Wednesday January 13th 2021
The first nations are already out
Handball World Cup starts in the corona chaos
The handball world championship is not yet running, the first two teams have already been eliminated: the USA and the Czech Republic are not even traveling to the squad due to corona outbreaks. Similar problems exist with at least one other team. The DHB team, on the other hand, is at least already on site.
The German handball players were in their hotel at the Pyramids of Giza when the World Cup in Egypt took an undesirable course even before it started. The Czech Republic withdrew from the World Cup on Tuesday evening after numerous corona infections, and shortly afterwards the US team also announced its waiver due to a number of corona cases. “This is of course something that comes at the wrong time and does not belong here at all,” said Germany’s sports director Axel Kromer after arriving in Egypt.
The world association IHF reacted immediately and invited North Macedonia to replace the Czechs, while Switzerland moved up for the USA. The North Macedonians will face Sweden as well as hosts Egypt and Chile in the group G finals starting on Wednesday, who will play the opening game today. Switzerland plays in Group E against France, Austria and Norway.
The German team had landed in Cairo before at 27 degrees in summer. There, Captain Uwe Gensheimer and his teammates were received by medical staff. The temperature was measured on the gangway, then the corona test was carried out. “We have a huge event ahead of us and we want to win as many games as possible,” said Kromer. “But it is also important that many questions outside of the sport have been answered satisfactorily in advance.”
Alignment remains fragile
The strictly isolated DHB selection was brought to a luxury hotel not far from the world-famous Giza pyramids on a special bus. The five-star hotel is the center of life for the players and coaching team for at least one week. They are only allowed to leave it to train or to play the preliminary rounds against Uruguay, Cape Verde and Hungary.
The so-called bubble concept was the most important of many prerequisites for the implementation of the controversial tournament. The World Cup in his home country is considered a prestige project by the Egyptian world association president Hassan Moustafa. Despite some massive opposition, the 76-year-old has done everything to ensure that the finals can take place with 32 teams for the first time. The corona-related cancellations by two teams now show how fragile the tournament is. There should also be seven positive cases in the German preliminary round opponent Cape Verde.
The globally unstable corona situation had repeatedly forced the organizers to adjust the hygiene concept in recent weeks. Until recently, Moustafa had even dreamed of being able to hold the games in front of at least a few spectators. This plan failed at short notice after a number of players from Europe expressed massive concerns. But many players and officials are still worried. Some Bundesliga clubs fear that their players will return from Egypt with corona infections, which could lead to further game cancellations.
President understands concerns
Moustafa understands the concerns. “With the Covid-19 preparedness plan for Egypt 2021, however, a document was drawn up – and continuously updated and improved – that is intended to guarantee all those involved conditions that could not be safer,” he told the “handball week”. Among other things, the plan provides that the German players in Egypt will be tested for Corona at least every two days. In the beginning, PCR tests should even be carried out daily. “The laboratories in Egypt are working very, very quickly,” said Kromer. “Contrary to the standard in Germany, the results come back to the team relatively quickly, within three hours.”
If an actor tests positive, he should be isolated immediately. In order to be able to bring worried or infected players out of Egypt at any time, the DHB has even ordered a charter plane especially for the World Cup, which will be available on call during the tournament. If players or other members of the World Cup team test positive, they can be flown home immediately. “There will also be corona cases at this World Cup, as there are socially everywhere,” said DHB Vice President Bob Hanning. Nevertheless, he is confident: “The risk in a functioning World Cup bubble is no greater than if Bayern Munich flies to a Champions League game.” However, even Hanning would not have thought that numerous cases would occur before the World Cup.