Poland approaches normality with enthusiasm
The Covid-19 crisis has brought Polish handball huge disappointment as well as euphoria, with the initial blow of match cancellations countered by several positive moves that are now bringing optimism to players, officials and fans.
When the Polish league was suspended on 12 March, there was considerable anxiety about how the season would end. Some were glad of the cancellation, while others complained that the decision was made too fast.
Soon, 11 days later, the titles were given according to teams’ current ranks. PGE Kielce were named Polish men’s champions and MKS Perla Lublin as Polish women’s champions.
“Thanks to fast decisions Superliga and all the clubs could take concrete action,” says Piotr Nalezyty, vice-chairman of the board of Superliga.
“We could start talks with the players and sponsors quickly and prepare for the new season. The time showed that it was right thing to do as restrictions regarding sports arenas would make coming back on court impossible anyway. If we had hesitated, that could have led to negative consequences including financial issues for the clubs,” he adds.
The clubs united in actions to support fans through the uncertainty of the pandemic, promoting wearing masks, social distancing, hand washing and taking care of relatives. Many clubs also shared alternative ways to exercise at home and encourage people to stay fit as Poland went into lockdown.
At the same time, Superliga and the Polish Handball Federation were faced with difficult tasks – contributing to the country’s sports recovery plan, and fighting for the future of Polish handball.
“We were working intensively on new projects, that will let us build bigger interest in handball next season,” says Należyty. “We have invested a lot in digital solutions, essential for building a strong position for the league, especially in this new reality.
“During the pandemic we were working on a new mobile app, a virtual press office that no other sports league in Poland has got yet, and also a new standard for high quality internet broadcast of matches that will not be shown on TV. This step means we’re ready for a situation where we need to play without the fans,” Należyty adds.
World Championship disappointment
The national federation also had challenges to deal with. In April the EHF cancelled the remaining European qualification matches for the 27th IHF Men’s World Championship due to take place in January 2021. The EHF Executive Committee named the national teams that qualified for the tournament, based on their final ranking at the EHF EURO 2020.
That meant that 21st-ranked Poland were out of the running. As the road to Egypt would have seen Poland challenge Lithuania and Belarus, giving them a good chance to qualify, the Polish handball community was devastated. But soon attempts began to get a wild card place.
“I think that as Poland is organising the world championship in 2023, we should be privileged here,” said three-time world medallist Krzysztof Lijewski.
Polish Handball Federation president Andrzej Kraśnicki applied for a wild card and started negotiations. Just three months later, the IHF opened the door to Egypt for the Polish and Russian national teams.
In the wake of that good news, the Polish national team returned to training in June for the first time since January, and in July Polish clubs started their preparations for the 2020-21 season.
The Polish league will return on 5/6 September in a new format, without play-offs and played at the weekends, making space for the EHF Champions League Men in midweek. Everything is slowly coming back to normality with huge enthusiasm and a dose of positive energy after overcoming the worst.
“Training is going well; we need to remember how to play, to feel the ball again so we need a bit of time. Before the first training I was at the arena one and a half hours early, I couldn’t wait. I’m so happy that finally I can be in the arena and do what I love,” sums up Polish national team and Kielce player Tomasz Gebala.