We wanted a big tournament. Now it’s a struggle for survival – We wanted a big tournament. Now it’s a struggle for survival

Only the hours remain until the start of one of the most important sporting events of the year. The European Handball Championships, organized by Slovakia and Hungary, start on Thursday.

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Slovak handball player Tomáš Urban in the archive picture.

At the last minute, the decision was made that spectators could occupy 25 percent of the seats in the halls in Bratislava and Košice. The head of Slovak handball, Jaroslav Holeša (51), talks about the current situation.

Tickets have been available for a long time, but their sales have stagnated in the uncertain period. Is the audience quota full?

Only for some matches. For some, some tickets are still available.

Which matches in Slovak cities were the most interested in?

Definitely about the meetings between Germany and the Czech Republic. They will perform in Bratislava.

Slovaks will start in Košice. Do fans still have a chance to get into their fights?

The steel arena has a capacity of 8,000 seats, less than the winter stadium in Bratislava, so the matches can be watched by about 2,000 spectators. Some tickets are still available, but not many. I recommend that the spectators come to the halls in advance, as they will undergo a three-stage inspection – they will show up with a passport, a ticket and a security check-up awaits them.

Ticket sales are the sole income of the organizers. Will it be enough to cover the costs?

We will see this after the championship when we make the final account. We try to get at least zero in the budget after all the problems. We don’t want to end up losing.

The organizers of the World Championships on white water in Čunov had problems last year, shortly before the start it was not clear whether they would manage them financially. Are you in danger of anything like that?

Not at the moment, mainly thanks to the support of the Ministry of Education and Finance. They provided us with a grant when there was a problem selling tickets. We had to cut budgets, in particular we reduced accompanying events, marketing and school projects.

We believe that most matches will be sold out, although in the current situation it sounds a bit comical.

You said that for the European Handball Federation, the Men’s European Championship is the golden apple of marketing. How do its officials react to the situation in Slovakia?

The Handball Championship is one of the biggest events in Europe, the halls are always 90 percent or more full. The EHF is based in Vienna and the situation in our region is well known by its representatives.

More than a year ago, the Women’s European Championships were to take place in Denmark and Norway, but the Norwegians gave up the organization two months before their start. The conditions in each country are specific.

The situation is completely different in Hungary, where the halls may be full…

Last year, the European Football Championships were played in Budapest and the stadium was full. Even then, the spectators went to football and handball in large numbers. Not surprisingly, it will be the same now. Just as a co-organizer, we will shine negatively through almost empty arenas.

But thanks for the 25 percent too. Representatives of the EHF were also pleased. But under normal circumstances, we expected that in our country and in Hungary, more than half a million spectators would watch the matches directly in the halls.

The organizers of the European Championships were decided in July 2018. Nobody knew that a pandemic would come. Otherwise, Slovakia would probably not apply for the European Championships at all…

We wouldn’t go for it. One hundred percent. At that time, we expected an extraordinary championship, full halls, a large number of spectators from all over Europe, great media support, a handball boom. Now it’s a struggle for survival. However, the tournament will be watched throughout Europe, at least thanks to television broadcasts.

Is there a risk that the championship could still be canceled, as has happened in several other cases, including the World Under-20 Hockey Players?

The covid threat is the last question mark that hangs over us. On the other hand, the World Championships took place in Egypt a year ago. The two teams lost, but the tournament continued. The EHF has developed a hygiene protocol that minimizes risks. We do everything we can to keep players and all participants safe.

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Testing will increase organization requirements and costs…

It will cost us about 150 thousand euros. We will do more than 500 tests a day. Ensuring everything organizational and personnel will be challenging. Similarly, the formation of bubbles. Teams will be closed for two weeks or more in the lobby and hotels, which is not pleasant.

You are a former national team member, you also started in the Czechoslovak jersey at the 1993 World Cup. How do you perceive the performance of Slovaks and their chances?

I believe that players will do their best, they have a unique chance. Many Slovak handball players have not had the opportunity in history to present themselves at home in a big tournament. It will be important how they enter it, whether they are in a good mood for the next matches. Then we can expect interesting results.

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Do you believe that Slovaks can advance from the group?

We are not favorites, which is not a bad position. Due to the covid, we had to cancel up to nine preparatory matches last year, including all three before the European Championships. We will start the championship only from training. If we want to advance, we have to beat two opponents.

The Norwegians are clear favorites, I think we can play equal matches with Russia and Lithuania. The players are determined to fight for their first ever ever European Championship victory. We started on three, but only drew once. I hope that we will improve this balance.

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Source: Pravda – Šport – Futbal – Hokej by sport.pravda.sk.

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