Egyptian Hassan Moustafa is president of the World Handball Federation. He is considered authoritarian, and for years he has been accused of irregularities.
IHF President Hassan Moustafa (with flag) celebrates. In the background the world champions Photo: Sven Simon/imago
At the beginning of September, there was a glimpse of the images that Hassan Moustafa loves and wants to create in droves in the coming weeks. At the group draw for the Handball World Cup, the pyramids of Giza could be seen in the background, and on a stage in front of it, the president of the International Handball Federation (IHF) stood and announced a "great tournament" and "great emotions." "Great," that is, the tournament on the Nile must at least be great from the president’s point of view, because for the Egyptian, the event in his homeland is a kind of gift to his countrymen – and a kind of gift to himself.
Moustafa has been president of the international handball federation for just under 21 years and the World Championship in his homeland is to be the emotional highlight of his term of office. That has been clear at least since the end of 2015, when the World Cup was awarded to North Africa. Full arenas were planned, hot-blooded fans celebrating their team and a little bit also "their" president. That will no longer be possible. A maximum hall capacity of 20 percent is planned because of the pandemic situation, and after protests from European players, there is currently a discussion about whether fans in the arenas should be dispensed with altogether.
Moustafa, one of the most controversial figures in international sports, has also been the subject of debate for many years. At press conferences, he sometimes appears self-important and reacts gruffly to critical questions. His long time in power has made him allergic to contradiction. Moustafa has been accused of enrichment and disloyalty, and has been linked to match-fixing – in parallel, he has further developed handball and made it secure for the future with marketing deals.
For the period from 2019 to 2025, the IHF has sold the rights to the world governing body’s events to marketer Lagardère Sports for more than 160 million euros. This includes the men’s and women’s world championships as well as some junior title matches. However, it is almost exclusively the men’s tournaments that are important for marketing, so that each World Cup brings in just under 40 million euros. For the IHF, this deal means a quantum leap and financial security for the coming years. The agreement was brokered by Moustafa.
The "Pharaoh," as Moustafa is known because of his origins and his leadership style, can be sure of the gratitude of many of his subjects. In any case, the 76-year-old has built up a strong position of power in the association’s committees over the past two decades, and he has put his opponents in the dock, thus increasing his power. He has built up a network of contacts, gained financial support, especially from the smaller national federations, and is therefore difficult for the strong European federation (EHF) to attack. Moustafa survived several scandals, and twelve years ago he was on the verge of being replaced.
Before the IHF Congress in June 2009, appropriately enough held in Cairo, there were several dubious stories involving the president. In the re-election, he nevertheless prevailed by a large majority against a candidate from Luxembourg. "The IHF is getting the president it deserves," said the defeated Jean Kaiser.
Barely two years earlier, match-fixing involving Moustafa had even put the IOC on notice. In the final match of the Asian Olympic qualifiers, Kuwait had surprisingly won against South Korea, with the refereeing team putting the Koreans at such an obvious disadvantage that the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) later ordered a replay – which South Korea won. German referees were originally scheduled for the match before Moustafa replaced them with a duo from Jordan a few hours before the game. Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmed Al-Fahad Al Sabah was president of the Asian Handball Federation and a close confidant of the "Pharaoh".
Moustafa tries to help friends – but also takes care of himself. The president receives several 100,000 euros in expense allowances annually. A few years ago, he made it possible for himself to receive an immense boost by having the compensation of all top officials of the world federation raised. For himself, the increase was particularly lavish.
Between 20, he billed for official flights without submitting receipts. About 500,000 euros were at stake, and the public prosecutor’s office in Basel, the headquarters of the IHF, took action on "suspicion of unfaithful management." Pressure on Moustafa increased, but he nevertheless held on to office at the 2009 congress and has since become more powerful.