"We will do our utmost to organise our showcase events"
The COVID-19 pandemic has halted everyday life, including sports, all over the world. On Wednesday (25 March), the European Handball Federation announced that no matches organised under the umbrella of the EHF will be played in April and May.
The VELUX EHF FINAL4, the DELO WOMEN'S EHF FINAL4 and the MEN'S EHF Cup Finals have therefore been postponed and moved to their alternative dates in August and September.
With the announcement, the EHF released a feasibility study that outlines a competition plan that sees - provided the situation around the coronavirus allows for it - matches resuming at the beginning of June.
This study and its potential effects and consequences sparked a number of questions within the handball community which EHF President Michael Wiederer addresses in an interview with eurohandball.com.
On Wednesday, the EHF presented a feasibility study for a potential re-start of European handball as of June 2020. Given the uncertainty how the situation around the coronavirus develops, this seems to be a very theoretical approach.
Michael Wiederer: It is exactly the opposite; it clarifies the situation in a two-way strategy and, following the well-known phrase from literature in an adapted form, “to play, or not to play”, this is the question. And we are offering solutions for both situations.
What was the main motivation behind the study’s release, and are there already reactions?
Michael Wiederer: The main motivation was that in a crisis situation it is within the responsibility of the leadership to take a position and to offer solutions. Regarding the reactions, there are just positive reflections quite logically with questions arising.
The EHF FINAL4s will now be played on their alternative dates in August and September. UEFA has postponed their European Cup finals without setting a new date, the football EURO and the Olympics have been moved to 2021. Major events like the ice hockey world championship have been cancelled. Would it not have been the safer solution to stop the European club season and cancel the EHF FINAL4s?
Michael Wiederer: Safer, as the case may be. Though last, but not least, we are providing a platform for the clubs and it is obvious that not playing produces costs on their side without any income. The same happens on our side and cogently for all our partners in Cologne, Berlin, and Budapest. This was the reason why we were the first ones defining a new date and we will do our utmost to organise these major events, which are the showcases of handball.
Purely looking at the date, the EHF FINAL4 is part of the 2020/21 season calendar. On the other hand, it is the final club event of the 2019/20 season. This leaves some questions to be cleared: in case of a transfer involving a club or clubs present at the EHF FINAL4, which club does the player represent? The new club? The old club?
Michael Wiederer: First of all, no club is qualified right now, so the approach is still theoretical. All these questions concerning technicalities will be answered in due course. Our next task will be the analysis of the organisational and technical conditions on the basis of our regulations. However, what is most important is that we are on track with the preparations for all three events and we have solutions on how to get there based on sporting results.
For the players, playing a final tournament literally just a few weeks before the next season starts, in a time which is usually dedicated to preparation, does not seem to be ideal either…
Michael Wiederer: Please allow me to ask - what is currently ideal? All those working for and in our sport do their utmost to preserve the quality and the competition structure. We are closely cooperating with all our contractual partners with the understanding that, from the player to the court in many different steps, handball comes to the viewers hopefully very soon in the venues and across the screens.
The feasibility study also includes scenarios for further qualification in the respective competitions in case matches have to be cancelled. It says the criteria are based on sporting results achieved in rounds already completed. What are these criteria and when will they be communicated?
Michael Wiederer: The study itself provides the information and, looking into the different competitions, we are in different qualification phases thus the respective latest countable will be utilised. This applies to all competitions and may, depending on the respective phase, vary in the details. Once again, it is the sincere wish of the handball community to play and to see matches under improved and, by that, secure conditions. The alternative scenarios follow our responsibility for crisis management.
The 2020 Olympics were always a major concern in all season planning. They have been moved to 2021, but IOC President Thomas Bach tabled at least the option they could be held in spring instead of summer. How would this affect the handball calendar?
Michael Wiederer: Without a doubt a stable international calendar, and in this respect the cooperation with the International Handball Federation, is essential for the organisation of European and national competitions. Placing the Olympic Games in the middle of the season will dramatically effect all the competitions and may have a negative impact on the men’s world championship in Egypt and even, in the Olympic Games, on handball itself. Not even speaking of the players, clubs, leagues, and national teams in Europe, this is not a desirable option.
Finally, is the situation in sport and in particular handball, rather quiet at the moment?
Michael Wiederer: On the contrary, the current situation needs much more effort on the part of the decision-makers on all levels mainly for monitoring and analysing, but especially for coordinating the business of handball.Author: EHF / ts