New start with question marks: handball before a difficult season

Cologne (dpa) – One thing is almost certain: On the way to the next handball championship, there is probably no way around THW Kiel. In a survey by the German Press Agency, those responsible for the 20 Bundesliga clubs almost all consider THW to be the big title favorite.

But that’s all that seems clear. Because no one currently knows whether the October 1st season that begins on Thursday can even be brought to an end. It is also unclear how many of the economically troubled clubs would survive another end of the season at all. In any case, it would have drastic consequences.

“Another lockdown would be almost unbearable,” says Bob Hanning, managing director of Füchse Berlin. Marc-Henrik Schmedt, the manager of SC Magdeburg, reckons that the league and thus also the clubs would “not survive” a second demolition. It is not only for this reason that the HBL is facing the most extraordinary and difficult season in its history. There are a number of question marks that accompany the restart and the months afterwards. But there are also glimmers of hope that at least encourage the clubs and their managers.

Most clubs welcome the fact that they can play in front of a few spectators again. The 20 percent rule, which will apply until the end of October, is only seen as a first step. For the future, the entire industry would like “of course more viewers”, says HBL managing director Frank Bohmann. He therefore hopes “that we can conclude the trial phase well by the end of October and then increase the number of spectators at all Bundesliga locations”. Kiel’s supervisory board chairman Marc Weinstock is even clearer: “20 percent of viewers don’t really help us.” The THW is already working on plans to get more fans into the hall.

The Rhein-Neckar Löwen, on the other hand, will start without a spectator because there was not enough time for them to adapt the hygiene concept to the 20 percent rule. Not only the Mannheimers were and still are calculating how at least some money can be made with the few spectators. Some clubs are even likely to incur slight losses on the first days of the match, despite a few hall visitors, because the hall rent or other costs exceed the comparatively low audience income. That’s why it’s not only Lemgo’s manager Jörg Zereike who hopes “that we can play again in front of unlimited capacities as quickly as possible.”

However, hardly any of the club bosses expect that this will still be possible this season. You have to feel your way around slowly, says Füchse manager Hanning. In view of the tight game timing, there will be enough opportunities to test the corresponding concepts with some of the viewers. Due to the increase in the league from 18 to 20 teams, there will be even more games than usual, in addition to the tightly-timed international match calendar and, for the top clubs, the matches in the European Cup. National coach Alfred Gislason therefore speaks of a “very special season due to the density of competitions”.

Although his ex-club THW Kiel is one of the clubs that will be challenged the most in this unusual season, the record champion is a big favorite for the title. After signing the Norwegian world-class professional Sander Sagosen, the defending champion should be even stronger than last season. Nevertheless, at least the SG Flensburg-Handewitt is combative: “We and other teams certainly want to have a say in the championship,” says managing director Dierk Schmäschke. It remains to be seen whether this will succeed – like so many other things in this extraordinary season.

Gislason is expecting an exciting season: For the 61-year-old Icelander, six teams in Füchsen Berlin, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, SC Magdeburg, MT Melsungen, SG Flensburg Handewitt and defending champion THW Kiel have the opportunity to win the title play. “This season is really difficult to predict,” said Gislason in an interview with the “Kieler Nachrichten”.

In addition, the Gislason worries about the economic future of the clubs. If, for example, the second half of the season without spectators should come due to the corona, “half of the league would have to fight for survival”.

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