Handball (also known as team handball, Olympic handball, European handball, or Borden ball) is a team sport in which two teams of seven players each (six outfield players and a goalkeeper) pass a ball to throw it into the goal of the other team. A standard match consists of two periods of 30 minutes, and the team with the most goals scored wins.
Modern handball is usually played indoors, but outdoor variants exist in the forms of field handball and Czech handball (which were more common in the past) and beach handball (also called sandball).
The game is quite fast and includes body contact as the defenders try to stop the attackers from approaching the goal. Contact is only allowed when the defensive player is completely in front of the offensive player, i.e. between the offensive player and the goal. This is referred to as a player sandwich. Any contact from the side or especially from behind is considered dangerous and is usually met with penalties.
When a defender successfully stops an attacking player, the play is stopped and restarted by the attacking team from the spot of the infraction or on the nine meter line. Unlike in basketball where players are allowed to commit only 5 fouls in a game (6 in the NBA), handball players are allowed an unlimited number of “faults”, which are considered good defence and disruptive to the attacking team’s rhythm.
Goals are scored quite frequently; usually both teams score at least 20 goals each, and it is not uncommon for both teams to score more than 30 goals. This was not true in the earliest history of the game, when the scores were more similar to that of ice hockey. But, as offensive play has improved since the late 1980s, particularly the use of counter-attacks (fast breaks) after a failed attack from the other team, goal scoring has increased.
The Origins of Handball
The team handball game of today was formed by the end of the 19th century in northern Europe, primarily Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden. The first written set of team handball rules was published in 1906 by the Danish gym teacher, lieutenant and Olympic medallist Holger Nielsen from Ordrup grammar school north of Copenhagen.
The modern set of rules was published on 29 October 1917 by Max Heiser, Karl Schelenz, and Erich Konigh from Germany. After 1919 these rules were improved by Karl Schelenz. The first international games were played under these rules, between Germany and Belgium for men in 1925 and between Germany and Austria for women in 1930. Therefore modern handball is generally seen as a game of German origins.
In 1926, the Congress of the International Amateur Athletics Federation nominated a committee to draw up international rules for field handball. The International Amateur Handball Federation was formed in 1928, and the International Handball Federation was formed in 1946.
Men’s field handball was played at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. During the next several decades, indoor handball flourished and evolved in the Scandinavian countries. The sport re-emerged onto the world stage as team handball for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Women’s team handball was added at the 1976 Summer Olympics. Due to its popularity in the region, the Eastern European countries that refined the event became the dominant force in the sport when it was reintroduced.
The International Handball Federation organised the men’s world championship in 1938 and every 4 (sometimes 3) years from World War II to 1995. Since the 1995 world championship in Iceland, the competition has been every two years. The women’s world championship has been played since 1957. The IHF also organises women’s and men’s junior world championships. By July 2009, the IHF listed 166 member federations – approximately 795,000 teams and 19 million players.
The Rules of Handball
The handball playing field is similar to an indoor soccer field. Two teams of seven players (six field players plus one goalkeeper) take the field and attempt to score points by putting the game ball into the opposing team’s goal. In handling the ball, players are subject to the following restrictions:
After receiving the ball, players can only hold the ball for three seconds before passing, dribbling (similar to a basketball dribble), or shooting.
After receiving the ball, players can take up to three steps without dribbling. If players dribble, they may take an additional three steps.
Players that stop dribbling have three seconds to pass or shoot. They may take three additional steps during this time.
No players other than the defending goalkeeper are allowed within the goal line (within 6 meters of the goal). Goalkeepers are allowed outside this line.
Handball is played on a court 40 by 20 metres (130 × 66 ft), with a goal in the centre of each end. The goals are surrounded by a near-semicircular area, called the zone or the crease, defined by a line six meters from the goal. A dashed near-semicircular line nine meters from the goal marks the free-throw line. Each line on the court is part of the area it encompasses. This implies that the middle line belongs to both halves at the same time.
Each goal has a rectangular clearance area of three meters in the width and two meters in the height. It must be securely bolted either to the floor or the wall behind.
The goal posts and the crossbar must be made out of the same material (e.g. wood or aluminium) and feature a quadratic cross section with a side of 8 cm (3 in). The three sides of the beams visible from the playing field must be painted alternately in two contrasting colours which both have to contrast against the background. The colours on both goals must be the same.
Each goal must feature a net. This must be fastened in such a way that a ball thrown into does not leave or pass the goal under normal circumstances. If necessary, a second net may be clasped to the back of the net on the inside.
A standard match for all teams of 16 and older has two periods of 30 minutes with a 15 minute half-time. Teams switch sides of the court at half-time, as well as benches. For youths the length of the halves is reduced – 25 minutes at ages 12 to 16 and 20 minutes at ages 8 to 12, though national federations of some countries may differ in their implementation from the official guidelines.
If a decision must be reached in a particular match (e.g. in a tournament) and it ends in a draw after regular time, there are at maximum two overtimes of 2 x 5 minutes with a 1 minute break each. Should these not decide the game either, the winning team is determined in a penalty shoot-out (best-of-5 rounds; if still tied, extra rounds afterwards until won by one team).
The referees may call time-out according to their sole discretion; typical reasons are injuries, suspensions or court cleaning. Penalty throws should only trigger a time-out for lengthy delays as a change of the goalkeeper.
Each team may call one team time-out (TTO) per period which lasts one minute. This right may only be invoked by team in ball possession. To do so, the representative of the team lays a green card marked with a black “T” on the desk of the timekeeper. The timekeeper then immediately interrupts the game by sounding an acoustic signal and stops the time.