FEATURE: EHF President Michael Wiederer talks about the changes to the international competition system from 2020, the planned reform of the international calendar and the demands on Europe’s top players
More regeneration as international competitions expand
Two weeks after Denmark lifted their first ever Men’s IHF World Championship trophy, the EHF’s top men’s European Cup club competitions are recommencing.
With a revamped club competition system from 2020, the expansion of the Men’s EHF EURO from 16 to 24 teams in 2020 and the Men’s IHF World Championship with 32 teams from 2021, the question of the physical demands on top players is once more being discussed.
The EHF President Michael Wiederer is convinced that despite an increase in the number of participating nations at the EHF EURO and World Championship events from 2020 the physical burden on top players will not increase.
“The overall number of matches will actually remain the same, at the World Championship teams will even play one match less,” he said.
Additional rest days at EHF EURO
The new EHF EURO playing system from 2020 with 24 teams has also brought an extension to the playing time of the event in Sweden, Austria and Norway from 17 to 18 days.
“This has been put in place to ensure that we provide players with the required rest periods,” says Wiederer.
“All teams that must travel a long distance after the preliminary round will receive an additional rest day on top of a travel day in order to aid their recovery.”
The competition’s group phase will be played in six groups of four teams.
Only two teams per group then proceed to the main round, at this stage of the competition the number of matches will be extended from three to four.
Fewer matches at World Championships
The European Handball Federation has been a driving force behind the move to increase the number of World Championship participants from 24 to 32, a change the IHF Council agreed to last autumn.
The new World Championship playing system will be similar to the current one – but the number of matches for the finalists will be reduced from 10 to nine.
In 2021 in Egypt, the championship will be played in eight groups of four teams, meaning a reduction of the number of group matches from five to three.
The three best-ranked teams will proceed to the main round, which will be carried out in four groups with six teams each, followed by quarter-finals, semi-finals and then the medal matches.
Revamped calendar from 2020
The issue of the international calendar and the burden on players has been a topic that the EHF has been focusing on for a number of years.
“In 2017, the EHF organised a Scientific Conference looking at the issue of the ‘the players' environment’ with experts from sports medicine and sports science focusing only on this subject,” Wiederer said.
“The findings of this conference together with the inputs of key stakeholders and different interest groups culminated in the reform of the playing calendar announced in December 2018, two years in advance, to ensure that all clubs and federations can begin their planning,” he continued.
A core principle of this calendar is to give the players a longer summer break. To reach this goal, the national team week in the middle of June (usually used for qualification or playoff matches) has been shifted to April/May.
“The VELUX EHF FINAL4, which will be carried out middle of June, is the last competition and final highlight of the European handball season. All national club competitions have to finish before this. Therefore almost all players – except those playing at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 event – will have a two-week longer summer break,” Wiederer says.
New playing system rewards success
A further reduction on the demands of Europe’s top players and clubs has been integrated into the new EHF Champions League playing system from 2020/21.
In the existing system, the winners of groups A and B progress directly to the quarter-finals and from 2020/21 onwards both the group winners and runners-up will skip the play-offs, progressing directly to the quarter-finals.
From 2020, both Men’s and Women’s EHF Champions League competitions will be carried out with 16 teams and played in two groups of 8 teams each.
Those teams finishing from the third to the sixth position duel in play-offs for a spot in the quarter-final.
Below the Men’s Champions League the new European Handball League with 24 teams will be implemented, replacing the current EHF Cup.
The Men’s European Handball League will be played with four groups with six teams each, followed by a Last 16 phase, quarter-finals and a final tournament.
TEXT: Björn Pazen/jb
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