It might not be what Egypt had hoped for when it was originally awarded the hosting rights of the 2021 World Handball Championship, but the country is still adamant it can make the spectacle an unforgettable one.
In 1999, when Egypt hosted the tournament for the first time, home fans packed venues and cheered on the national team, with a glitzy opening ceremony signaling the start of the first ever World Championship to take place in Africa.
Twenty-one years on and Egypt is back again as the host nation, although the tournament is engulfed in a much more subdued mood.
When Egypt won the hosting rights in 2015, there was no pandemic to worry about. The priority now for the country has shifted from attracting supporters from all over the world to staging a safe tournament amid the second wave of the highly-contagious virus.
"Egypt accepted the challenge of hosting the World Championship amid these circumstances," the country's sports minister Ashraf Sobhy said.
Egypt initially had plans to allow fan attendance of up to 20 percent of the capacity of the four venues that will host the tournament.
However, in a last-minute change of heart, the country said all matches will take place behind closed doors.
"The state fulfilled the wish of the European Handball Players Union to reassure them before they take part in the tournament," Hesham Nasr, the head of the local organizing committee, told the World Championship official website.
"The Egyptian authorities found that deciding to have no fans present at venues during the tournament was in everyone's best interests, amid the current circumstances surrounding COVID-19."
Egypt introduced a raft of strict measures to ensure a safe tournament, including implementing what is widely known as the "medical bubble" system, with hotels equipped with quasi-hospitals and isolation rooms for suspected COVID-19 cases.
Mandatory PCR tests will be carried out every 72 hours while non-playing staff will be required to wear face masks all the time. Precautions also include regular disinfection and cleaning.
Media personnel will not be present and news conferences will only be held virtually.
Some teams were hit with COVID-19 outbreaks ahead of the tournament, with Egypt's Group G opponents Czech Republic withdrawing on Tuesday. They were replaced with North Macedonia.
The United States will also fly to Egypt on Wednesday with only 12 players after 18 had contracted the virus.
This edition is all the more special because it's the first to feature 32 teams, up from 24.
The World Championship will take place in four venues, including two newly-built ones: the New Capital Sports Hall east of Cairo and the Hassan Moustafa Indoor Complex in 6th of October City on the outskirts of the capital.
Egypt will play their games at Cairo's 30-year-old venue while Egypt's second biggest city of Alexandria will also host Group C and Group H matches at the Borg El-Arab venue.
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