, so I felt very sorry for the team.
“Usually I donate for social, ecological and cultural projects, and sports is one of the things I like to support. Australia are the only amateur competing for the Olympic Games, they play with passion. This is compelling and that’s why I did the donation. I did the donation so they can have the pleasure to play handball, and so I have the pleasure to watch Australia play on TV.”
The logos of Füchse Berlin and artischock.net will therefore be prominently displayed on the Australia uniforms in Qatar, where the team will undoubtedly showcase their trademark fighting spirit from the first whistle to the last.
“The team is ready to fight until the end. We are going a bit in a commando mode, with a very small bench, but we are all very excited with what's coming. It's the first time for us to compete in Asia and it will be a good test for us to see where we stand,” says Gerstch.
“We want to thank everyone who has contributed to this trip, our sponsors – Berlin, artischock.net, Clenergy, Mizuno and JOMA Australia – and all the people who have donated. Without them we couldn't be here.”
Australia were drawn into Group A alongside Bahrain, Korea, Kuwait, Iraq and China, with their first match taking place on Sunday the 15th against China.
All qualification matches will be streamed live on Qatar's Al-Kass sports network.