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Modern handball has roots in Europe, and the sport is most popular on the continent. Other continents play handball, but it hasn't gained traction like in Europe. The sport involves passing a ball to teammates to gain terrain and shoot at the goal. Teams earn points by successfully shooting a ball into the goal. Teams have seven members, including a goalkeeper and a match has two 30-minute halves.

Modern handball is a sport played between two teams with seven players each. Handball has been around since the 19th century, but it is most popular in Europe. There are over 27 million registered players for handball worldwide. The teams include six field players and a goalkeeper. Tournaments are held indoors, but there are popular outdoor variations like beach handball.

The sport's highest governing body is known as International Handball Federation (IHF) and is responsible for organizing international games. There are separate competitions for men and women. For example, the last games were the IHF World Men's Handball Championship in 2019, Denmark, and the IHF World Women's Handball Championship in 2019 in the Netherlands.

IHF has five regional federations, namely:

  • African Handball Confederation
  • American Team Handball Federation
  • Asian Handball Federation
  • European Handball Federation
  • Oceania Handball Federation

The regional governing bodies organize continental championships every second year. Also, they organize annual continental competitions between national teams and other international games between clubs. Also, the continental federations help IHF qualify handball teams for World Cups held on odd years.

History of Handball

Evidence shows that a version of handball was played in ancient Greece as a sport and recreational activity. The aim was to pass the ball and prevent opposing team members from getting hold of the ball. A version called "Expulsim Ludere" is believed to be a handball for ancient roman women.

Although there isn’t in-depth documentation showing handball's evolution over the years, there are records showing handball versions in France, Denmark, Czech, Ukraine, and Germany in the early 19th century. Modern handball rules were written in 1906 by a Danish gym teacher. They were first published on 29 October 1917 by Erich Konigh, Karl Schelenz, and max Heiser in Berlin.

The rules are the basis for modern handball, and they were used in the first handball match in 1917 in Berlin. Karl Schelenz improved on the rules in 1919. The first international game was a men's match in 1925 between Germany and Austria. The women's teams from both countries faced each other in 1930.

The Congress for International Amateur Athletics Federations made a committee to create international rules. In 1928, a governing body known as the International Amateur Handball Association was founded. In 1946, the International Handball Federation was formed.

Men's handball teams first played in the Summer Olympics in 1936 and later in 1972. Women's teams first played in Summer Olympics in 1976 in Montreal. Between 1938 and 1995, men's world championships were held every 2-3 years. Women's world championships were first held in 1957. Since 1995, world championship competitions are held every two years in odd numbers.


Many rules govern handball as a sport. The rules define the teams' size, play the game, scoring points, and offense. Rules aim to keep the game honest and prevent injuries to players during the game.

DURATION: A match has 30-minute halves that are separated by a 10-15 minute break. Major games and Olympics give 15 minutes for halftime. The halves are 25 minutes each for youths 12-15 years and 20 minutes for those 8-11 years. The guidelines may differ from one national federation to the next. Teams switch side after halftime, and matches that end in draws get a maximum of two 5-minute overtime periods. That continues until one team wins.

PLAYING RULES: Players can touch the ball with any body part from the knee upwards, including the knee. The ball passes between players to prevent opponents from taking possession of the ball until a score is made at the goal. Players must dribble when running the ball a maximum of three times or hold the ball a maximum of three seconds without dribbling. Therefore, the main moves are to pass, dribble, or shoot the ball to avoid breaking the rules.

GOALKEEPER RULES: A goalkeeper can kick a ball within the goal area to gain terrain and pass the ball to a team member. Other players cannot let the ball touch their feet. Goalkeepers cannot go past the goal area with a ball in their hands. Any member of the team can substitute a goalkeeper without having to wear identifying uniforms. Goalkeepers can join in the game as part of a strategy to increase a team’s field players. However, they must adhere to the rules of regular players when outside of the goal area.

Handball Court

There are specific dimensions and defined areas on a handball court that are of significance. The court's size should be 40m by 20m with a goal at the corner of shorter sides. There are lines on the court that represent different parts of the court. There are specifications for the goals, goal areas, and substitution areas. Major games need to follow international standards when preparing handball courts.


The goalposts and crossbars should be made using the same material, whether wood or aluminum. All three beams should be painted contrasting colors that are visible from anywhere from the court. Each goal should be two meters high and three meters wide. The goal needs to be fastened on the floor or the wall behind the goal.

The Zone

The zone is a crease around the goal area. There are two-quarter circles with a radius of 6m at the corner of the goalposts touching the goal line. Players are not allowed in the zone, but there is an exception. A player may jump into the area and throw the ball mid-air before landing on the zone.

Otherwise, players will commit an offense. A player may have to give the ball to the opposing team for the offense. Moreover, a player who goes into the zone with the intent of gaining an advantage will be penalized.

Substitution Area

A substitution area holds the official members of a team, substitute, and suspended players. There is one substitution area for each team at one of the long sides of the court. Areas are on either side of the middle line, and each team seats on the side of the goal they are defending. Therefore, the teams switch substitutions area after the match reaches halftime.

Any players leaving or entering the court must do so through their respective substitution areas. All team members out of the court are required to stay in their substitution area at all times.

Equipment of Handball

Handball uses a spherical ball as the equipment for the sport. The size of the ball varies depending on the age group using it. Ideally, it should be a leather ball or synthetic materials that don’t have a slippery or shiny surface. The dimensions are as follows for the various age classes.

  • Males over 16 years – a circumference of 23-24 inches and 425-475 grams
  • Women over 14 years and males over 12 years – a circumference of 21-22 inches and 325-375 grams
  • Players over 8-years — a circumference of 20 inches and 290-330 grams

It is up to the national federations to state the ball's exact dimension for handball competitions, depending on age and gender. There is room for adjustments because different regions have players with different builds.


There are two referees with the same duties in a handball match. National matches can have one referee or when games are on short notice. International games ensure that there are two referees for each match. A decision by the referees is final and based on what they observe during the game. Teams can appeal a decision if there is proof of non-compliance with refereeing rules.

Referees stand diagonally across each other during a match. One is called a field referee, and another a goal referee, depending on their position on the field. They change sides every five minutes and change positions every ten minutes.

Referees use a whistle to indicate an offense during the game. There are hand signals that referees use to communicate with each other and officials and players. Some infringements call for a warning sign and a yellow card. Others require a red card for disqualification, and sometimes a referee may follow it with a blue card indicating a report will be filed by the referee.

Other officials for handball include a scorekeeper and a timekeeper who keep track of a game's events. The officials record time, scores, suspensions, substitution errors, and any other stuff that requires the referee's attention during a game.


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