Wiederer: “Cologne is the perfect platform”
280 goals, 20,000 fans, two penalty shoot-outs on the final day: the EHF FINAL4 Men 2022 was a thriller – and a success for handball and the European Handball Federation. Handball was the winner at LANXESS arena in Cologne, where Barça took their 10th trophy after beating Lomza Vive Kielce 37:35 after a penalty shoot-out.
EHF President Michael Wiederer truly enjoyed the EHF FINAL4 weekend. Apart from the four matches, it included a range of interesting meetings and side events. Among them was the signing of a contract extension with LANXESS arena and the City of Cologne to keep the EHF FINAL4 Men at the same venue it has been since its inauguration in 2010.
“In 2010, we decided to develop a new product as a showcase for handball in Cologne. Since then, we have developed a very good relationship with LANXESS arena, the city, and our partner: Stadionwelt. The City of Cologne has always supported our ideas, see the ‘Ball of Frame’ monument next to the arena,” Wiederer says.
Another element that contributed to the contract extension was the feedback from the clubs.
“We have a platform of exchange with the top clubs to make strategic decisions and there were no dissenting voices from the clubs when it came to the contract extension,” Wiederer says.
“The clubs feel comfortable here and have a great understanding of this location. The location is crucial because here is where they can win the EHF Champions League. And Cologne is not a German venue, but a perfect international platform for a top tournament for all clubs.”
After the restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the EHF and EHF Marketing GmbH have been able to stage the EHF FINAL4 events in Budapest and Cologne with full arenas again.
“The most important thing was to come back to the court, like with the postponed EHF FINAL4 Men in December 2020 in an empty LANXESS arena. Together with the clubs, we managed that 97, 98 percent of all matches could be played, and finally we had to make decisions and initiatives to bring back spectators to the arenas,” Wiederer says.
The clubs feel comfortable here and have a great understanding of this location. The location is crucial because here is where they can win the EHF Champions League. And Cologne is not a German venue, but a perfect international platform for a top tournament for all clubs.
“Until 2019, LANXESS arena in Cologne was filled easily; this year, it was a completely different situation, as we did not know until two months ago how many fans would be allowed in the arena. And we did know whether we could have the opening party in front of the arena. Everything had to be organised withing two months, that was a challenge. The EHF FINAL4 has never been a money-making event for the EHF, but a showcase for our sport. This year was another step.”
The circumstances also include the war in Ukraine. On Friday, the EHF Executive Committee decided to extend the suspension of Russian and Belarusian club teams from the 2022/23 season.
“It is a complex situation, and we are in an ongoing dialogue with many stakeholders,” Wiederer says.
Looking back at the three EHF men’s club competitions this season, the EHF president is satisfied, with each competition getting a winner from a different nation: Nærbø IL from Norway won the EHF European Cup in their first international season; SL Benfica from Portugal won the EHF European League as the hosts of the EHF Finals Men 2022 in Lisbon; and Barça took the EHF Champions League trophy to Spain again last weekend.
Six different nations made it to the four-team finals tournament of the European League and Champions League, and the two finals featured teams from four nations.
“It was absolutely the right decision to reduce the Champions League to 16 teams in two groups, as we could strengthen the European League,” says Wiederer, referring to the format change ahead of the 2020/21 European club season.
“This competition has become a platform for clubs to promote. We are motivating the clubs of the European Cup and the European League to enter the next stage. The current system makes sense, though we remain in a constant exchange with the clubs.”