Handball is a very popular sport around Europe which is why it’s often called European Handball. Countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway play the sport in all categories and age groups. We also have to mention that it’s an Olympic sport. If we look at attendance, football and basketball are definitely at the top; however, handball might be a strong third in Europe.

Handball Intro
Welcome to Handball

As a team sport, handball is played by two teams consisting of 7 on-field players. One of those players is a goalkeeper. The field is square-shaped and has two goalposts on each side. The aim of the game is for the players to pass the ball around with their hands and then try to shot it in the opponents net. Keep reading to learn more about Handball and its origins.

Handball History

Certain historical evidence shows that there was a women’s game in Roman times known as expulsim ludere which was very similar to handball. Other sources have shown that there were similar games in medieval France and Greenland. However, the most similar games are handbold from Denmark, handbol in Ukraine, and torball in Germany. With time, the game evolved; however, it was played outdoors and it was called field handball.

The first official rules were published in 1906 and they were improved through the years. The first countries that accepted this sport were the Scandinavian ones and Germany. Nevertheless, the first international games happened between Germany, Belgium, and Austria. Field handball was even a part of the 1936 summer Olympics. In 1946 the International Handball Federation was formed but the popularity of the sport was quickly decreasing.

Handball History
Handball History

The Scandinavian countries restarted the sport by playing it indoors. In a couple of decades the sport emerged again as team handball. It didn’t take long before it was popular and back on the Olympic stage in 1972. Four years later, the Olympics even added a women’s handball section. 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.

Handball Rules

Through the years, handball rules didn’t really change as they were working good. In the last couple of years, small alterations were made to improve the game. Here are some of the most important rules:

  • After receiving the ball, players can pass, keep possession, or shoot the ball.
  • While holding possession, a player has the right to take a maximum of three steps. After that, you have to pass the ball forward or dribble the ball like in basketball.
  • The team that has the ball must attack and move the ball past the half-court line. It’s not allowed to hold the ball in defense.
  • No attacking or defending players other than the defending goalkeeper are allowed to touch the floor of the goal area (within six meters of the goal). A shot or pass in the goal area is valid if completed before touching the floor. Goalkeepers are allowed outside the goal area, but are not allowed to cross the goal area boundary with the ball in their hands.
  • The ball may not be passed back to the goalkeeper when they are positioned in the goal area.
  • Notable scoring opportunities in handball can occur when attacking players jump into the goal area. For example, an attacking player may catch a pass while launching inside the goal area, and then shoot or pass before touching the floor. Doubling occurs when a diving attacking player passes to another diving teammate.
  • If the defense plays too harshly the referee can give a player a warning, yellow card, or a two minute suspension. The suspension means that that player can’t play for two minutes and that his team will have one player less on the field during that time.

How to Play

The goal of handball as a sport is to outscore the opponent. Each goal counts as one point on the score-sheet, just like in football. Any player can score a goal, even the goalkeeper if he throws the ball from his goal. This is possible because if you are a man down due to suspension, there is a special tactic a team can use. When they attack, the goalkeeper can leave the court and a field player can enter. That will leave the team with an empty net but they will have more players in the attack. This can be done even when your team is complete to gain an advantage in the attack by having one more player.

The attack of a handball team ends if they score, miss and the ball goes behind the goalkeeper or if they turn it over. Turning the ball over can happen due to passive play, double dribble, wrongly carrying the ball, or due to an attacking foul. Substitutions are also allowed through the whole game. There is a substitute zone which is right next to the field. Players can run out to it and another player can run in to replace them at any time.

Pitch Rules, Players, and Equipment

The court in handball is 40 by 20 meters with a goal on each side of the court. The goals are surrounded by an area known as the zone or crease, which is defined by a line that stretches six meters from the goal. There is another line on the nine meters mark from where free-throws are taken. The goals are two meters high and three meters wide.

The players wear jerseys and certain padding for protection because handball is quite a physical game. However, the only required equipment is the ball which has to be from leather or some other synthetic material. The ball is covered in a certain glue like material which helps the players to handle it easily.


As we mentioned above each team has seven on-court players and seven players on the bench. The goalkeeper is the only player who is dressed differently to the rest, usually has long clothes. Each team has two wing-men, left and right backcourt, center backcourt, a pivot, and a goalkeeper. Sometimes the formations can be changed, and some teams play with two pivots instead. In handball, the attacking players also play the defensive positions. However, certain players are substituted after the attack is finished and more defensive minded players enter instead of them.


There are two main officials in any handball match. They place themselves on the field so the players will be between them. If both have different opinions on a certain thing, they take a short referee time-out and agree on a decision. The referees use 18 pre-determined hand signals to control the match. They can give out warnings, yellow cards, suspensions and red cards. Getting a red card means the player has to leave the court and go in the stands.

The referees are supported by a scorekeeper and a timekeeper who keep track of goals and suspensions, or starting and stopping the clock, respectively. They also keep an eye on the benches and notify the referees on substitution errors. Their desk is located between the two substitution areas.

Organisations and Tournaments

Handball teams are organised as clubs and each country has a separate organisation that controls them. There are federations that organize matches and tournaments in the domestic leagues. Nevertheless, there is one main organisation that leads the handball world and it’s know as the IHF (International Handball Federation).

International Handball Federation (IHF)

The IHF is the administrative and controlling body of all international handball games. Since it’s an Olympic sport as well the IHF handles the matches there also. The IHF organizes world championships who are held in odd-numbered years. Keep in mind that there are separate competitions for both men and women. The IHF is composed of five continental federations with each one organizing their own tournaments. They are:

  • AHF (Asian Federation)
  • AHC (African Confederation)
  • PATHF (Pan-American Team Federation)
  • EHF (European Federation)
  • OHF (Oceania Federation)
Handball Logos
IHF & EHF Logos

The strongest one of these is the European Handball Federation which organizes the European Champions League. Its the biggest competition when it comes to this sport and it attracts a lot of sports betting. In the Champions League, only the strongest teams in Europe are featured. After the group stages, there is a final-four tournament which is the biggest tournament in handball. The winners of that tournament are crowned world champions.

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