3 - 9 June 1999
Issue No. 432
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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The bird with the ballBy Gamal Essam El-Din
He may not look like much, with spindly legs, the body of an egg and a goofy expression. But he knows how to throw a ball.
Undeterred by the competition's somewhat anti-heroic mascot, the Egyptian team kicked off the 16th Men's World Handball Championship Tuesday night at the Cairo Indoor Stadium in the presence of President and Mrs Mubarak, overpowering Brazil 28-19. The home team dominated from the outset, buoyed up by the confidence that is born of experience. Brazil may have made much progress technically since the last World Cup in Japan in 1997, but they still have some way to go before they can match the world number six side for sheer derring-do.
First, however, came the opening ceremony. Though proceedings were not scheduled to begin until 8.00pm, the fans had been flocking to the complex all day, and by 6.00pm, the doors were locked on a full house. More than 20,000 spectators were present, along with countless ministers and high officials, and a number of distinguished foreign guests.
Against a background of rapturous applause, Hassan Mustafa, president of the Egyptian Handball Federation and head of the Organising Committee of Egypt '99, welcomed the participants to Egypt and thanked the members of the International Handball Federation (IHF) for choosing us to host the second championship ever to be held outside of Europe.
Then it was the turn of IHF President Erwin Lanc to address the crowd. He pointed out that this year's World Cup is already an historic event, for this is the first time that there have been teams competing from all five continents. Egypt '99 also sets a new record for broadcasting rights, with more than 40 countries retransmitting the matches all around the world.
Then, at last, the restless hall fell silent. President Mubarak declared the 16th Men's World Handball Championship officially open, and wished the teams the best of luck.
The teams paraded gallantly, though only 12 of the 24 competing nations were present with their full squad. The others had token representation, since they had to play the next day in Ismailia or Port Said, and needed to get an early night.
And then they danced. They danced to Hani Shaker. They danced with parasols, and with a golden ball in a ring (signifying the world). They danced like the Mexican wave was just a dry run for the flooding of the Nile, like Busby Berkeley came from Zaqaziq. They even dared to walk like an Egyptian.
Yasmine Youssef took a break from her engineering studies to show what she could do with a ball. The Cairo Ballet reinterpreted Swan Lake for the ibis generation. Hisham Abbas sang in Arabic and English. "We are a friendly people," he crooned as lights flashed and cymbals clashed.
The opening ceremony required three months of rehearsals and preparation, and cost a total of LE1 million. If it brings Egypt the World Cup, and the recognition our handball team deserves, it will have been well worth it.
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