Poland protests Handball World Championship qualifiers being called off

The Polish Handball Federation (ZPRP) filed an official protest against the European Handball Federation’s (EHF) decision, on Friday, to cancel the qualification for next year’s World Championships and to grant places at this tournament on the basis of performance during the 2020 European championships.

Despite taking a distant 21st place at this event, Poland still had a chance to participate in the World Championships. The national team was supposed to face Lithuania in the preliminary round, and, in case of the victory, Belarus would be the final obstacle to overcome to win the tournament berth.

However, amid the coronavirus pandemic, EHF argued that there was no time to play the qualifying stage, as handball is an indoor sport and the risk of infection is higher. As a consequence, the best 14 teams of this year’s European championships are to appear at the tournament in Denmark in 2021.

Decision that hampers handball development in Poland

"We are fully aware that the COVID-19 pandemic forces changes in the calendar of sports events, but the EHF decision is surprising for several reasons. It was taken arbitrarily and without prior consultation with the national handball federations; furthermore, it does not take into account risks and losses, including the financial aspect, development and reputation,” wrote the ZPRP President Andrzej Kraśnicki in a letter to the head of EHF Michael Wiederer.

“Such a decision will generate negative effects in the future, it is unjust and takes away equal chances”, Mr Kraśnicki stated, adding that the EHF move will expose the whole discipline in Poland to losses, not only these of a financial nature. The national team also lost the opportunity to play four matches where the stakes would be high, which would be an invaluable experience for a young team.

"After the Olympic Games in 2016, we took radical steps to rejuvenate the national team. Transformation and generational change began to bring the first positive results at the recent European Championships, where Poland stood up against squads more experienced in the international arena. The new Polish national team is making a lot of progress towards its goal, which is to return to the world’s top, so limiting the opportunities for further development is harmful and demotivating”, the ZPRP President wrote.

In 2023, Poland, together with Sweden, will be a co-host of the handball world championships. According to ZPRP, taking away the possibility to compete at the 2021 tournament will have a negative impact on the promotion of this discipline in the country. As one of the steps taken with regard to the EHF decision, ZPRP submitted an application to the International Handball Federation to grant Poland a "wild card" to perform at next year's tournament.

Apart from cancelling the Euro qualifiers, the EHF also decided to limit the handball Champions’ League knockout stage from 16 clubs to only the four that took top positions in the group stage. Two Polish teams, PGE Vive Kielce and Orlen Wisła Płock, who advanced to this phase from lower positions, were stripped of their chances to lift the trophy.