Spain’s top handball stars are fleeing the country as the bankruptcy of sports teams is on the rise.
Yes, Spain’s shiny handball players are ranked best in the world for the second time this year. But there’s something that doesn’t shine in the same way: their finances.
Handball clubs are going bankrupt and can no longer afford to pay salaries of their players, who see a dark cloud of uncertainty floating overhead.
In this worsening situation, migration seems the only legitimate solution and many of them have already been forced to pack their suitcases.
Last season was the beginning of this massive migration of Spanish handball players, but this year even coaches are migrating
"Last season was the beginning of this massive migration of Spanish handball players, but this year even coaches are migrating," says Luis Malvar, Cadena Cope handball journalist.
"It looks like this trend will continue until the country’s economy gets back on track," he points out.
It is saddening to see how the domestic league of a world champion handball nation is becoming increasingly amateur.
In Spain 'no man is a prophet in his own land.'
Handball players could comfortably make their living in Spain until two years ago, but the country’s economic crisis is destroying their dreams.
Both the government and sponsors had to cut off the flow of subsidies, causing failure of several clubs. Last June, women’s club S.D. Itxako lost their subsidy of almost $210,000.
After a very tough season they finally managed to qualify for the Spain’s women league ABF. But their effort and talent was sadly not enough.
S.D. Itxako could not pay the salaries of their players during two seasons, owing the tax man around $2million.
But the biggest shock of the year was the dissolution of Atlético de Madrid last month.
Being King’s Cup champions and runners-up of the Spain’s men league Asobal was not enough to keep the club alive, as they owed the government over one million dollars.
The situation is so devastating that Asobal announced that 'those clubs indebted to players, coaches or suppliers will not be able to sign up for the league unless they have a stable and rigorous administration plan'.
There are almost 40 Spain nationals playing in foreign leagues according to Spanish news agency EFE.
Julen Aguinagalde, who used to play for the former Atlético de Madrid joined the Polish league last year to play for the KS Vive Targi Kielce.
Aguinagalde was chosen best pivot in the world in 2012.
Lara González, who previously played in Elche CF Mustang, joined the French league last year.
| Isaias Guardiola (C) did not trust Spanish league so left to play in German Bundesliga [Reuters]
Her team, Metz, won the French league last May.
Twins Gedeón and Isaias Guardiola, who used to play for San Antonio and Atlético de Madrid, also left their home country and joined the German Bundesliga last year.
Their team, Rhein Neckar Löwen, just won the handball international EHF Cup.
Gedeón and Isaias Guardiola told Al Jazeera English that they are very disappointed about the current handball situation in Spain.
“What’s happening right now in the clubs is unfair for this sport”, says Isaias.
"The main problem is that the people who run these clubs only want to make money and the players are the most affected by this situation."
"It’s very sad that we can’t trust them to keep their word about our future."
Both Gedeón and Isaís compare the differences between Spain and Germany’s clubs and how each country treats their handball players.
"Germany is not like Spain, here the player is treated like a professional," says Gedéon.
"Rhein Neckar Löwen is a very good club. We have several sponsored events. We just train to play our best in each game, that’s our only preoccupation," admits Gedéon.
"In Spain it's not like that, we always had many issues with the club".
It might be less popular, but handball in Spain overcomes football in terms of international achievements with two World titles, five bronze medals between World and European championships and four Olympic medals – the last one was won by the women handball team in London 2012.
These achievements make Spanish handball players very prestigious abroad.
"They respect Spanish players. Isaias and I, as well as Iker Romero and Juan Andrue Candau are showing that we are players who can give a good show to the audience, and that’s what they want," says Isaías.
While Spain’s national team enjoys perfect health, because their players improve their skills in the foreign leagues - its domestic league, however, remains in a deep coma.
Spanish leagues Asobal and ABF have become less and less spectacular to watch for fans since the majority of clubs have now to rely on youth players.
The Spanish Federation must make a bigger effort to promote handball, like other leagues such as the German Bundesliga.
Spain should incorporate some of their successful strategy methods, such as giving a good show to the audience.
It comes down to marketing and knowing how to bring attention to the sport.
The fact that Spain is now a world champion offers a perfect opportunity to promote the sport in the country.
However, if Spain want their players back, clubs must copy another very good strategy from the German ones, and handle their finances far more efficiently.