Handball medals up for grabs in Hanoi

Men's team eye SEA Games podium finish to atone for dismal record in the Philippines

National women's handball player Ham Jia Yun with men's captain Teo Kee Chong during a training session at Hougang Sports Hall. The men's team are slated to compete in next year's SEA Games in Hanoi but uncertainty shrouds the women's competition.
National women's handball player Ham Jia Yun with men's captain Teo Kee Chong during a training session at Hougang Sports Hall. The men's team are slated to compete in next year's SEA Games in Hanoi but uncertainty shrouds the women's competition.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

The national handball team will look to make amends at next year's SEA Games in Vietnam, with the sport listed among the 40 approved for the biennial meet.

At last year's Games in the Philippines, Singapore were whitewashed, losing all their four men's group matches 2-0 to finish bottom of the inaugural beach handball event.

But Handball Federation of Singapore (HFS) president Hong Zhen You and the team are confident they can bounce back from the disappointment, especially when both the seven-a-side indoor and four-a-side beach events are included in the programme in Hanoi.

Indoor handball is making a return to the SEA Games after its previous appearance in 2007, when Singapore did not field a team. The event debuted at the 2003 Hanoi Games.

National centre Ervin Sethi said: "It was our first major competition for beach handball and we had less experience.

"As the dimensions and rules are different, our more experienced opponents were able to tweak their tactics better."

Compared to indoor handball, the beach variation is more dynamic as it is played in a smaller area.

Trick shots count for two points instead of one, and the match is played over two sets of 10 minutes instead of two 30-minute halves.

If both teams win one set each, the match will be decided by a penalty shoot-out.

Vietnam and Thailand won gold and silver respectively at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and will be the teams to beat again.

"We have learnt what we can improve on from the last SEA Games," added Sethi, a member of the Singapore team who finished third at the 2015 South-east Asian Handball Championship.

"I believe we can fight for a podium finish, especially for the indoor event."

It is unclear if there will be any women's competitions in Hanoi as the Games organisers need at least four participating countries to include an event.

Ham Jia Yun, a member of the side who finished ninth out of 10 teams at the 2018 Asian Women's Handball Championship, where Singapore was the only Asean representative, said: "Even during the circuit breaker, we did not stay still.

"We did individual exercises and reported to our coaches with photo and video evidence."

The back added: "We have been waiting so long for the sport to be included in the SEA Games, so naturally the women's team were disappointed when there was no women's event last year. We hope we can be given a chance to represent our country after training so hard for years."

But Hong knows the HFS will first have to convince the Singapore National Olympic Council that the teams are deserving of selection by showing they can at least match the bronze medallists - the Philippines - from the last Games.

HFS aims to organise friendly matches against regional rivals and training camps once the coronavirus-enforced travel restrictions are eased.

The national teams resumed training when Phase 2 of Singapore's reopening began in June, working in groups of five on overload scenarios and drills, before expanding to four-versus-four games when Phase 3 started on Monday.

Hong said: "We know we are better than what the results from the last SEA Games suggest... We want to aim for something higher and not fix our eyes only on third place and think we cannot do better than that."

He is also heartened by the sport's run at the SEA Games, and hopes it will spur interest and participation locally and within the region. Before Covid-19 struck, the annual National Handball League featured about 30 men's and 10 women's teams in the six-month competition, and Hong estimates Singapore has a pool of about 2,000 active players from the league and schools.

He said: "Most players here pick up the game late so technically we could be a few years behind other nations.

"We hope that as the popularity of the sport grows, more can pick up handball and develop their potential from a younger age."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 31, 2020, with the headline 'Handball medals up for grabs in Hanoi'. Subscribe