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 news agency, those responsible for the 20 Bundesliga clubs almost all consider THW as the big favorite of the title.
But that’s all that seems clear. Because at the moment no one knows whether the season of October 1, which starts on Thursday, can be ended at all. It is also unclear how many of the economically troubled clubs would survive another break in the season. In any case, it would have profound consequences.
“Another lockdown would be almost unbearable,” said Bob Hanning, CEO of Füchse Berlin. Marc-Henrik Schmedt, the manager of SC Magdeburg, thinks that the league and thus the clubs “will not survive” a second demolition. It is not only for this reason that the HBL is going through the most extraordinary and difficult season in its history. There are some question marks over the reboot and the months after. But there are also glimpses 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 applies until the end of October, is only seen as a first step. For the future, the entire industry “naturally wants more viewers”, says HBL director Frank Bohmann. He therefore hopes “that we can successfully complete the pilot phase at the end of October and then increase the number of spectators at all Bundesliga locations”. Marc Weinstock, chairman of Kiel’s supervisory board, 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 room.
The Rhein-Neckar Löwen, on the other hand, starts without a spectator because there was not enough time to adapt the hygiene concept to the 20 percent rule. Not only the Mannheimers were and still calculate how to make at least some money with the few spectators. Some clubs will even suffer slight losses on the first days of the match, despite some visitors, because the room rental or other costs are higher than the relatively low public income. That’s why it’s not just Lemgo’s manager Jörg Zereike who hopes “that we can get back to playing for unlimited capabilities as soon as possible.”
However, hardly any of the club bosses expect this to be possible this season. You should feel your way slowly, says Füchse manager Hanning. Given the tight competition timing, there will be plenty of opportunities to test the associated concepts with a number of viewers. By increasing the competition from 18 to 20 teams, there will be even more matches 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 because of the density of competitions”.
While his ex-club THW Kiel is one of the clubs most likely to be challenged in this unusual season, the record-breaking champion is a firm favorite for the title. After signing world-class Norwegian professional Sander Sagosen, the defending champion should be even stronger than last season. Nevertheless, the SG Flensburg-Handewitt is in any case combative: “We and other teams would like to have a voice in the championship”, says Managing Director Dierk Schmäschke. It remains to be seen if this will succeed – like so many other things in this extraordinary season.
Gislason expects an exciting season: six teams in Füchsen Berlin, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, SC Magdeburg, MT Melsungen, SG Flensburg Handewitt and defending champion THW Kiel will have the chance to win the title for the 61-year-old Icelander Speel. “This season is really hard to predict”, said Gislason in an interview with the “Kieler Nachrichten”.
In addition, de Gislason is concerned about the economic future of the clubs. For example, should the second half of the season take place without spectators due to the corona, “half of the competition would have to fight to survive”.