With only three months to go before the Men’s Handball World Championship, the work needed to finalise the remaining items is becoming more hectic and more demanding.
Handball officials and players are on their toes as they prepare to host the championship on home soil for the second time in Egypt’s history. Egypt had played host to the event in 1999. In 1993, Egypt organised the World Juniors Championship, winning the title.
The 27th edition of the men’s championship, a major International Handball Federation (IHF) event, is scheduled to be held from 13 to 31 January 2021 and will see Egypt hosting 32 nations for the first time in the history of the championship. The tournament will be held in three cities: Cairo, Giza and Alexandria, in four venues: Cairo Stadium Indoor Hall, the New Administrative Capital Hall, the 6th of October Hall and the Borg Al-Arab Hall.
For the Pharaohs, playing at home provides them with considerable motivation to achieve results that would make Egyptians proud of their team. Accordingly, the squad has resumed training and is now in its third training camp in the Red Sea resort city of Hurghada.
The team concluded its first two training camps in Hurghada and Cairo. The first two-week camp was held in Hurghada while the second was held in the Sixth of October City. This week the team returned to Hurghada for the third training camp.
According to team manager Nour Abu Zeid, “the head coach Roberto Garcia Parrondo, had focused in his training sessions during the first two camps mostly on physical fitness and a little bit on techniques and tactics to remind the players, especially after the six-month suspension of sports activities” due to the coronavirus.
Abu Zeid also noted that the camps were the first gathering of the Pharaohs since winning the African Championship in January this year in Tunisia.
“Parrondo is now satisfied with the players’ fitness, which was his main concern, because of the long time they spent in isolation at the beginning of the pandemic. All the players have now proven to be highly fit as they enter the third training camp,” he added.
The Pharaohs were introduced to their group opponents after the draw which took place on Saturday, 5 September, at the Giza Pyramids Plateau. Egypt was placed in Group G together with Sweden, the Czech Republic and a team from South America yet to be named. Due to the coronavirus outbreak in March, the South and North American qualification tournaments will be played at a later date.
Sweden, four-time world championship winner, is Egypt’s toughest opponent in the preliminary round. The Czech Republic also won the tournament, once in 1967.
The preliminary round features eight groups of four teams each. The top three teams from each group will advance to the main round, where they will be divided into four groups of six teams each.
The top-two teams from each group will then advance to the quarter-finals.
Egypt will play its matches at the main hall of the Cairo Stadium Indoor Complex.
The best outcome for Egypt’s senior side was a fourth-place finish in France in 2001. In last year’s edition in Denmark and Germany, the Pharaohs finished eighth for their best position in 18 years.
Days after last week’s draw, the IHF released the match schedule of the championship. The preliminary round will be held from 13 to 19 January, whereas the main draw and the President Cup will be from 20 January to 25 January. The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final are scheduled to start on 26 January.
Cairo Stadium Hall will host Groups D and G while the Sixth of October Hall will receive Groups A and E. Groups B and F are to play at the New Administrative Capital Hall, while Borg Al-Arab Hall will host Groups C and H.
And while the national team continues to train for the tournament, the organisers too have been working around the clock to meet deadlines. It is true there is still much to do but the Egyptian government, led by Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, has been on call 24/7 to guarantee the remaining work is completed on time.
For the Egyptian political leadership, the championship is also a top priority. Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has been deeply involved in the preparations of the championship ever since Egypt was awarded the honour to host the event.
As the championship draws closer, President Al-Sisi earlier this week met Youth and Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhi and the president’s financial adviser Mohamed Amin to see how much work the organising committee has done and what progress has been made.
According to the presidential spokesperson, the meeting tackled issues related to Egypt’s final preparations to hosting the tournament.
The president gave immediate instructions to provide all the facilities necessary to deliver an astounding event, the first world-class major sports tournament to be held on Egyptian soil since the outbreak of the coronavirus. It will also have spectators in attendance.
The spokesman said Sobhi had highlighted the different aspects of the ongoing preparations as set by the Supreme Organising Committee of the World Championship, including upgrading and refurbishing the country’s sports infrastructure.
He also pointed to the fact that Egypt will host 32 teams for the first time in the history of the championship, and that 108 matches are scheduled to be played in four venues in three Egyptian cities, in addition to allocating 10 halls dedicated for teams needing to practise.
The spokesman added that a total of 1,100 volunteers will be selected to assist the organisers and participants during the tournament. The selected volunteers will attend an intensive course in which they will be trained on how to deal with the delegations. They will also receive training on first aid in case of any emergency in order to contribute to bringing about a spectacular event.
Sobhi said that the volunteers will carry a huge responsibility during the tournament.
“Egypt’s volunteers will be in the front lines and will be the first impression to the participating teams and their delegations and to the entire world who will be following the event,” the minister said.
Sobhi confirmed that President Al-Sisi “is keenly interested in this major event which makes him genuinely and sincerely following up all the details regarding the current progress of the final preparations”. He added that Al-Sisi had given instructions removing any obstacles to ensure there is no delay and to have smooth working conditions for the success of the event.
More than 6,000 young men and women have applied to serve as volunteers in the two-week event. The applicants have been interviewed for the past two weeks at the Olympic Centre in Maadi, amid medical precautionary measures.
The applicants were interviewed by a commission of experienced professors in the volunteering sector from the Ministry of Youth & Sports. The interviews for the Cairo-based applicants concluded on Tuesday while the interviews for the applicants from Alexandria will be held on 18 and 19 September in Alexandria.
On Monday, Sobhi, IHF President Hassan Mustafa, Engineering Authority head Ihab Al-Far and Cairo Stadium Authority head Ali Darwish paid an inspection visit to the indoor hall of Cairo International Stadium to see for themselves the progress being made.
The Indoor Hall of Cairo Stadium will host the games of Groups G and D. This huge hall is famous in the world of handball, seating a record number of spectators -- more than 35,000 -- at the final of the World Juniors Championship which Egypt hosted and won in 1993.
During the inspection tour, Sobhi informed Mustafa that Al-Sisi had expressed his admiration and appreciation for the organisation of the draw ceremony “as it has shown the country’s ability to hold such major events despite the dire times of the current coronavirus pandemic”.
Sobhi also confirmed to Mustafa that the government was cooperating with the organisers and working closely with the organising committee of the tournament to assist in overcoming any obstacles that may arise.
Sobhi also reviewed the readiness to host visitors, including the players, technical staffs and team supporters and how to accommodate them inside the halls that will host the championship and the important role of the volunteers in both the opening and closing ceremonies.
Sobhi also expressed pleasure with the achievements in the Cairo Stadium Indoor Hall, confirming that the hall is more than 90 per cent ready for the tournament and will be fully functional next month.
Al-Far summarised the development projects of Cairo Stadium’s Indoor Halls, including improving the efficiency of the facility and renovating the entrance of the press corps as well as the main hall, the press conference hall, the lighting system, fans’ entrances and bathrooms.
Mustafa praised the achievements made in the Cairo Stadium Indoor Hall and all other halls that will host the tournament’s matches, appreciating the effort made by the Egyptian government starting from President Al-Sisi, Prime Minister Madbouli and Sports Minister Sobhi for their keenness and continuous support to this major event by following up the preparations “in order to introduce a spectacular and unique championship that reflects the greatness of Egyptian civilisation”.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly