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The season in the men’s and women’s Russian Handball Super Leagues will not be completed. Chekhovskie Medvedi and Rostov-Don won the titles following the results of the preliminary round - the playoffs were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sergey Shishkarev, the President of the Handball Federation of Russia, spoke with TASS about the reason of the early completion of the competitions, the financial situation of the Russian clubs and their future as well as about the new coach of the Russian men’s team.

As you said before, most clubs stood for the completion of the Championships. What was their motivation?

The main one is uncertainty. Whatever decision we take now, it would still be intermediate. You need to be Nostradamus or Vanga to predict the development of the pandemic situation, what impact it will have on restrictive measures, what the authorities will do. There are no such people among us.

A true forecast may allow someone to claim the Nobel Prize, and as there are no applicants for this award in the Federation, we follow the principles of rationality and expediency, and listen to the clubs.

Despite the athletes’ consciousness and professionalism, it was obvious to the clubs that it would be a great mistake to hope that training at home is the thing needed to maintain the handball players’ physical fitness.

It needs at least three weeks of training to finish the Championship in June. And the teams need full intensive training process in the camps, not from home. There is no time for this.

To postpone the Сhampionship for August is also not an option, as the preparation for the next season will be broken. But it is very important - the women’s team will take part in the European Championship and the Olympics. We all figured out and realized that we do not need any surrogate or combined options.

Why were we waiting for the decisions of the European and International Handball Federations? We had to understand what the competition structure would be, if the Women’s Youth and Junior World Championships would be held or not, what situation would be with the qualifying matches. Clubs who wanted to improve their tournament position wanted to finish the Championship, but the regular season was finished, and we decided that such way of determining the winners would be quite fair. At the same time, we took Solomon’s decision – there will be no relegated teams, so 13 teams will play at the Men’s Super League Parimatch next year. This decision was took unanimously.

Before the meeting of the Executive Committee, I talked with the clubs representatives who wanted to finish the season, and had full understanding with them. So it was the overall decision of our handball community.

Only the Women's Russian Cup remains. It turns out that almost all the European cups’ participants are determined.

Yes, that’s fair. As for the Russian Cup, there were three points for taking decisions. The handball players need extra training considering the absence of the European Championship qualifiers, where the Russian women’s team has already qualified. We only have the Championship matches, so the additional matches will be extremely useful.

The second point is Rostov-Don. If it would be possible for the team to play at the Russian Cup at the end of August and then at the Russian Super Cup, it would be a good practice for the team before the Champions League.   

And the third point is that the composition of participants of the European cups may change at the end of the tournament, so we tried to maintain the sport principle. If Kuban reaches the Russian Cup final, it will take part in the European Cup. If not, Zvezda has its right to be there.

Let's talk about the financial matter. Now everyone counts the losses caused by the pandemic. Is it known how much the Russian handball clubs will lose in total?

We don’t have such statistics yet, and I don’t think that we will get it, because the Federation is not a controlling body for our clubs. Definitely, the losses may be covered by regional budgets. In this regard, I prepare an appeal to the Governors and regional leaders to support our sport and not to leave it in this difficult situation.

Handball has become more popular. Now it is a noticeable sports that brings medals. And what is more important, it’s not very expensive compared with other sports which we deeply respect.

So do you assume that all the clubs will start the next season?

Yes, and I hope that nothing will change. In any case, we have not received any rescue signals, which are set by sinking ships. My colleagues and I will contact the regional authorities in such cases.

How do the handball players live through this period?

I’ve heard from the leaders and coaches of the clubs who I am in touch with about a big national handball party on the occasion of the end of the Сhampionship. Everybody congratulated each other, and I also received some compliments. They often try to give me directions and help me in making decisions, but yesterday I received many warm words from the clubs. I want to thank everyone for this. We prepare the official congratulation letters to all winners and will personally present the cups and the medals as soon as it would be possible.

The athletes were under pressure because of the uncertainty; it demotivated not only them, but also the coaches and the specialists who trained them. The stress was high: the athletes were cooped up indoors, some of them in rental apartments in Moscow and other cities. It was very difficult for them.

Now everyone heaved a sigh of relief, everyone understands what to do in the coming months. The clarity eases the situation. The athletes will be able to rest now, but of course, it may hardly be called a good rest. I wish the danger passed quickly.

The early completion of the Championship is not good for men’s CSKA, which recently was called Spartak. Last year the club finished second, now fourth. And then there's the resonant renaming of the club. How did the handball community react to this?

I have not heard any discontents from the representatives of the handball community except for some people that I have a poor understanding of. Apparently, in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, when there is nothing to do, it has become a habit to spread negative views via most media. I consider that unreasonably great attention was paid to this topic. I see no reason to discuss it further. As far as I know, the team does not notice incomprehensible talks around this topic and purposefully prepares for the new season. The team hopes to take part in the Super Cup match on the 29th of August.

The athletes had ambitions to fight for the winning places and the championship, but it was not necessary to lose points during the season, regardless of the name of the tournament. The ambitions of the players are high, they aim for high-quality preparation for the new season. CSKA has many strong athletes playing for the Russian national team. That’s why I would like to wish success to them and not to get upset that the Russian Championship is completed at this stage. There is an opportunity to prove their worth in a fair fight, including European Championships.

Yes, but the team still sets the goal to participate in the Champions League.

It is necessary to raise the total rating of men’s handball. Unfortunately, Chekhovskie Medvedi did not reach top-16 of the Champions League this season. If we show good results in men’s handball for two or three years and the home Championship would have more high-quality and professional fighting, the results will not be long in coming and we will return to Europe.

The same situation is with the men’s national team. Velimir Petkovic was appointed the Head Coach not long ago. Did he meet the team?

Not in person, unfortunately. They are working remotely now. But this man finds the bright side everywhere. He analyzes a lot, revises the records of the national team’s games, studies the historical background.

He is a fan of the golden years of Soviet and Russian handball. The choice was made in his favor because he was deeply convinced that absolutely nothing was lost in men’s handball in Russia and the talks about its destruction were the nonsense and the conjecture of ill-wishers. Of course, I wanted handball to be better and better, but it is becoming an interesting and popular sports. A huge number of children play handball at schools, at the Olympic Reserve schools. The clubs build a correct vertical line. Mr. Petkovic is doing a great analytical preliminary work, as soon as there is an opportunity, we will immediately organize training camps and introduce the coach to the team.

Source - TASS dated 27.04.2020