Anxious to know

Inas Mazhar , Tuesday 1 Sep 2020

Egypt will soon find out who it will be playing against in the Men’s Handball World Championship, reports Inas Mazhar

27th edition of the Men’s Handball World Championship
The 27th edition of the Men’s Handball World Championship

The preliminary groups for the 27th edition of the Men’s Handball World Championship will be drawn on Saturday.

The Pharaohs of Egypt are to be introduced to their group opponents when the draw is made at the Giza Pyramids Plateau on Saturday starting at 7pm (Cairo local time).

The championship will be the first time an International Handball Federation (IHF) World Championship features 32 teams in the newly-expanded format. Thirty teams are already confirmed, with just the winners of the South and Central America Handball Confederation (SCAHC), Last Chance Qualification Tournament and North America and The Caribbean Handball Confederation (NCAHC) Men’s Championship to be decided.

On Tuesday, the Organising Committee of Egypt 2021 hosted a press conference where it revealed the details of the draw.

The press conference, which was held at Sonesta Hotel, was attended by Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi, IHF President Hassan Mustafa, President of the Egyptian Handball Federation Hesham Nasr and Chairman of the Organising Committee and Championship Director Hussein Labib.

The teams will initially be distributed across eight preliminary groups of four teams each. The top three teams in each group (24 in total) will then progress to the main round, with the bottom team in each of the eight groups moving into the President’s Cup.

The 24 main-round teams will then be divided into four groups of six teams each with the top two from each cruising into the quarter-finals, ahead of the semi-finals and final.

According to the IHF, four pots will feature eight teams each according to seeding:

Pot 1: Denmark (DEN), Spain (ESP), Croatia (CRO), Norway (NOR), Slovenia (SLO), Germany (GER), Portugal (POR), Sweden (SWE)

Pot 2: Egypt (EGY), Argentina (ARG), Austria (AUT), Hungary (HUN), Tunisia (TUN), Algeria (ALG), Qatar (QAT), Belarus (BLR)

Pot 3: Iceland (ISL), Brazil (BRA), Uruguay (URU), Czech Republic (CZE), France (FRA), Republic of Korea (KOR), Japan (JPN), Bahrain (BRN)

Pot 4: Angola (ANG), Cape Verde (CPV), Morocco (MAR), SCAHC 4, DR Congo (COD), Poland (POL), NACHC 1, Russia (RUS)

One team each from pot 1, pot 2, pot 3 and pot 4 will be drawn into each of the eight preliminary groups, starting with teams in pot 4 being drawn into row 4, followed by pot 3 into row 3 and then pot 1 into row 1.

Once this part of the draw has been completed, Egypt, which is in pot 2 and row 2, then has the right as hosts to assign itself to a group of its choice. After Egypt decides which group it wants to be in, the remaining seven nations are then drawn, completing the draw. The draw will be streamed live.

The championship is scheduled to take place from 13 to 31 January 2021 at four venues: Cairo Stadium Indoor Hall, the new Administrative Capital Hall, the 6th of October Hall and the Borg Al-Arab Hall.

Chairman of the 2021 IHF Men’s World Championship Medical Commission Hazem Khamis detailed the preparations being made for the first major national team event to be held since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

During an interview with the event’s official website, Khamis confirmed that hosting the tournament during the current circumstances is a big challenge as many countries may refuse to organise a big championship at this time due to the spread of the coronavirus.

“Egypt, as a state represented by Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli as chairman of the Supreme Organising Committee, has the know-how to organise such a major championship that will witness the participation of 32 teams for the first time in the history of the World Championship,” Khamis said.

“This time, it is the IHF’s medical committee’s fate to be responsible for enforcing preventive measures during the championship.

“In the first part of the draw ceremony, we have to prove to the entire world that the medical measures in Egypt are of a high level according to the World Health Organisation’s criteria,” Khamis added.

Khamis also confirmed Egypt’s readiness for the draw.

“The delegations coming from abroad will stay in a hotel nearby the location of the event as we will hold a press conference to review the work of the medical committee to reassure all participants with the preventive measures.

“Only 200 people are allowed to attend the draw ceremony as we divided them into groups including public figures, invited guests and journalists while each group will enter the hall from a separate gate to ensure social distancing.

“We drew up strict measures during the entrance and departure, especially the departure as people always forget the measures after the end of an event.

“We will make sure that all attendees wear facemasks except those who will be delivering speeches on the stage,” Khamis said.

The second part of the medical challenge will be the main event, the championship itself.

“Our target is to keep all the championship’s participants from contracting the coronavirus. So since the formation of our medical committee we invited officials from the Egyptian Health Ministry to join the committee. They are responsible for enforcing preventive measures on ground. And we also added representatives from Wadi Al-Nile Hospital, the event’s health sponsor,” Khamis continued, adding that during a meeting with Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed and Sports Minister Sobhi, the committee raised the slogan of ‘No showing off, no compromises and no compliments’.

Khamis confirmed that precautionary virus measures to be applied during the tournament will be implemented according to global standards.

“It’s not our own preventive measures as the entire world is following these instructions. Participants arriving in Egypt for the world championship will undergo PCR tests 48 hours before their arrival,” Khamis said.

“They will also follow preventive measures in planes, airports and buses that will transport them to their hotels.”

“All preventive measures will start from the minute they arrive in Egypt until the last minute they leave the country.

“We will apply the bubble theory: anyone who is in direct contact with the players, referees, coaches, assistants or medical crews will undergo PCR tests every 72 hours and this will apply to all participants in the tournament,” Khamis said.

“We have allocated places in hotels where the teams will stay as well as venues for quarantine if there are infected cases.

“Those in playing halls will wear facemasks except the players during the game and the training sessions ahead of the games.

“All participants should know that there will not be any indulgence with medical preventive measures because all eyes will be focused on this World Championship,” Khamis added.

Regarding fan attendance in the championship, Khamis revealed that the committee will allow only 25-30 per cent of capacity to attend the games in the halls while keeping social distancing.

“Social distancing between attendees will be two metres. We will revise these percentages according to the number of infected people but all those present will wear facemasks since no food or drinks will be allowed in the hall.

“We will also follow social distancing measures during the entrance and exit of spectators from the stadiums according to international guidelines,” Khamis said.

“We have signed contracts with two nearby hospitals to be in charge of the stadiums which are only a 28-minute drive by ambulance. We have also prepared all the necessary medical equipment needed in the halls, including 12 ambulances, in addition to setting up medical checkpoints in the terraces.”

“Since the Egyptian people are definitely supporting the tournament, showing support is to follow the preventive measures that were published by the Health Ministry and the medical committee. Egypt’s political leaders and people deserve to be in the best standing,” Khamis added.

Egypt’s national handball team concluded its first training camp, as part of preparations for the championship. The two-week camp was held at the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada.

According to team manager Nour Abu Zeid, head coach Roberto Garcia Parrondo focused in his training sessions on techniques and tactics especially after the six-month suspension of sports activities due to Covid-19.

Abu Zeid also noted that the training camp was the first gathering for the Pharaohs since winning the African Championship in January in Tunisia.

“Parrondo is now satisfied with the players’ physical fitness which was his main concern. All the players have proven to be highly fit,” Abu Zeid said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly 

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