The Rise of Belarusian Handball

Yuri Shevtsov - the main coach of the Belarusian national handball team

However unfortunate could be the political and economic situation within Belarus, thanks to some Belarusians the national pride can still be high.

In 2012 Belarusian handball players were among the ones to thank for that. After a longest decline of Belarusian handball, the hope for its revival is now glimmering. While the beliefs that Belarusian handball has died with the Soviet Union step back.

Both Europe and the world know not only that Belarusian handball exists, but also its face - Sergey Rutenko.  

Sergey Rutenko: But Perhaps A Wizard?

Sergey Rutenko comes from Minsk region, township Pryvolny. Fond of sambo wrestling and basketball as a child, he finally chose handball. The choice has proved to be right.

The number of prizes and titles granted to the prominent 31-year old Belarusian has become countless. Sergey has been a 5-times champion of the EHF Champions League, the most expensive transfer in the history of handball (€ 1,2 m), the best goal-scorer of the EHF Champions League in 2004 and 2005, as well as of 2006 European Men’s Handball Championship.

The sharp rise of Sergey Rutenko’s carrier started in 2000 with silver medal at the European Handball Junior Nations Championship. Shortly, he left Belarusian “Arkatron” and moved to Slovenia. There he played first for “Gorenje” (afterwards substituted for the leader of Slovenian handball – “Pivovarna Laško”), as well as Slovenian national team. In 2005 he moved to Spanish “Ciudad Real”, in 2009 – to “FC Barcelona”.

Sergey Rutenko playing for the Belarusian national team

In order to save the right to play in Spanish League in 2008 Rutenko had to accept citizenship of Spain.  Like earlier in Slovenia, the Spanish invited him to play in their national team. Acceptance of such proposal could allow Sergey to make a new huge step in his carrier.

But this time he seemed to care about the carrier’s development less: in 2008 Rutenko expressed the wish to return to the Belarusian national team. In September 2010 Sergey finally got the right to play for his motherland and soon captained the national team.  

Still, Rutenko has not turned Belarus into an unconquerable handball empire instantly. Soon after his arrival, defeats to Denmark and Russia followed. Rutenko’s  11 goals in the two games could not save Belarus. In this regard, Sergey had only one response:  “I’m not a magician”.

But perhaps he is close to one. For the first time he is playing for the Belarusian national team and for the first time since 1995 Belarus is participating in the World Men’s Handball Championship. Rutenko participated in all the 2012’s games with Slovakia, Lichtenstein and Romania – the games that have paved Belarus’ route to the Championship. And within its first circle is bringing to the Belarusian national team almost a half of its goals.

“Dinamo”: The First Among Equals

Belarusian handball clubs are currently gaining strength as well.

In 2012 after the victory over Turkish “Beşiktaş”, “Dinamo Minsk” burst into play-off of the EHF Champions League. This sole fact proves the team’s recent progress. In 2010-2011 “Dinamo” fell out of the Championship even before 1/16.

Not only did the team have the chance to conquer for the place among top 16 teams of Europe. It seems to succeed in implementation of this chance. As of now, “Dinamo-Minsk” is taking the third place (out of 6 teams) in its Group D: after “FC Barcelona” and “Füchse Berlin”. However, “Füchse Berlin” is only one point ahead of “Dinamo” and the latter still have 3 circles of games to change the ranking.

As a pleasant contrast to hockey “Dinamo Minsk” and football “BATE Borisov” handball “Dinamo Minsk” has real competitors within Belarus. “Handball Club Meshkov Brest”, as well as “SKA Minsk” does not allow “Dinamo” to relax. In these circumstances fans’ hopes, that the team’s results will only grow, can reasonably strengthen.

Less fortunately, “Dinamo Minsk” is far from being a purely   Belarusian team. More than half of its players are foreigners. Last year it even got an unpleasant name of branch of the national team of Ukraine. 5 Ukrainians are playing for the club! 

Still, Belarusian fans are looking forward to February games of “Dinamo Minsk” against “Zagreb”, “Pick ​Szeged” and “FC Barcelona”.

Especially, the game with “FC Barcelona”, which will bring an additional chance to watch Sergey Rutenko at work.

 Call For State’s Attention

The today’s achievements, however, represent just a vague shadow of Belarusian handball’s success of Soviet times. “SKA Minsk” still ranks as one of the most titled clubs in Europe. For three times it won EHF Champions League (1987, 1989 and 1990). Twice – in 1983 and 1988 - it wrested EHF Men’s Cup Winner's Cup.

Up to 1992, Belarus supplied most professional players to the USSR team. To put it into figures, at 1988 Olympics the victorious USSR team included 5 players from Belarus!

But almost for 20 years up to now Belarus has been wasting the talent of its youth. Salaries of children’s coaches are insufficient to make ends meet. Low popularisation of handball decreases children’s and parents’ motivation to take up handball.

The Belarusian national team and "Dinamo" have proved Belarusians' talent for handball is still strong.

Will now the state prove the ability to display these talents? It really seems to be an urgent task. Otherwise, Belarusian clubs will have to rely on foreign mercenaries, while Belarus - to hope that its all children will, like Rutenko, sacrifice their personal profit for the motherland's sake.   

 

Darya Firsava is a Minsk-based lawyer working on her PhD and leading a number of educational projects in Belarus.

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