Handball player moves towards the goal prior to throwing the ball, while the goalkeeper waits to stop it.
|Highest governing body||IHF|
|First played||Late-19th century, Denmark|
|Team members||7 per side|
|Olympic||Part of Summer Olympic programme in 1936.
Demonstrated at the 1952 Summer Olympics.
Returned to the Summer Olympic programme since 1972.
Handball (also known as team handball, Olympic handball, European team handball, European handball, or Borden ball) is a team sport in which two teams of seven players each (six outfield players and a goalkeeper on each team) pass a ball to throw it into the goal of the other team. A standard match consists of two periods of 30 minutes, and the team which scores the most goals wins.
The game is quite fast and includes body contact, as the defenders try to stop the attackers from approaching the goal. Contact is allowed only when the defensive player is completely in front of the offensive player; i.e., between the offensive player and the goal. Any contact from the side or especially from behind is considered dangerous and is usually met with penalties. When a defender successfully stops an attacking player (who loses the ball over a line), the play is stopped and restarted by the attacking team from the spot of the infraction or on the 9-metre line. Unlike in basketball, where players are allowed to commit only 5 fouls in a game, handball players are allowed an unlimited number of faults, which are considered good defence and disruptive to the attacking team's rhythm. Certain elements of the game are reminiscent of rugby: for instance, the degree of force that defence may use to stop the attacker with the ball, together with the lack of protections and helmets.
Goals are scored quite frequently; usually both teams score at least 20 goals each, and it is not uncommon for both teams to score more than 30 goals. This was not true in the earliest history of the game, when the scores were lower. But, as offensive play has improved since the late 1980s, particularly the use of counter-attacks (fast breaks) after a failed attack from the other team, goal-scoring has increased.
Origins and development 
There are records of handball-like games in medieval France, and among the Inuit in Greenland, in the Middle Ages. By the 19th century, there existed similar games of håndbold from Denmark, házená in the Czech Republic, hádzaná in Slovakia, gandbol in Ukraine, and torball in Germany.
The team handball game of today was formed by the end of the 19th century in northern Europe - primarily in Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden. The first written set of team handball rules was published in 1906 by the Danish gym teacher, lieutenant and Olympic medalist Holger Nielsen from Ordrup grammar school north of Copenhagen. The modern set of rules was published on 29 October 1917 by Max Heiser, Karl Schelenz, and Erich Konigh from Germany. After 1919 these rules were improved by Karl Schelenz. The first international games were played under these rules, between Germany and Belgium for men in 1925 and between 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, and the International Handball Federation was formed in 1946.
Men's field handball was played at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. During the next several decades, indoor handball flourished and evolved in the Scandinavian countries. The sport re-emerged onto the world stage as team handball for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Women's team handball was added at the 1976 Summer Olympics. 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.
The International Handball Federation organised the men's world championship in 1938 and every 4 (sometimes 3) years from World War II to 1995. Since the 1995 world championship in Iceland, the competition has been every two years. The women's world championship has been played since 1957. The IHF also organises women's and men's junior world championships. By July 2009, the IHF listed 166 member federations - approximately 795,000 teams and 19 million players.
The rules are laid out in the IHF's Set of rules.
Two teams of seven players (six field players plus one goalkeeper) take the field and attempt to score points by putting the game ball into the opposing team's goal. In handling the ball, players are subject to the following restrictions:
- After receiving the ball, players can pass, keep possession, or shoot the ball.
- If possessing the ball, players must dribble (similar to a basketball dribble), or can take up to three steps for up to three seconds at a time without dribbling.
- No attacking or defending players other than the defending goalkeeper are allowed to touch the floor of the goal area (within 6 metres 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 possess the ball across the goal area boundary.
- The ball may not be passed back to the goalkeeper when he is positioned in the goal area.
Notable scoring opportunities 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 team-mate.
Playing field 
Handball is played on a court 40 by 20 metres (130 ft × 66 ft), with a goal in the centre of each end. The goals are surrounded by a near-semicircular area, called the zone or the crease, defined by a line six metres from the goal. A dashed near-semicircular line nine metres from the goal marks the free-throw line. Each line on the court is part of the area it encompasses. This implies that the middle line belongs to both halves at the same time.
Each goal has a rectangular clearance area of three metres in width and two metres in height. It must be securely bolted either to the floor or the wall behind.
The goal posts and the crossbar must be made out of the same material (e.g., wood or aluminium) and feature a quadratic cross section with sides of 8 cm (3 in). The three sides of the beams visible from the playing field must be painted alternatingly in two contrasting colors which both have to contrast against the background. The colors on both goals must be the same.
Each goal must feature a net. This must be fastened in a such a way that a ball thrown into does not leave or pass the goal under normal circumstances. If necessary, a second net may be clasped to the back of the net on the inside.
The goals are surrounded by the crease. This area is delineated by two quarter circles with a radius of six metres around the far corners of each goal post and a connecting line parallel to the goal line. Only the defending goalkeeper is allowed inside this zone. However, the court players may catch and touch the ball in the air within it as long as the player starts his jump outside the zone and releases the ball before he lands (landing inside the perimeter is allowed in this case as long as the ball has been released).
If a player contacts the ground inside the goal perimeter, or the line surrounding the perimeter, he must take the most direct path out of it. However, should a player cross the zone in an attempt to gain an advantage (e.g., better position) his team cedes the ball. Similarly, violation of the zone by a defending player is penalised only if he does so in order to gain an advantage in defending.
Substitution area 
Outside of one long edge of the playing field to both sides of the middle line are the substitution areas for each team. The areas usually contain the benches as seating opportunities. Team officials, substitutes, and suspended players must wait within this area. The area always lies to the same side as the team's own goal. During half-time, substitution areas are swapped. Any player entering or leaving the play must cross the substitution line which is part of the side line and extends 4.5 metres from the middle line to the team's side.
A standard match for all teams of 16 and older has two periods of 30 minutes with a 15-minute half-time. At half-time, teams switch sides of the court as well as benches. For youths the length of the halves is reduced—25 minutes at ages 12 to 16, and 20 minutes at ages 8 to 12; though national federations of some countries may differ in their implementation from the official guidelines.
If a decision must be reached in a particular match (e.g., in a tournament) and it ends in a draw after regular time, there are at maximum two overtimes of 2 × 5 minutes with a 1-minute break each. Should these not decide the game either, the winning team is determined in a penalty shootout (best-of-5 rounds; if still tied, extra rounds afterwards until won by one team).
The referees may call timeout according to their sole discretion; typical reasons are injuries, suspensions, or court cleaning. Penalty throws should trigger a timeout only for lengthy delays, such as a change of the goalkeeper.
Each team may call one team timeout (TTO) per period which lasts one minute. This right may only be invoked by team in ball possession. To do so, the representative of the team lays a green card marked with a black "T" on the desk of the timekeeper. The timekeeper then immediately interrupts the game by sounding an acoustic signal and stops the time. As of 2012, rule changes allow three TTO´s, and two of them can be used in either period of the game.
A handball match is led by two equal referees, namely the goal line referee and the court referee. Some national bodies allow games with only a single referee in special cases like illness on short notice. Should the referees disagree on any occasion, a decision is made on mutual agreement during a short timeout; or, in case of punishments, the more severe of the two comes into effect. The referees are obliged to make their decisions "on the basis of their observations of facts". Their judgements are final and can be appealed against only if not in compliance with the rules.
The referees position themselves in such a way that the team players are confined between them. They stand diagonally aligned so that each can observe one side line. Depending on their positions, one is called field referee and the other goal referee. These positions automatically switch on ball turnover. They physically exchange their positions approximately every 10 minutes (long exchange), and change sides every 5 minutes (short exchange).
The IHF defines 18 hand signals for quick visual communication with players and officials. The signal for warning or disqualification is accompanied by a yellow or red card, respectively. The referees also use whistle blows to indicate infractions or to restart the play.
The referees are supported by a scorekeeper and a timekeeper who attend to formal things such as keeping 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 in between the two substitutions areas.
Team players, substitutes, and officials 
Each team consists of 7 players on court and 7 substitute players on the bench. One player on the court must be the designated goalkeeper, differing in his clothing from the rest of the field players. Substitution of players can be done in any number and at any time during game play. An exchange takes place over the substitution line. A prior notification of the referees is not necessary.
Some national bodies, such as the Deutsche Handball Bund (DHB, "German Handball Federation"), allow substitution in junior teams only when in ball possession or during timeouts. This restriction is intended to prevent early specialisation of players to offence or defence.
Field players 
Field players are allowed to touch the ball with any part of their bodies above and including the knee. As in several other team sports, a distinction is made between catching and dribbling. A player who is in possession of the ball may stand stationary for only three seconds, and may take only three steps. He must then either shoot, pass, or dribble the ball. Taking more than three steps at any time is considered travelling, and results in a turnover. A player may dribble as many times as he wants (though, since passing is faster, it is the preferred method of attack), as long as during each dribble his hand contacts only the top of the ball. Therefore, carrying is completely prohibited, and results in a turnover. After the dribble is picked up, the player has the right to another three seconds or three steps. The ball must then be passed or shot, as further holding or dribbling will result in a double dribble turnover and a free throw for the other team. Other offensive infractions that result in a turnover include, charging, setting an illegal screen, or carrying the ball into the six-meter zone.
Only the goalkeeper is allowed to move freely within the goal perimeter, although he may not cross the goal perimeter line while carrying or dribbling the ball. Within the zone, he is allowed to touch the ball with all parts of his body including his feet. The goalkeeper may participate in the normal play of his teammates. He may be substituted by a regular field player if his team elects to use this scheme in order to outnumber the defending players. This field player becomes the designated goalkeeper on the court; he must wear some vest or bib to identify himself as such.
If the goalkeeper deflects the ball over the outer goal line, his team stays in possession of the ball, in contrast to other sports like association football. The goalkeeper resumes the play with a throw from within the zone ("goalkeeper throw"). Passing to one's own goalkeeper results in a turnover. Throwing the ball against the head of the goalkeeper when he is not moving is to be punished by disqualification ("red card").
Team officials 
Each team is allowed to have a maximum of four team officials seated on the benches. An official is anybody who is neither player nor substitute. One official must be the designated representative who is usually the team manager. The representative may call team timeout once every period and may address scorekeeper, timekeeper, and referees. As of 2012, the representative may call a total of three team timeouts, with a maximum of two per period. Other officials typically include physicians or managers. Neither official is allowed to enter the playing court without permission of the referees.
The ball is spherical and must be made either of leather or a synthetic material. It is not allowed to have a shiny or slippery surface. As the ball is intended to be operated by a single hand, its official sizes vary depending on age and gender of the participating teams.
|Size||Class||Circumference (cm)||Weight (g)|
|III||Men and male over-16s||58–60||425–475|
|II||Women, male over-12s, and female over-14s||54–56||325–375|
Though this is not officially regulated, the ball is usually resinated. The resin improves the ability of the players to manipulate the ball with a single hand, as in spinning trick shots. Some indoor arenas prohibit the usage of resin, since many products leave sticky stains on the floor.
Awarded throws 
The referees may award a special throw to a team. This usually happens after certain events such as scored goals, off-court balls, turnovers, timeouts, etc. All of these special throws require the thrower to obtain a certain position, and pose restrictions on the positions of all other players. Sometimes the execution must wait for a whistle blow by the referee.
- A throw-off takes place from the centre of the court. The thrower must touch the middle line with one foot, and all the other offensive players must stay in their half until the referee restarts the game. The defending players must keep a distance of at least three metres from the thrower. A throw-off occurs at the beginning of each period and after the opposing team scores a goal. It must be cleared by the referees.
Modern Handball introduced the "fast throw-off" concept; i.e., the play will be immediately restarted by the referees as soon as the executing team fulfills its requirements. Many teams leverage this rule to score easy goals before the opposition has time to form a stable defence line.
- The team which did not touch the ball last is awarded a throw-in when the ball fully crosses the side line or touches the ceiling. If the ball crosses the outer goal line, a throw-in is awarded only if the defending field players touched the ball last. Execution requires the thrower to place one foot on the nearest outer line to the cause. All defending players must keep a distance of three metres. However, they are allowed to stand immediately outside their own goal area even when the distance is less than three metres.
- If the ball crosses the outer goal line without interference from the defending team or when deflected by the defending team's goalkeeper, or when the attacking team violates the D-Zone as described above, a goalkeeper-throw is awarded to the defending team. This is the most common turnover. The goalkeeper resumes the play with a throw from anywhere within his goal area.
- A free-throw restarts the play after an interruption by the referees. It takes places from the spot where the interruption was caused, as long as this spot is outside of the free-throw line of the opposing team. In the latter case, the throw is deferred to the nearest spot on the free-throw line. Free-throws are the equivalent to free-kicks in association football. The thrower may take a direct attempt for a goal which, however, is not feasible if the defending team has organised a defence.
- 7-metre throw
- A 7-metre throw is awarded when a clear chance of scoring is illegally prevented anywhere on the court by an opposing team player, official, or spectator. It is awarded also when the referees have interrupted a legitimate scoring chance for any reason. The thrower steps with one foot behind the 7-metre line with only the defending goalkeeper between him and the goal. The goalkeeper must keep a distance of three metres, which is marked by a short tick on the floor. All other players must remain behind the free-throw line until execution. The thrower must await the whistle blow of the referee. A 7-metre throw is the equivalent to a penalty kick in association football; however, it is far more common and typically occurs several times in a single game.
Penalties are given to players, in progressive format, for fouls that require more punishment than just a free-throw. "Actions" directed mainly at the opponent and not the ball (such as reaching around, holding, pushing, hitting, tripping, or jumping into opponent) as well as contact from the side, from behind a player or impeding the opponent's counterattack are all considered illegal and are subject to penalty. Any infraction that prevents a clear scoring opportunity will result in a 7-metre penalty shot.
Typically the referee will give a warning yellow card for an illegal action; but, if the contact was particularly dangerous, like striking the opponent in the head, neck or throat, the referee can forego the warning for an immediate 2-minute suspension. A player can get only one warning before receiving a 2-minute suspension. One player is only permitted two 2-minute suspensions; on the third time, (s)he will be shown the red card.
A red card results in an ejection from the game and a 2-minute penalty for the team. A player may receive a red card directly for particularly rough penalties. For instance, any contact from behind during a fast break is now being treated with a red card. A red-carded player has to leave the playing area completely. A player who is disqualified may be substituted with another player after the 2-minute penalty is served. A coach/official can also be penalised progressively. Any coach/official who receives a 2-minute suspension will have to pull out one of his players for two minutes—note: the player is not the one punished, and can be substituted in again, as the penalty consists of the team playing with a man less than the opposing team.
After having lost the ball during an attack, the ball has to be laid down quickly or else the player not following this rule will face a 2-minute suspension. Also, gesticulating or verbally questioning the referee's order, as well as arguing with the officials' decisions, will normally result in a 2-minute suspension. If this is done in a very provocative way, the player can be given a double 2-minute suspension if (s)he does not walk straight off the field to the bench after being given a suspension, or if the referee deems the tempo deliberately slow. Illegal substitution (that is, any substitution that does not take place in the specified substitution area, or where the entering player enters before the exiting player exits) is also punishable by a 2-minute suspension.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (January 2012)|
Players are typically referred to by the position they are playing. The positions are always denoted from the view of the respective goalkeeper, so that a defender on the right opposes an attacker on the left. However, not all of the following positions may be occupied depending on the formation or potential suspensions.
- Left and right wingman. These typically are fast players who excel at ball control and wide jumps from the outside of the goal perimeter in order to get into a better shooting angle at the goal. Teams usually try to occupy the left position with a right-handed player and vice versa.
- Left and right backcourt. Goal attempts by these players are typically made by jumping high and shooting over the defenders. Thus, it is usually advantageous to have tall players with a powerful shot for these positions.
- Centre backcourt. A player with experience is preferred on this position who acts as playmaker and the handball equivalent of a basketball point guard.
- Pivot (left and right, if applicable). This player tends to intermingle with the defence, setting picks and attempting to disrupt the defence's formation. This positions requires the least jumping skills; but ball control and physical strength are an advantage.
- Far left and far right. The opponents of the wingmen.
- Half left and half right. The opponents of the left and right backcourts.
- Back centre (left and right). Opponent of the pivot.
- Front centre. Opponent of the centre backcourt, may also be set against another specific backcourt player.
Offensive play 
Attacks are played with all field players on the side of the defenders. Depending on the speed of the attack, one distinguishes between three attack waves with a decreasing chance of success:
- First wave
- First wave attacks are characterised by the absence of defending players around their goal perimeter. The chance of success is very high, as the throwing player is unhindered in his scoring attempt. Such attacks typically occur after an intercepted pass or a steal, and if the defending team can switch fast to offence. The far left/far right will usually try to run the attack, as they are not as tightly bound in the defence. On a turnover, they immediately sprint forward and receive the ball halfway to the other goal. Thus, these positions are commonly held by quick players.
- Second wave
- If the first wave is not successful and some defending players have gained their positions around the zone, the second wave comes into play: the remaining players advance with quick passes to locally outnumber the retreating defenders. If one player manages to step up to the perimeter or catches the ball at this spot, he becomes unstoppable by legal defensive means. From this position, the chance of success is naturally very high. Second wave attacks became much more important with the "fast throw-off" rule.
- Third wave
- The time during which the second wave may be successful is very short, as then the defenders closed the gaps around the zone. In the third wave, the attackers use standardised attack patterns usually involving crossing and passing between the back court players who either try to pass the ball through a gap to their pivot, take a jumping shot from the backcourt at the goal, or lure the defence away from a wingman.
The third wave evolves into the normal offensive play when all defenders not only reach the zone, but gain their accustomed positions. Some teams then substitute specialised offence players. However, this implies that these players must play in the defence should the opposing team be able to switch quickly to offence. The latter is another benefit for fast playing teams.
If the attacking team does not make sufficient progress (eventually releasing a shot on goal), the referees can call passive play (since about 1995, the referee gives a passive warning some time before the actual call by holding one hand up in the air, signalling that the attacking team should release a shot soon), turning control over to the other team. A shot on goal or an infringement leading to a yellow card or 2-minute penalty will mark the start of a new attack, causing the hand to be taken down; but a shot blocked by the defence or a normal free throw will not. If it were not for this rule, it would be easy for an attacking team to stall the game indefinitely, as it is difficult to intercept a pass without at the same time conceding dangerous openings towards the goal.
Defensive play 
The usual formations of the defence are 6-0, when all the defence players line up between the 6-metre and 9-metre lines to form a wall; the 5-1, when one of the players cruises outside the 9-metre perimeter, usually targeting the centre forwards while the other 5 line up on the 6-metre line; and the less common 4-2 when there are two such defenders out front. Very fast teams will also try a 3-3 formation which is close to a switching man-to-man style. The formations vary greatly from country to country, and reflect each country's style of play. 6-0 is sometimes known as "flat defence", and all other formations are usually called "offensive defence".
Handball teams are usually organised as clubs. On a national level, the clubs are associated in federations which organise matches in leagues and tournaments.
International bodies 
The administrative and controlling body for international Handball is the International Handball Federation (IHF). The federation organises world championships, separate for men and women, held in uneven years. The final round is hosted in one of its member states. The 2011 title holders are France (men) and Norway (women).
The IHF is composed of five continental federations which organise continental championships held every other second year. In addition to these competitions between national teams, the federations arrange international tournaments between club teams. The federations and their corresponding tournaments and members are summarised in the following table:
|International Handball Federation (IHF)|
|Championship||World Men's Handball Championship – World Women's Handball Championship|
|Club||IHF Super Globe|
|Asia – Asian Handball Federation (AHF)|
|Championship||Asian Women's Handball Championship – Asian Men's Handball Championship|
|Club||Asian Club League Handball Championship|
|Africa – African Handball Confederation (CAHB)|
|Championship||African Men's Handball Championship – African Women's Handball Championship|
|Club||Champions League – Cup Winners' Cup – African Handball Super Cup|
|Pan-America – Pan-American Team Handball Federation (PATHF)|
|Championship||Pan American Men's Handball Championship – Pan American Women's Handball Championship|
|Oceania – Oceania Handball Federation (OHF)|
|Championship||Oceania Handball Nations Cup|
|Club||Oceania Champions Cup|
|Europe – European Handball Federation (EHF)|
|Championship||European Women's Handball Championship – European Men's Handball Championship|
Handball is an Olympic sport played during the Summer Olympics. It is also played during the Pan American Games, All-Africa Games, and Asian Games. It is also played on Mediterranean games.
National competitions 
- Bosnia and Herzegovina: Handball Championship of Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Croatia: Croatian First League of Handball
- Czech: Zubr extraliga
- Denmark: GuldBageren Ligaen, Jack & Jones Ligaen
- England England Handball Association
- France: Ligue Nationale de Handball
- Germany: Handball-Bundesliga
- Greece: Greek Men's handball championship
- Hungary: Nemzeti Bajnokság I (men), Nemzeti Bajnokság I (women)
- Iceland: N1 deildin
- Montenegro: First League (men), First League (women), Second League (women)
- Norway: Postenligaen
- Poland: Polish Ekstraklasa Men's Handball League, Polish Ekstraklasa Women's Handball League
- Portugal: Liga Portuguesa de Andebol, Divisão de Elite
- Romania: Liga Naţională (men), Liga Naţională (women)
- Scotland: Scottish Handball League
- Serbia: Serbian First League of Handball
- Slovakia: Slovenská hadzanárska extraliga
- Slovenia: Slovenian First League of Handball, Handball Cup of Slovenia
- Spain: Liga ASOBAL, División de Plata de Balonmano
- Sweden: Elitserien
- Turkey: Turkish Handball Super League
- United States: U.S. intercollegiate handball championships
- India: Indian Handball super league Team Noida college of physical Education. (G)
Attendance records 
The current worldwide attendance record for seven-a-side handball was set on May 21, 2011, during the Danish Cup final between AG København (Copenhagen) and Bjerringbro-Silkeborg Elitehåndbold. The game drew 36,651 spectators to Parken Stadium.
On April 20, 2012, the EHF Champions League attendance record was also set at Parken, albeit in a different seating configuration. 21,293 spectators saw AG København host defending champions FC Barcelona Handbol in a quarterfinal game.
Commemorative coins 
Handball events have been selected as a main motif in numerous collectors' coins. One of the recent samples is the €10 Greek Handball commemorative coin, minted in 2003 to commemorate the 2004 Summer Olympics. On the coin, the modern athlete directs the ball in his hands towards his target, while in the background the ancient athlete is just about to throw a ball, in a game known as cheirosphaira, in a representation taken from a black-figure pottery vase of the Archaic period.
- Barbara Schrodt (October 6, 2011). "Team Handball". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica-Dominion Institute.
- "The official Handball rules (PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-30.
- Official rules, rule 17:11
- Official rules, hand signal 13
- "Regulations for IHF Competitions". International Handball Federation. September 2007. p. 10. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- "France 2009 World Champions". International Handball Federation. 2009-01-02. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- "Heja Norge: Norway World Champion 2011!". International Handball Federation. 2011-12-18. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
- "Bylaws". International Handball Federation. September 2007. p. 7. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- "Handball The Official Website of the 16th Asian Games". Guangzhou Asian Games. 2008-08-21. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- "Deportes Panamericanos - Balonmano" (in Spanish). Guadalajara 2011. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- "Handball at the 2007 All Africa Games in Algiers". International Handball Federation. 2007-07-20. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- International Handball Federation (IHF)
- USA Team Handball
- Australian Handball Federation (AHF)
- European Handball Federation (EHF)
- EHF Champions League
- Official rules in English, French and German
- Team Handball News - Handball news and commentary
- FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions concerning the sport, its organisation and popularity