Doping scandal in handball: Nikola Portner case overshadows the cup

World-class goalkeeper Nikola Portner How crystal meth doping is shaking the handball Bundesliga

Nikola Portner from SC Magdeburg, one of the best handball keepers in the world, is facing a long doping ban

© Lars Baron / Getty Images

Before the final tournament of the DHB Cup, the best goalkeeper in the Bundesliga, Nikola Portner from the reigning Champions League winner SC Magdeburg, tested positive for the drug crystal meth – suddenly everyone is talking about doping instead of sport.

Players and officials touted the thrilling cup weekend in the Cologne cauldron as the “Super Bowl of handball.” Over 20 cameras and 20,000 fans per game will produce electrifying images for around 60 countries at the final tournament and take German handball to a new level. The possible doping offense by Magdeburg goalkeeper Nikola Portner comes at an inopportune time and overshadows the announced festive season.

The Swiss’s positive competition test, in which methamphetamines were found, as well as his provisional suspension have massively pushed the games between the SCM and Bundesliga leaders Füchse Berlin as well as SG Flensburg-Handewitt and the challengers MT Melsungen into the background.

Nikola Portner faces a ban of up to four years

The Elbe townspeople now have to live up to their role as favorites without Portner, who denies knowingly wrongdoing. According to the National Anti-Doping Code, the 30-year-old faces a penalty of up to four years. The decisive factor here is whether the goalkeeper can prove that the violation was not committed intentionally.

HBL managing director Frank Bohmann confirmed to the German Press Agency on Friday that there had been a telephone call with Portner. He didn’t want to reveal any details. “Yes, there was a hearing. We will now keep a low profile with information during the ongoing proceedings.”

The signs for thrilling cup games could hardly have been better. In the absence of the twelve-time record winner THW Kiel, the Magdeburgers want to take their first step towards a triple. The capital club can ennoble its outstanding season with its second cup title. And the anticipation for the duel between Flensburg and Melsungen is huge after the thrilling Bundesliga draw from the previous week.

SC Magdeburg dominates the headlines – just differently than expected

It was foreseeable that Magdeburg would dominate the headlines before the finals as Champions League winners. But suddenly the public focus is no longer on sports. The suspicion of doping causes unrest in the team and endangers their ambitious goals in the final spurt of the season. In the quarter-finals of the Champions League, the Elbestadt team will face top Polish club KS Kielce at the end of April. In the league, the SCM has the best chance of winning the championship again.

Portner’s absence would be a bitter sporting loss. With around 30 percent of balls saved, the Swiss is an important support in the SCM. Coach Bennet Wiegert won’t be able to find an equivalent replacement any time soon. There is another top man in the team in Sergey Hernandez, but the Spaniard’s performances are not quite as consistent. Niclas Behrendt from the second team could be placed at his side – or will the SCM sign a new goalkeeper at short notice?

The task for Magdeburg in the first semi-final on Saturday (4.10 p.m./ARD and Dyn) couldn’t be more difficult. The Berlin star ensemble around world handball player Mathias Gidsel is probably playing the best season in the club’s history and wants to take revenge on their arch rivals for the defeat in March. “Magdeburg is the new Kiel,” warned managing director Bob Hanning, thereby pushing the opponent into the role of favorite. Coach Jaron Siewert also spoke of the “ultimate challenge”. At this point, both were still expecting Portner to be involved.

Great anticipation for the cup tournament

Now the competition senses their chance. Also the handball players from Melsungen, who go into the second semi-final (7 p.m. / Dyn) as outsiders against the four-time cup winner Flensburg. “The better team doesn’t always have to win in the Final Four, the favorite doesn’t always have to win,” said MT goalkeeper Nebojsa Simic and expressed a long-held wish: “We have to beat Flensburg once. I’ve been in Melsungen for seven years now and haven’t even had one “We did it.”

The Portner case should not dampen the professionals’ anticipation of the mega event. The thrill of playing in the mecca of handball is great. “This is a very special place for all handball players. If you are allowed to stand there on the field, no matter what competition, you know you are on the handball Olympus,” said SCM professional Matthias Musche.

But no matter how high-class the handball may be this weekend, the doping debate surrounding Portner will float through the Cologne arena like an invisible veil. Is the turmoil putting a strain on Magdeburgers or is the team reacting now and then?

tis / Jordan Raza and Frank Kastner DPA



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