FEATURE: In the wake of the biggest EHF EURO in handball history, EHF President Michael Wiederer reveals how the federation dealt with staging the event in three countries for the first time
Wiederer: "We will learn from expanded EHF EURO success"
EHF President Michael Wiederer has reflected on the challenges that came with staging the biggest EHF EURO in handball history.
In what was the first edition of an EHF EURO that was held in three separate countries and featured 24 teams, Spain became the first nation since Sweden in 2002 to retain the title.
With a number of nations either posting their best ever finish at an EHF EURO or competing for the very first time, the president hailed the decisions to expand the competition by eight teams and to reveal the stages in which when referee couples would officiate.
Wiederer said: “The EURO was a huge success – the concept of 24 teams was proven right by the performance of those taking part. On a sporting level the EURO was an excellent advert for top level handball.
“With the increase in matches there was a need to increase the number of referees, too and the way in which referee couples were selected also paid off.
“None of the results were affected by referee decisions which is always a challenge because, by the nature of our sport, the number of decisions made in such a short space of time is incredibly high.
“The assistance of the technological support available to referees, using the video replay system, also proved to be hugely valuable and we will continue to assess and improve frameworks going forward.”
"The joint bid was a great opportunity"
With six venues hosting an aggregate record attendance of 500,000 – Wiederer explained the logistical hurdles the tournament was faced with throughout the busy three-week schedule.
“Back in 2014 three nations proposed to host the tournament – Sweden, Austria and Norway – and after discussions we felt if we were to have 24 teams playing then a joint bid between these three nations would be great opportunity,” he said.
“We knew of course that there would be potential issues with teams travelling but the schedule allowed extra days for travelling to make it easier for teams to get to their next match at another venue.
“There was a situation in main round group 2 where teams had to play two days in a row, as well as for those teams involved in the semi-final and the bronze medal match in Stockholm.
“The proposal for these came directly from each organising committee, with the need to play matches inside the football stadium for the final weekend of particular significance. It was a logistically complex and costly situation and it was crucial to balance time, cost and logistics in order for this to work.
“In 2022, at the next EHF EURO in Hungary and Slovakia, the schedule will be carefully arranged taking into consideration both nations are neighbours, as well as the feedback we received from competing teams.”
Increased competitiveness across the continent
On playing the final weekend inside the Tele2 arena in the Swedish capital – that saw 18,000 fans witness Spain beat Croatia – Wiederer added: “I have seen handball matches inside football arenas many times before but this was the first one which proved perfect for handball in terms of both atmosphere and from a technical set-up perspective. It was excellent.”
On the court, it was not a tournament to remember for fans of pre-tournament favourites Denmark and France as both nations crashed out at the preliminary round stage.
However, Wiederer felt those results indicated just how competitive handball has become across the continent.
“In the old system with 16 teams, three teams from four groups progressed to the main round – 12 teams. We still had 12 teams in the main round at EHF EURO 2020,” explained the President. “The only difference is we had more competition at the preliminary round stage. And that can only be good for our sport.
“It was a big step forward for a number of nations. A number of nations saw an opportunity at a tournament featuring 24 teams to take part and strengthen their ambition and investment and this is heartening for the future of handball.
“It is clear many nations can now compete and, from a global perspective, such success is creating new markets for these nations: the interest in their success is a driving element for them to move even further forward.”
The success of the tournament – that saw records of attendance and social media engagement broken – “exceeded all expectations” according to Wiederer, who explained that EHF EURO 2020 will act as an important benchmark for future editions.
“You cannot put on a big event without learning for the future,” admitted the President. “There will be a complete analysis, from a technical and organisational level, in order for us to prepare for the next EHF EURO.
“Of course, that has already started – the draw for qualification for Men’s EHF EURO 2022 will be on 23 April in Bratislava."
TEXT: Andrew Barringer / EHF / ts
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