Peculiar Pastimes: Team Handball


A new sport is gaining attention known as handball but it has actually been around for a while and the sport has evolved over time.

Brody Salowe and Joey Raynor

Unlike the World Cup, which captured the world’s attention, one peculiar sport is gaining attention in a more stealthy manner — handball, or team handball. Team handball has gone through many evolutions, but the game known today was not invented until 1898 in Denmark. Danish gym teacher and Olympic gold medalist Holger Nielsen crafted the first set of team handball rules, but the official rules were not written down until Oct. 29, 1917 in Berlin, Germany, where the first formal game of handball was played.

When team handball was first invented, there were two different variations of the game. One was with seven players on each team playing on an indoor field and the other consisted of 11 players on each team on an outdoor field.

According to the International Handball Federation (IHF), there are 28,000 clubs, 128,000 handball teams and around 30 million players worldwide, with the number increasing each year.

The rules are relatively simple: the game starts with a throw-off from the corner of the court after the referee’s whistle is blown. The thrower then tries to throw the ball to a member of their own team and a goal is allowed to be scored directly off of a throw-off.

A player may stop, catch, throw, bounce or strike the ball in any direction. They can do this using their hands, fists, arms, head, body, thighs or knees. However, the player is not allowed to intentionally touch the ball with any body part below the knees. A player in possession of the ball may stand still for only three seconds before shooting, passing or dribbling, making it very easy for players to time out on a pass or shot.

A goalie may dive and trap the ball when it is stationary or rolling in the goal area. The goalie is the only player allowed to enter the goal area and touch the ball in the goal area.

Handball is a quickly growing sport around the world. The 2019 Men’s Handball World Championships had 2 billion cumulative viewers, around 900,000 spectators, 6,186 hours of broadcasting time and 222 million euros worth of media value. Handball will quickly emerge as one of the most popular sports if it keeps evolving at the same pace.