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Team handball

The term Handball redirects here, but note that there are also other games named handball.

Team handball (also known as field handball or Olympic handball) is a team sport where two teams of seven players each (six players and a goalkeeper) pass and bounce a ball trying to throw it in the goal of the opposing team.

The game is similar to association football, regardless of the basic method of handling the ball which is inverse from football. It has been played internationally since the first half of the 20th century.


Field and ball

Handball is played on a field forty meters long by twenty meters wide with a dividing line in the middle and a goal in the center of either end. The goals are surrounded by a near-semicircular line that is generally six meters away from the goal. There is also a dashed near-semicircular line that is nine meters away from the goal.

Only the defending goalkeeper is allowed to step inside the six meter perimeter, though any player may attempt to catch and touch the ball in the air within it. If a player should find himself in contact inside the goal perimeter he must immediately take the most direct path out of it. Should a defender make contact with an attacker while in the goal perimeter, their team is penalized with a direct attempt at the goal, with only one attacker on the seven-meter line and the defending goalkeeper involved.

The ball is smaller than a football in order for the players to be able to hold and handle it with a single hand (though contact with both hands is perfectly allowed). It is transported by bouncing it between hands and floor — much as in basketball, except that a handball player may raise their hand above shoulder level while bouncing.

Game play

A standard match duration consists of two periods of 30 minutes each, during which each team may call one time-out. If a game ends in a tie, two extension periods of 15 minutes are played, and if each of them ends in a tie as well, the tie-break is an individual shootout from the 7-meter line.

The game is quite fast and includes much contact as the defenders try to bodily stop the attackers from approaching the goal. Only frontal contact by the defenders is allowed; when a defender stops an attacker with their arms on the side, the play is stopped and restarted from the nine meter line, with the attacking team in possession. If the contact between the players is particularly rough (even if it is indeed frontal), the referees may award a nine-meter penalty to the attacking team, or a seven-meter penalty. In more extreme cases, they give the defender a yellow (warning) or a red card (permanent expulsion). For rough fouls they can also order two-minute expulsions, and the third two-minute punishment for the same player automatically leads to a red card expulsion.

Conversely, if the attacker is at fault the possession of the ball can be awarded to the defending team. Players may also cause the possession to be lost if they make more than three steps per one bounce of the ball off the floor.

The usual formations of the defense are the so-called 6-0, when all the defense players are within the 6 meter and 9 meter lines; the 5-1, when one of the players cruises outside the 9 meter perimeter, usually targeting the center forwards; and the least common 4-2 when there are two such defenders. The usual attacking formation includes two wingmen, a center-left and a center-right which usually excel at high jumps and shooting over the defenders, and two centers, one of which tends to intermingle with the defense (somewhat similar to the hole set (anchor) in water polo), disrupting the defense formation, and the other being the playmaker (similar to basketball).


Team handball has origins reaching as far back as the antiquity: urania in ancient Greece, harpaston in ancient Rome, fangballspiel in medieval Germany, etc. There are also records of handball-like games in medieval France, and among the Inuits on Greenland, in the Middle Ages. By the 19th century, there existed similar games of haandbool from Denmark, hazena in Bohemia and Slovakia, gandbol in Ukraine, torball in Germany, as well as versions in Ireland and Uruguay.

The team handball game as we know it today was formed by the end of the 19th century in northern Europe, primarily Denmark, Germany and Sweden. The Dane Holger Nielsen drew up rules for a handball game (handbold) in 1898 (and published them in 1906), and R.N. Ernst did something similar in 1897.

The first set of team handball rules was published on October 29, 1917 by Max Heiser, Karl Schelenz and Erich Konigh from Germany. After 1919 these rules were further improved by Karl Schelenz. The first international games were played under these rules, between Germany and Belgium for men in 1925 and Germany and Austria for women in 1930.

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. The International Handball Federation was formed later, in 1946.

Men's field handball was played at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin at the special request of Adolf Hitler. It was removed from the list of sports, to return as team handball in 1972 for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Women's team handball was added as an Olympic discipline in 1976, at the 1976 Summer Olympics.

The International Handball Federation has organized Men's World Championships in 1938, and then every two, three or sometimes four years since the World War II. The Women's World Championships have been played since 1957. The IHF also organizes Women's and Men's Junior World Championships.

The IHF reports to have 150 member federations representing approximately 800,000 teams and more than nearly 19 million sportsmen and women.

International tournaments

External links

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