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History Of Handball & Interesting Facts About It

Handball – fast-paced, adrenaline-fuelled, a true test of agility and strength. This is a sport that seamlessly combines elements of basketball, soccer, and netball into an enthralling game that captivates audiences worldwide. With its origins stretching back centuries, handball is a sport that’s as rich in history as it is in athletic prowess.

As the name suggests, handball primarily involves the use of the hands to manipulate a small, round ball. Played on a court, two teams of seven—six outfield players and one goalkeeper—duel it out in 30-minute halves. The objective? To score the most goals by hurling the ball into the opposition’s net. With its intense speed and high-scoring games, handball is a thrilling spectacle for the sports enthusiast.

But to truly appreciate the beauty of handball, it’s crucial to delve into its history. Unravelling the history of handball opens a window to a world of ancient civilizations, cultural exchanges, and evolving game strategies. It allows us to appreciate not just the skill and dexterity of the athletes who play today, but the long journey that brought the sport to its current standing on the global stage.

Exploring the history of handball provides valuable insights into the sport’s significance, tracing its evolution from a rudimentary ball game played in medieval villages to the electrifying sport we know today. In this chronicle, we’ll witness how the sport developed, adapted, and spread, picking up influences from different cultures and times. It’s not just about the changes in the rules or techniques, but also the transformations that the sport brought about in societies and the world of sports as a whole.

So, brace yourselves, handball enthusiasts and curious readers alike. We invite you to embark on this exciting journey through time, tracing the fascinating history of handball and discovering how this captivating sport has carved its unique niche in the world of sports. We assure you, it’s a tale worth exploring.

What is Handball?


Handball which is also known as ‘team handball’ or Olympic handball or European team handball or European handball or Borden ball, is a team sport in which two teams consisting of seven players each (six players and a goalkeeper) participate and compete against each other. The six players pass the ball to each other and try to throw it into the goal post of the opposite team. The play has two halves of 30 minutes each. The team which scores more goals wins. Handball usually is played indoors, but there are other variants also which allows the games to be played outdoors as well. These two variants of Handball are field handball and Czech Handball (which is also called sandball). Because the game is so rapid and includes body contacts it attracts a big number of people. Because of the short court, the frequency and amount of goal scoring are big which keeps the crowd interested. On average, the goal-scoring in a Handball match is about 20 goals each but there were 30 goals each game as well in the past.

Brief History of Handball

The game of Handball was founded at the end of the 19th century in the northern parts of Europe, specifically in Germany and in Scandinavia. But the modern game of Handball was carved in 1917 in Germany and since then it has gone through several amendments as well. The first ever International Handball game for men was played in 1925 and for women’s was played in 1930. The first ever Handball game in an Olympics happened in the 1936 Berlin games and then it made a comeback into the games in the 1972 Munich games, again in Germany. The first one was played outdoors and the second one was played indoors. The women’s version of the game was added in the 1976 Montreal games.

The International Handball Federation, which was established in 1947 oversees the game and it has 174 members associated with it. Since 1938 each of the continental European team has won at least a single medal in the Olympics, hence it is very popular in those parts of the world.

Early Origins of Handball

We begin our exploration of the history of handball with the early origins of the sport. Intriguingly, the roots of handball can be traced back thousands of years to ancient civilizations, where games bearing a resemblance to modern handball were documented.

  1. Ancient Greece and Rome In Ancient Greece, a game called ‘Episkyros’ was played, often referenced as a precursor to handball. This game involved two teams, and the objective was to throw the ball over the opponents’ boundary line. Similarly, the Romans played a game called ‘Harpastum,’ which was borrowed from Episkyros. It was a much rougher game and involved more physical contact than its Grecian counterpart.
  2. France The Middle Ages saw the emergence of a game in France called ‘Jeu de Paume,’ literally meaning ‘game of the palm.’ Initially played without any rackets, the ball was struck with the hand in a manner similar to modern handball. Over time, rackets were introduced, and the game eventually evolved into what we know today as tennis. However, its inception remains a part of handball’s ancestral lineage.
  3. Germany and Scandinavia A crucial development in handball history can be traced back to the 19th century in Germany and Scandinavia. Here, a game was played that closely resembled modern outdoor handball. Known as ‘Raffballspiel’ in Germany and ‘Håndbold’ in Denmark, this game was popular in schools and involved intricate rules, including the use of a field divided into sections and a goal at each end.

While these early handball-like games varied significantly in their rules and gameplay, they all shared a core principle – the use of hands to manipulate a ball towards a goal. This is the fundamental essence of handball, and these historical antecedents laid the groundwork for the sport we know and love today.

The transition from these ancient and medieval games to modern handball did not occur overnight. It was a gradual process marked by the evolution of rules, standardization of gameplay, and introduction of the sport into formal institutions and competitions. As societies changed, so did the games they played, reflecting their values, abilities, and aspirations. In the case of handball, this journey culminated in the 19th-century European context where a recognizably modern version of the sport first took shape.

History Of Handball
Photo by Philbert Pembani on Pexels

Development of Modern Handball

The inception of what we recognize today as handball began in the late 19th century. This period witnessed the codification of rules and proliferation of the sport, primarily in Denmark and Germany, laying the groundwork for the game as we know it today.

Codification of Rules

In Denmark, the modern set of rules was first formulated by the Danish gym teacher, lieutenant, and Olympic medalist Holger Nielsen in 1906. Nielsen crafted these rules for the game he called “Haandbold,” which was intended as an outdoor sport for his female students. The game included elements from ‘Raffballspiel’ and ‘Gendbold,’ another early Danish ball game, but was distinctly faster and more versatile, resembling the dynamic nature of modern handball.

Simultaneously, in Germany, a similar game called ‘Torball’ was developed as a women’s sport by Max Heiser in 1915. ‘Torball’ later morphed into ‘Feldhandball,’ the outdoor version of handball, which gained immense popularity in Germany.

Spread Throughout Europe

The early 20th century marked the spread of handball throughout Europe. Nielsen’s handball was introduced to the German school system in 1919, contributing significantly to its widespread popularity. Germany, in turn, played a pivotal role in popularizing the sport internationally, particularly in countries like Switzerland, Austria, and France, which adopted the German version of the sport, ‘Feldhandball.’

The sport also gained popularity in other Scandinavian countries. In Sweden, the game was modified to indoor ‘handboll,’ which quickly gained recognition due to its fast-paced nature and suitability for the harsh Scandinavian winters.

Role of Early Governing Bodies

Gymnastics and sports federations played a significant role in the formalization and growth of handball. In Germany, the Deutsche Turnerschaft, a major gymnastics federation, organized the first men’s field handball championship in 1921. This official recognition and organization of the sport helped establish handball as a competitive discipline.

The 1920s and 1930s saw several national handball federations being founded, including the Danish Handball Federation in 1935. These bodies provided the much-needed governance, promoting the sport and organizing national and international competitions.

By the mid-20th century, handball had not only established itself as a popular European sport but was also on the cusp of gaining global recognition. In the next section, we will delve into how handball transitioned into an Olympic sport and its evolution throughout the rest of the 20th century.

Handball in the 20th Century

The 20th century marked significant milestones in handball’s history, with the sport gaining global recognition, its inclusion in the Olympic Games, and the establishment of major handball competitions.

Creation of the International Handball Federation (IHF)

In 1946, the International Handball Federation (IHF) was established in Copenhagen, Denmark, representing a crucial step towards the international recognition and regulation of the sport. The IHF aimed to unify the sport’s rules and promote it on a global scale. Today, it remains the world’s top governing body for handball, overseeing international competitions and guiding the sport’s development worldwide.

Inclusion in the Summer Olympic Games

Handball’s international prestige was further cemented when it was included in the Summer Olympic Games. It first appeared as an outdoor 11-a-side sport at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. However, due to the variations in the sport and the onset of World War II, it was dropped from subsequent Olympics.

Handball was reintroduced to the Olympic Games in its 7-a-side indoor variant at the Munich Games in 1972. This version of the game, faster and more dynamic, captivated audiences and has since been a staple of the Summer Olympics. Women’s handball was included in the Olympic program four years later at the Montreal Games in 1976.

Growth of Major Handball Competitions

The 20th century also witnessed the birth and growth of major handball competitions. The IHF World Men’s Handball Championship commenced in 1938 and has been held regularly since 1954, demonstrating the sport’s growth and the rise of new handball powerhouses beyond its European heartland.

The European Handball Championship, organized by the European Handball Federation, is another significant competition that started in 1994 for men and 1996 for women. It’s a vibrant display of Europe’s best teams dueling it out for continental supremacy.

Beyond these, other notable competitions include the Asian, African, and Pan American Championships, reflecting handball’s global spread. Club competitions, such as the EHF Champions League in Europe, have also gained immense popularity, showcasing top-tier handball action at the club level.

The 20th century was a pivotal era that propelled handball onto the global stage. It set the foundation for the sport’s evolution in the 21st century, which we’ll explore in the next section.

Handball in the 21st Century

Handball’s journey into the 21st century has been marked by innovation, technological advances, and increasing popularity. Let’s delve into these developments.

Evolution of the Game’s Rules and Play Style

The rules of handball have been continually refined and adjusted for optimal play and spectator enjoyment. For instance, the ‘passive play’ rule was introduced to maintain the dynamic nature of the game, penalizing teams that attempt to waste time by retaining possession without making a discernible attempt to score.

Tactical elements have evolved as well, with teams employing complex offensive and defensive strategies. Goalkeepers are now more actively involved in the attack during power plays, and specialists like ‘pivot’ players or ‘wing’ players have become integral components of team strategies.

Impact of Technology on Handball

Technology has profoundly impacted handball, much like other sports. The introduction of video refereeing, for example, has significantly improved the accuracy of decisions, reducing contentious rulings. Advanced training methods, underpinned by sports science, have allowed players to enhance their fitness, agility, and skill levels.

Data analytics has also found its place in handball. Teams use comprehensive statistics to analyze player performance, tactical efficiency, and opponent strategies. This level of detail provides coaches and players valuable insights, influencing tactical decisions and player development programs.

Major Teams and Players in the Contemporary Era

The 21st century has seen the rise of many exceptional handball players and teams. Nations like France, Denmark, and Norway have dominated international competitions. Players such as Nikola Karabatic (France), Mikkel Hansen (Denmark), and Heidi Løke (Norway) have become household names, not only for their individual skills but also for their contributions to their teams’ successes.

Handball’s Global Spread and Popularity

Handball’s popularity has grown globally, expanding its influence beyond Europe. Countries in North and South America, Africa, and Asia have embraced the sport, reflected in the increased competitiveness of their teams at international events. The IHF now has over 200 member federations, indicative of the sport’s expanding reach.

Some Interesting Facts about Handball

After learning about what exactly the game of Handball is and about two different variants of it, now it’s time to know some of the funny or important facts about Handball. So here we are with some of the most interesting facts about the game called Handball.

Handball Facts
  1. If you look at the fastest game of handball carefully, you will realize that it is a combination of three games, basketball, football and water polo.
  2. There are two main referees in the game of handball, one is a court referee and the other is a goal-line referee.
  3. The most interesting thing about handball is that the players are not restricted with the number of faults they produce.
  4. With more nations joining in the beach handball is getting more popular and probably may take over the indoor handball in coming years.
  5. Not only the size, but the softness of the ball also differs in man, women and children’s fun handball games.
  6. The origin of the game was believed to be in Greece in the ancient times.
  7. Though it is not popular outside, it is believed that it is the second largest sport in Europe after football.
  8. European handball for kids: In the European style the player is allowed to take three steps before passing on the ball to the other player, but in the American version only one step is allowed for the players.
  9. The goalkeeper can move both inside and the outside of the goal line , but the rest of the players are allowed only outside of the goal line and not the inside.
  10. The handball player can hold the ball only for three seconds.
  11. The first-ever international handball game for men was played between Germany and Belgium in 1925 and for women, it was played between team handball Germany and Austria in 1930.
  12. Handball is believed to be the second-fastest game on the earth or world after ice hockey.
  13. Just like in football the ball must not touch player’s hands apart from the goalkeeper in the handball it is exactly the reverse, the ball must not touch the player’s legs with the goalkeeper is allowed.
  14. Johan Pettersson a Swedish handball player almost died when he bumped into the goalkeeper in a game in 2002 in which he lost a couple of his teeth and had almost swallowed his tongue.

List of Handball World Champions:

Handball World Champions [Men]:

  • The German champions in the 2018/19 season were SG Flensburg-Handewitt, the current DHB Cup winners are THW Kiel.
  • In Austria, the UHK Krems won the championship and the cup in the 2018/19 season.
  • Kadetten Schaffhausen became Swiss champions in 2018/19 , Wacker Thun won the cup competition .
  • Champions League winner 2017/2018 was Montpellier HB . The Füchse Berlin won the EHF Europe Cup and AHC Potaissa Turda won the EHF Challenge Cup .
  • At the men’s handball world championship 2019 in Denmark and Germany, Denmark won the title by beating Norway 31:22. France finished third, defeating Germany at 26:25 in the game for the third position.
  • At the European Handball Championship 2020 in Austria, Sweden, and Norway, Spain defended its title in the final against Croatia (22:20). Third place went to Norway against Slovenia (28:20).
  • Denmark won Olympic gold in Rio 2016 with a 28:26 victory over France.

Handball World Champions [Women]:

  • The German championship won in the season 2018/19 the SG BBM Bietigheim , Cup Winners’ Cup was the Thüringer HC .
  • In Austria, WAT Atzgersdorf won the championship for the first time in 2018/19. The cup winner of the 2018/2019 season was Hypo Niederösterreich.
  • The Swiss champions of the 2018/19 season were LC Brühl handball and the Spono Eagles were cup winners.
  • The 2018 Champions League winner is Győri ETO KC. The EHF Cup winner is SCM Craiova, and the Challenge Cup was won by MKS Lublin from Poland.
  • The European champion in France in 2018 was France (24:21 against Russia ), the Netherlands came third.
  • At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Russia beat France 22:19, while Norway secured the bronze medal.
  • In the final of the 2017 World Cup in Germany, France won 23:21 (against Norway), with the Netherlands taking third place.


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