The 27th Men’s Handball World Championship will be played without spectators because of the coronavirus. The decision was taken by the Supreme Organising Committee, and was requested by the International Handball Federation (IHF).
The committee is headed by Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, alongside Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi, IHF President Hassan Mustafa, Local Organising Committee (LOC) Chairman and head of the Egyptian Handball Federation Hesham Nasr and LOC director Hussein Labib.
In a meeting of the committee it was decided that no spectators would be allowed into the venues and that the games will thus be held behind closed doors amid ongoing precautionary measures to combat Covid-19.
The LOC also decided that the championship will go ahead without local or international media outlets covering the games from outside the tournament’s bubble in all the venues. An exception is made for the LOC Media Commission in charge of covering the tournament.
The decision comes in the wake of the earlier ban on fan attendance, to protect those participating and covering the event.
This will have no effect on the media coverage. Official websites and social media platforms will provide updates about the tournament for the Egyptian media.
Egypt 2021 is a historic tournament, featuring 32 teams for the first time ever as opposed to the previous 24-team format. The championship is taking place from 13 to 31 January.
It will take place in four halls: Cairo International Indoor Complex, the New Administrative Capital Hall, the Dr Hassan Mustafa Indoor Complex and the Borg Al-Arab Stadium Hall.
Hosts Egypt started their journey in the World Championship by playing against the Czech Republic on Wednesday 13 January - after the newspaper went to print - at the Cairo Stadium Indoor Complex Main Hall.
The Pharaohs will compete in Group G alongside top flight Sweden, the Czech Republic and Chile.
Egypt has made 15 World Championship appearances, securing its best-ever fourth place finish back in 2001.
For the 16th time in its history, Egypt is taking part in the championship. It is the host nation for the second time, and is eyeing a better finish than seventh place when it hosted it in 1999.
A friendly match between Egypt and Brazil, scheduled to be held last Saturday as part of the preparations for the two teams, has been cancelled.
The game was scratched when it was announced that the Brazilian team would not arrive in Cairo as scheduled.
However, Egypt played two friendly games against Japan in Cairo prior to the cancellation of the game against Brazil and won both times.
Sobhi has been in regular contact for updates from the Operations Division of the tournament. He stressed that the Operations Division will be working round the clock until the conclusion of the tournament, and that its role is to solve any problems that might crop up and provide all required facilities related to the organisation.
“The Operations Division should be in direct contact with all operating and follow-up commissions inside the playing and training courts, hotels and airports,” Sobhi said.
“The Operations Division will also monitor a full array of precautions including sanitising the courts, hotels and transportation vehicles,” Sobhi added.
“The World Championship in Egypt is a huge chance for us to achieve something big for our country,” said Egyptian right back Yehia Khaled.
“The 2020 African Men’s Championship is an important event. I was confident and my experience helped us win the title in Tunisia,” where Khaled was selected the best right back in the tournament.
“We have an excellent group of players and we aim to go through the first round and the main group stage to reach the quarter-finals. There we can see whether we have the capacity to advance. We have great confidence in ourselves and our coaching staff.
Even though former four-time world champions Sweden is also in the group, Khaled believes that the group is balanced nonetheless.
“There are many good coaches that I’ve played under, including Roberto Garcia Parrondo (Egypt’s current Spanish coach) and David Davies. Parrondo has excellent experience and is one of the best in the world. He deals with the players really well.”
For those who will not be able to attend, Khaled said, “your support on social media means a lot to us. We will do our best to make our fans happy.”
The Egyptian team’s goalkeeper Mohamed Essam Al-Tayar said his ambition was big ahead of the start of the championship, expecting “a great achievement from the Pharaohs”.
The 24-year-old will make his second appearance with the Pharaohs in the World Championship after participating in the 26th Men’s World Championship 2019 that took place in Germany and Denmark.
“I will do my best in this edition to help Egypt’s team to improve their position after finishing in eighth place in the last edition,” Al-Tayar said.
“It’s a good opportunity for the current squad to present a superb performance during the 2021 World Championship as it will be played at home despite the current coronavirus pandemic.”
The 2019 World Championship was Al-Tayar’s first appearance with the Egyptian national team “in such a big event and it was a good experience.”
A year ago, Al-Tayar had helped Egypt take the 2020 African Championship in Tunisia as well as book a place in the 27th IHF Men’s Handball World Championship.
“Winning the African Championship was a great achievement for me and my teammates and it was good preparation for the 2021 World Championship,” the Egyptian goalie said.
“I can’t predict what Egypt will do in the World Championship, but I can confirm that all the players are doing their best in training to reach an advanced place in the tournament,” Al-Tayar added.
The Pharaohs called up two other talented goalkeepers, Karim Hendawi and Abdel-Rahman Hamid alongside Al-Tayar for the tournament.
“All the players are competing to book a regular place in the starting lineup as well as accomplishing great achievements,” Al-Tayar said.
“The great achievement in 2001 will motivate the current squad to repeat it as our dream is to push as far as we can in this tournament.”
“Our mission in Group G is not easy as there are three big teams. The coaching staff has been studying our opponents as we aim to be the group’s leader while also introducing a superb performance,” Al-Tayar said, adding that the group is doing its best to win a medal.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.