Young players are our Olympic legacy, says handball CEO

Men's handball action
Cambridge take on Warrington Wolves in the men's England Handball Cup final
England Handball Cup finals
Venue: Derby Arena, Sun 12 Mar - BBC Sport website, app and connected TV
Men's final: 13:55-16:00 BST - Warrington Wolves v CambridgeWomen's final: 16:25-18:30 - NEM Hawks v West London Eagles

Handball in Britain is enjoying an upsurge of interest and participation among young people, Handball England chief executive David Meli says.

The sport's funding was cut after the 2012 Olympics, but Meli says the Games acted as a handball advert for Britain.

"It will have been the first time people had seen the sport up close," he told BBC Sport. "And that's where our focus has been since 2012."

The England Handball Cup finals will be shown on the BBC website on Sunday.

"It had been there for a number of years but had been under the radar," Meli said.

"Over the past six years, our focus has been very much on getting young people playing the game because, long term, that's where the sustainability of the game and participation would come from."

Meli points to the national under-13 and under-15 schools competitions as an example of the grassroots growth in the game.

"Just prior to 2012 we had 25 teams in that. This year we'll be close to, if not over, 1,600. So we know there are large numbers playing at the school level."

Like many team sports post-2012, handball had its funding cut drastically after the Olympics.

"Our sport is expected to become an Olympic medal contender with zero funding, before it can be considered for funding," said a British Handball release in December 2016.

Meli said: "I think it would be easy to be bitter but we knew the rules and the procedure before we went into it."

British Handball still runs six national teams, with the Home Nations in charge of the "lower level of the pathway" as Meli calls it.

Again, the visibility of being, briefly, an Olympic nation has helped Britain's cause. Britain are now in the top 30 nations in Europe and gaining respect.

"We are now getting the chance to play and challenge at the right [international] levels," Meli said. "We're becoming more recognised as a handball nation rather than one that can play a bit.

"The genie's been let out of the bottle - people have seen what the opportunity might be. We know we're not going to get millions, but just a reasonable level of funding would allow us to compete and give us a chance to grow."

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