The French men’s team began its preparation for the European Championship yesterday with the announcement of five new positive cases for Covid-19 within the workforce. Giving the whole a little air of déjà vu.
The optimism of November is a long way off. Carried by the wind of a renewal of the workforce, there was an air of relief and a return to normal in the corridors of the handball house. Less than two months later, everything is forgotten, and it looks like seeing the scenes before take off for the world championship in Egypt a year ago. Sanitary bubble, video press points, photographers parked in a corner of the gymnasium during training, doubts about the very holding of the competition, it’s a little back in January 2021 for the French team …“We are starting to get used to all of this, and there are more serious things than not talking to someone for four hours while we have the test results” smiles the new captain Valentin Porte, who wants to make good heart against bad luck.
And if, at the present time, France is one of the nations most affected by Covid-19, with a total of eight positive players for the moment, by the doctor’s own admission Pierre Sebastien, “We avoided a small disaster”. Already tested before their arrival in Créteil, those summoned for the course had to undergo a new PCR test on their arrival, while waiting in individual rooms of the Maison du Handball for the results to fall. For five of them it turned out positive. And the health protocol put in place avoided contamination of the entire workforce.
Tomorrow morning, the entire workforce will have the right to a new PCR test, “Just to be sure that no one has passed between the drops”. In the meantime, with thirteen players including two goalkeepers in training, “It’s a bit complicated for the game on big space” admits the coach Guillaume Gille. Who is already, with his staff, gone in search of reinforcements, at least for the weekend, the time that Benoit Kounkoud, Nikola Karabatic and Yanis Lenne, the first positive discovered, can return. “We asked the players on the 35 list to do some tests, to make a first sorting between positives and negatives. We will then see according to the profiles which are likely to be recalled ” continues Guillaume Gille, who currently has to do without a left winger and with the only Kentin Mahé on the position of center-half.
But the path is still strewn with pitfalls for the coach and his men. Because those who test positive for Covid-19 will have to wait between eight and ten days to resume training, as stipulated in the government protocol. “But we have added our own protocol, which will be not to let a player with a positive PCR return to the squad. Which complicates things a bit, because we currently have a player who is fourteen days off, and who was still positive yesterday ” specifies Pierre Sébastien. Once the PCR negative, the player will still have to pass cardiac tests and a blood test, before being able to join his teammates …
Suffice to say that for the French, the European Championship, supposed to start on January 13, is still a long way off. Postponement of the competition, there is currently no question. Will the matches be played in front of a smaller audience? Will the France team only be able to evolve in Chambéry and in Paris in preparation, while the government has just established gauges of 2000 spectators for indoor matches? Will the leaders of the FFHB decide not to take any risks and not to let the players scatter in nature for the New Year’s Eve? Definitely, with all these questions, this winter 2021/22 has a bad aftertaste of last winter …