By Miranda Alexander-Webber
PARIS The handball world championships are starting on Wednesday under tight security as France is still in a state of emergency after a number of Islamist attacks in the country.
Handball-mad France, who open the tournament against Brazil at the Bercy arena in Paris, are among the favourites, having won the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and the world title in 2015.
They claimed the silver medal at last year's Rio Games after entering the tournament as holders of the Olympic, world and European titles.
Crowd fervour, however, could be tempered by security measures as France, favourite to host the 2024 Olympics, is looking to prove its ability to host major sporting events.
"There is already, as everyone knows, a very high security level that exists across our country. We were in touch with all the necessary authorities to take further measures under the responsibility of the organisers," said French Handball Federation Joel Delplanque.
"We signed an agreement with the interior minister, which clarified the distribution of responsibilities and measures that we must take. (This includes) reinforcement of security forces at certain times, for certain matches, as well as measures that we, the organising committee, have taken responsibility for."
Eight cities across France - Paris, Nantes, Rouen, Metz, Lille, Albertville, Brest and Montpellier - will host the games, with a total of 500,000 tickets made available for spectators.
The biennial championship will see 24 teams, including Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Russia, take part in the tournament which this year will make use of an improved video proof systems to assist referees.
"The video technology we have used in the past was only focusing on goal or no goal situations. This time, we have introduced a new system which is focusing now, in total, of nine situations," International Handball Federation's competitions director Patric Strub said.
"So still, the referees have the last decisions but in nine different situations, depending what happens on field of play, the referees or the official can ask for the video proof and go to the monitor to check the situation before making the final judgement."
The tournament will also see twins Charlotte and Julie Bonaventura refereeing the event.
"They are sisters and twins on top of that, so it's really special and they are really good referees. That's why they are here. They are not here because they are French, they are not here because they are female. They are here because they are one of the best referees in the world," Strub said.
France are odds-on favourites ahead of Denmark, who beat them in the final in Rio.
(Additional reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)