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Protecting the players
Published in Ahram Online on 03 - 11 - 2020

In his weekly meeting with Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi, Hussein Labib, head of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of Egypt's 2021 Handball Men's World Championship highlighted the fact that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is following up the preparations being taken to make the championship a “spectacular event”. Labib also announced that the four indoor halls that will host the event will be ready by the end of October.
“This is a great success for our country to be able to set up such sports facilities in a very short time and amid the economic effects of the Covid-19 virus on the world as a whole,” Labib said. “The International Handball Federation (IHF) supervision committee was dazzled by the new halls that were built especially for the event. I hope that the pandemic will soon be over so that we can enjoy a remarkable event in Egypt.”
The schedule for all 108 matches of the championship, which will take place in Egypt from 13 to 31 January 2021, have been confirmed.
All matches in the preliminary round, main round and the first 12 matches of the President's Cup will start at 16.30, 19.00 and 21.30 respectively (Egypt local time) – a total of 96 matches.
Following this, the 25-32 placement matches will get underway at 16.00 and 18.30, with the quarter-finals and semi-finals taking place at 18.30 and 21.30, the bronze medal match at 15.30 and the final at 18.30.
The championship is the first-ever IHF event to feature 32 teams in the newly-expanded competition format, and it will also see the new match scheme which guarantees every team a rest day after a match day, meaning no more back-to-back matches for the players.
On the other hand, the medical commission of the 2021 championship has released its plan to safeguard the international event from the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the helm of Dr Hazem Khamis, the commission's head, a four-stage plan has been announced. The first starts one month before the launch of the tournament during which a commission affiliated to the preventive sector of the Egyptian Health Ministry will classify the degree of coronavirus activity in the countries that will take part in the championship.
The commission will raise the level of preventive measures while dealing with the countries which are witnessing a medium level of the virus activity as well as applying quarantine measures to all participants, who will undergo PCR tests when they arrive at their designated hotels and that it will be repeated every 72 hours.
The second stage will include raising the awareness of all delegations by introducing training methods and instructions for all participants in the tournament via a booklet which will be received in airport halls upon arrival.
Stage three includes preventive measures by screening temperatures at hotel entrances and training halls, and before boarding buses and before entering meeting rooms.
The fourth stage is related to how to deal with suspected infected cases.
The commission confirmed that the fourth phase ensures the crises and emergency room is open 24/7 and ready to receive reports from the governorates that will host the tournament as well as arranging with all stakeholders.
The commission will also designate a quick response team to be located in playing venues with preventive tools at the ready for dealing with any suspected cases.
Based on the recommendation of the IHF Covid-19 Medical Task Force, the IHF council decided to increase the number of players allowed per team.
Each team will be allowed 20 players instead of 18 on the definitive list, with the standard 16 still on the match report.
The measure is designed to provide teams a wider pool of players and to have more alternate players in case of any health issue that might occur. Additionally, the provision aims to avoid player injuries resulting from the reduced amount of training and matches due to the pandemic.
The IHF council also previously modified the regulation regarding the maximum number of replacements for each team competing at an IHF World Championship from three to five. This is to ensure no team is forced to make unsafe decisions and that players can be more easily replaced.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Al-Adl, Egyptian Handball Federation (EHF) board member and member of the IHF Medical Committee, highlighted that the LOC has agreed to increase training halls to nine to make it easier for the teams to train and maintain social distancing with other teams.
Earlier this week, IHF President Hassan Mustafa joined Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, Minister of Youth and Sports Sobhi, Housing and Urban Communities Minister Assem Al-Gazzar and Egyptian Handball Federation President Hesham Nasr, among other officials, on a tour of the soon-to-be-completed 6th of October Sports Hall in Giza.
The tour took the officials to key parts in the hall, including the court, spectator and VIP seating, warm-up courts and changing rooms. They were updated on the work currently underway, which currently sees 95 per cent of the hall completed.
The 5,200-capacity hall will be the venue for 30 games in the tournament. It will host preliminary round matches in Group A (Germany, Hungary, Uruguay, Cape Verde) and Group E (Norway, Austria, France, USA), the main round and the President's Cup from 20 to 25 January, in addition to two more President's Cup games and one quarter-final on Wednesday 27 January.
Meanwhile, the IHF Council selected the United States to represent the North America and the Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC) at the championship.
Difficulties organising a qualification tournament caused by Covid-19 led to NACHC President Mario Garcia de la Torre requesting a nominee from the IHF.
Egypt 2021 will be America's seventh World Championship appearance and the first since 2001. The US will join Norway, Austria and France in Group E.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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