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Back to handball: France eager to start playing

EHF / Kevin Domas

13 September. The date is now written in red on every French handball player’s calendars. After exactly six months without playing their favourite sport, they will be able to return to the court and play their first official game of the new season.

Sure, this will not make up for the fact that the end of the 2019/20 season will never be played, that titles will never be awarded and that some clubs, no matter which level they play at, will be disappointed.

But the French Handball Federation had to react quickly, due to the fact that France was one of the worst-hit countries in Europe during the COVID-19 crisis. The population was on lockdown for over two months and sports were badly affected.

Handball was one of them and the premature ending of the season was proof of it. With no view on how things were going to evolve, the federation and the Ligue National de Handball (LNH), which handles the professional men’s leagues, were quick to make a decision.

“The best thing to do is to end the season. Sure, this is not the way we would have liked things to go, but we have to show some responsibility,” said Olivier Girault, head of the LNH.

The professional leagues did their best to remain united, with players, trainers and clubs speaking in unison. At lower levels, the federation helped clubs by cutting its fees for next season, trying to make its best to keep smaller structures alive. For professionals, national coaches and physical trainers offered video training sessions in order to keep athletes in the best shape possible.

"More important things in the world"

At the start of June, some professional clubs resumed training. No more than ten players at the same time could train together, mandatory masks and no contact, that was the new start that everybody had been hoping for. Not the old handball we were used to, but better than nothing.

“It feels good to see friends again, to be back at training again. I missed it a lot, I missed the locker room as well. But we went through this dark period bearing in mind that there were much more important things in the world than handball,” said Nédim Rémili, the French national player, when he resumed training with Paris Saint-Germain.

As of now, the capacity of the halls are limited to 5,000 spectators, but that should not be a problem for most of the French clubs, which play in smaller halls. The ones with bigger arenas have already been working on ticket sales limitation in order to keep up with the restrictions.

And while some of the professional teams, such as Montpellier, have already resumed training with the 2020/21 season in mind, most of the amateurs will end their handball holidays in August. Six weeks will not be too long in order to ready the bodies for the new season.

And then, hopefully, handball can resume its course. The women’s professional league will be first to resume, on 9 September, quickly followed by the amateur leagues.

The superstars from Paris Saint-Germain, Montpellier, Nantes and so on come back onto the court on 23 September.

These dates have been highlighted in every handball fan’s calendars for a good few weeks now. “Stopping early gave the opportunity to clubs and players to immediately start thinking about next season. The sooner the decision was made, the better. Now is the time for everybody in handball to come back even stronger than before,” concludes Olivier Girault.

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