15 Apr. 2020
It has been three weeks since the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee made the decision to postpone the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The Olympic Games have since been scheduled to take place from 23 July to 8 August, 2021.
“Even though the news were heartbreaking for many athletes who were spending many hours getting ready and were looking forward to competing in the Olympics, there are many positives in this decision,” said Japan men's team captain Remi Anri Doi about the decision.
“The main one is to keep people safe. Also it gives extra time to the athletes to prepare so said Japan men’s next year everyone can gather together safely and enjoy the Games.”
In handball, six national teams – including the hosts Japan – were already qualified for the Games in each the men’s and women’s competitions. A further 12 in each gender were set to vie for places at Tokyo 2020 in the qualification events in March and April.
“We need to set focus on humanity”
2017 and 2019 IHF Men’s World Championship silver medallists and Men’s EHF EURO 2020 semi-finalists Norway were among the sides ready to contest the Olympic qualification events. Considering they have consistently ranked among the top in the world and their competitive continent in recent years, Norway look to be in with an excellent chance to reach the Olympic Games.
“At the moment there are way more important things in the world than sports,” said team captain Bjarte Myrhol. “We need to set focus on humanity, and for me it was never an option to go through with the Olympics this year. This was a necessary and good decision. I really hope Tokyo 2021 can become a folk festival, with a focus on joy, good spirit and happy people – hopefully with no focus on COVID-19.”
Germany men’s team captain and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist Uwe Gensheimer agreed the decision had to be as such, and reaffirmed that his side will be determined to reach the Games when the time comes – but first, the priority is a return to normalcy in everyday life.
“The decision to postpone the Olympics was totally rational as everyone’s health has the highest priority. Naturally, handball is in our mind also in these Corona determined times, but before thinking of the qualification events and the Games, we have to manage our comeback in everyday life and restart our team training and leagues. Playing the Olympic tournament is still a dream for our team,” said Gensheimer.
“All athletes will try to show up in their maximum strength”
While there is a consensus that the decision to postpone the Games was the right one, the players are also in agreement when it comes to returning to the court: they aim to put on a great show when the Olympics are held in 2021.
“We must take care of ourselves as much as possible. Now we have to think about the health of athletes and everyone. The Olympic Games brings millions of people from all over the world and we could not take that risk,” said Brazil’s Felipe Borges, whose team is also set to contest the qualification events, after reaching the quarter-finals at the previous Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“With the move to 2021, all athletes will have the same conditions to reach the best level and perform the best show in the world.”
As African champions, crowned at the continental championship in January this year, Egypt were already qualified for Tokyo 2020. The All-star right back from the African Championship, Yahia Omar, also supported the decision, while finding silver lining in the fact that Egypt will now host the World Championship in January.
“I think the postponement is for the good of everyone. It’s a wise decision,” said Omar. “As for us personally, in the Egypt national team, it [Tokyo 2020] was an amazing chance for our young players to gain good experience before the World Championship that we host, but on the other hand, this postponement will mean that we as a national team would be more ready for the Olympics.”
Like Egypt, the Portugal men’s team had a great start to 2020, as they secured their best ranking in history at the European championship. Their sixth place finish at the EHF EURO 2020 meant Portugal booked a place in the qualification events for the Olympic Games.
National team captain Rui Silva promised that his side will be ready to perform at their best when the time to fight for the ticket to Tokyo arrives: “The fans can expect that all athletes will try to show up in their maximum strength so they can ensure the best show for everyone.”
Sweden women’s team captain Sabina Jacobsen expects the return to the court and the battle for Olympic places to highlight what the sport means to both players and fans.
“I think the handball fans can expect players eager and happy about playing handball again. There is such an abstinence built up from the players side, so I think we all will be able to see what the sport means to both the players and the fans,” said Jacobsen. “I really look forward to coming back to the pitch again and trying to secure a ticket to next years Olympics!”
Japan men’s captain Doi is very much looking forward to the day handball teams from around the world arrive in his country for the long anticipated Games.
“I am looking forward for all of us to have fun and get together in 2021! I am sure that the fans will enjoy what will come in the future because everyone – the athletes, organizations and the fans themselves – are missing games and competitions during the world lockdown.
“When things go [back] to normal and athletes go back on court, everyone will give the best of themself and make sure that everyone gets the most out of sport.”