In the 19th century, there were many similar games to handball being played in various parts of Europe, from haandbold in Denmark to gandbol in Ukraine. Denmark is widely thought to be the birthplace of modern handball.
The game, as we think of it today, began at the end of the century in northern Europe. The rules were drawn up by a Danish gym teacher called Holger Nielsen in 1989, and a second set of rules superseded these in 1917. This second set of rules was created by Max Heiser, Karl Schelenz and Erich Konigh from Germany. After 1919, the rules were amended and improved by Karl Schelenz, and his rules were the first to be used for an international game. The first men’s game, between Germany and Belgium, was played in 1925, and the first game for women took place in 1930 between Germany and Austria.
The International Handball Federation (IHF)
The International Amateur Handball Federation came into being in 1928; in 1946, it was replaced by the International Handball Federation, which is the sport’s world governing body today. The founding members included France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. The IHF which took the place of the International Amateur Handball Federation (IAHF) now has nearly 170 members and governs about 795,000 teams throughout the world.
How the Game of Handball Has Developed
The history of Borden Ball, or handball, as it is more popularly known, shows that the sport developed from some important modifications made in those early years. Perhaps, most crucial was the move of the sport from outdoors to indoor playing arenas.
Initially 11-strong teams had played field handball outside on almost full size turf fields, but due to the cold and wintry weather in Scandinavia where the sport was very popular, it was scaled down to an indoor game with teams of 7 players.
This indoor version of handball became popular, and it is this sport that is played at the Olympics today. Recently a new version of handball has emerged which is played outdoors on the sandy beaches and is thus called beach handball. The IHF have now recognized this variety of the sport, and it has its own formal rules.
Handball and the Olympics
For the first time at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, the Germans chose to showcase Team Handball as a demonstration sport. Popular only in Europe, handball was not played again until the Munich Olympics in 1972. At that time, it moved indoors and men played the game as an official Olympic sport.
Women’s handball was added to the program of events in 1976 in Montreal and has been played in every summer Olympics since then.
The London 2012 Olympic Games saw France become the first country ever to retain the men’s handball title, with their 22-21 defeat of Sweden in the final. Sweden took the silver medal and the bronze went to Croatia. In the women’s handball games, Norway took gold, Montenegro silver, and Spain was awarded the bronze medal.
The world’s first handball world championship took place in Berlin over two days in February 1938. Germany, Austria, Denmark and Sweden participated, with Germany winning. Around 18,000 spectators attended. The Germans also won the first field handball world championship that summer. Both championships were organized by the IAHF on the occasion of its ten-year anniversary.
Handball is now widely played all over the world, with an estimated 7 million players registered with a club.
Mikkel Hansen is a Danish player. At only 23 years old, he was voted the best handballer in the world in 2011 by the International Handball Federation. Thought to be a star in the making with an amazing talent, he scored an impossible goal against Russia at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning the game. He was rewarded with a contract with FC Barcelona. Mikkel Hansen is also European Champion with the Danish national team. In March 2012, he was awarded the IHF World Player of the Year award.
Nicknamed “The Wall” for obvious reasons, Thierry Omeyer is a French handball goalkeeper, performing 94 saves in 8 matches during the London 2012 Olympics. Starting to play handball at age 9, he has been in the French national team since 1999 and has won all the major titles. He has been the world champion three times, the European champion twice and the Olympic champion twice. Probably the best handball goalkeeper of all time, he is the third goalkeeper to be named best player in the world by the International Handball Federation.
Handball in America
Interestingly, handball has never really taken off in America, which has shown a distinct lack of competitiveness against the European countries, despite the American predilection for catching balls, jumping and running, all things that they are usually successful at in sport. It is one of the few events the Americans have never achieved medals in during the summer Olympics (the other sports being the Triathlon, Badminton, and table tennis). Yet handball is fast paced, high scoring, and is played indoors, so why has it not caught on in the USA? This lack of popularity could simply be down to an unsuitable sporting infrastructure in America as it is geared up much better for basketball, with hardly any handball courts in existence.
Top Ten Countries in Handball
Germany, Russia, Denmark, Serbia, Hungary, Sweden, Romania, France, Spain, South Korea.