U.S. men’s handball team out of world championship after coronavirus outbreak

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The U.S. men’s handball team withdrew on the eve of the world championship tournament due to a coronavirus outbreak within the team.

“Two recent PCR tests indicated that a majority of our players and staff members tested positive for the virus,” according to USA Team Handball. “Everyone seems to be in good spirits and health, with little to no symptoms currently. However, the virus has rendered us unable to field a competitive team before our first match in two days.”

On Monday, 10 players from the 20-man roster tested positive, plus head coach Robert Hedin, while training in Denmark before they would have flown to Egypt for the tournament. Players were retested Tuesday with some positive and negative results flipped.

The U.S. federation and the International Handball Federation decided that the U.S. would withdraw after “in-depth discussions” before its first scheduled match against Austria on Thursday.

The U.S. was to play the world championship for the fist time since 2001. Its last Olympic appearance was 1996, when it got an automatic spot as host nation. It failed to qualify for the Tokyo Games.

The U.S. was given a place at worlds after the North America and the Caribbean Handball Confederation was unable to hold a qualifying tournament.

The Czech Republic also withdrew Tuesday from the 32-nation world championship after several positive tests.

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Russia gets new name, flag for first world championship under ban

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Russia will be known as “Russian Handball Federation Team” at its first senior-level world championship under a two-year sanction from displaying the country name alone on uniforms, using its anthem and displaying its flag at global championships.

The world men’s handball championship starts Jan. 13 in Egypt. Russia, which placed 14th at the last worlds in 2019, is a wild-card entry.

In addition to the team name change, Russia’s flag will instead be the logo of the nation’s handball federation without text.

Its acronym will be RHF instead of the usual country code RUS.

It will adhere to the clothing regulations set out in the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling: no use of the word “Russia” unless accompanied by “neutral athlete” or an equivalent term.

A decision on a replacement for the Russian anthem has not been announced. If one isn’t made, the IHF anthem will be used.

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Luka Doncic warns Jay Cutler: Handball is hard

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Former NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, appearing on the podcast “Pardon My Take”, said he believes he could put together a team that would win gold in Olympic handball (or, as we tend to call it to distinguish it from a sport played against a wall, “team handball”).

The podcast hosts were happy to go along with their guest, saying a team of Cutler, Patrick Mahomes and LeBron James could defeat any team in the world because people in other countries lack arm speed. Former NFL cornerback Domonique Foxworth agreed, saying on ESPN’s “Highly Questionable” that he could replace Mahomes in that trio and emerge victorious.

“You know who plays handball?” Foxworth said. “People who couldn’t make it in soccer, couldn’t make it in football, couldn’t make it in basketball.”

One prominent basketball player emphatically disagrees.

“(N)o chance! people dont know how hard is to play handball,” tweeted Dallas Mavericks player Luka Doncic, who played a bit of handball growing up in Slovenia.

Foxworth’s co-host, Sarah Spain, cast cold water on the idea, pointing to a crew of NFL players who have tried their hand at curling with little success so far. That team initially consisted of former Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen, former St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger, former Tennessee offensive tackle Michael Roos and former Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck.

Allen and company made their top-level curling debut in November 2018 against Olympic gold medalist John Shuster and predictably lost. The team also entered the 2019 Challenge Round, a qualifier for the national championships, and lost its three games by a combined score of 27-2.

This year, Allen has brought in Jason Smith, who played in the 2010 Olympics with Shuster and team coach John Benton, to skip the team. The results haven’t been much better through the season, though it did pick up a couple of wins in small events and one win in the 2020 Challenge Round.

Curling took advantage of the publicity boost, though, with Allen appearing at the national championships as an alternate for one team and getting an opportunity to come in and play at the end of a game whose outcome wasn’t in doubt.

The handball community has similarly perked up with Cutler’s commentary. Team Handball News took issue with some footage in the ESPN analysis, saying it was from a residency program at Auburn instead of the current U.S. national team.

USA Team Handball CEO Barry Siff, who joined the federation last year, welcomed Cutler’s interest, as did the team’s official Twitter account.

But they also appreciate Doncic’s take.

Given the rough-and-tumble nature of team handball, would the U.S. be better off with some hybrid of Shaquille O’Neal and T.J. Oshie?

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