- This is part of an ongoing series. Check out these maps for other continents
Some Notes on Handball in Africa
This assessment for Africa was a bit more challenging than the European assessment. Here are some notes as to why and how I put together this map.
- I’ve received less feedback and have less of a sense as to the popularity of sports in Africa.
- With less resources available, there are fewer team sports (beyond soccer) played in Africa. Or, if they are played they are not played on the same scale that they are played in Europe. Accordingly, determining the 2nd or 3rd most popular sport in some nations is a pointless exercise. Or, roughly similar to comparing the popularity of the 4th or 5th most popular sports in nations with more resources.
- I reviewed national team participation and performance in the African Men’s and Women’s Championships as a way to help measure handball’s popularity in a country. This is an imperfect tool, but it does provide some insight as to a sports popularity. Roughly this equates to
- Regular medal winner (blue/green)
- Regularly participated (yellow)
- Periodically participated (orange)
- Infrequently or never participated, but has played in IHF Trophy events (red)
- Never participated, including IHF Trophy events (white)
- Where is handball popular?
- How popular is handball compared to other sports?
Those are definitely a couple of questions that I’ve been asked quite a few times. In 2005 I tackled those questions in one of my very first blog posts. Back then it was often stated that handball was the 2nd most popular team sport. Well, it would be totally awesome if that were true, but alas it’s not… not even close. In fact, even in Europe where handball is most popular there are only a handful of countries where our sport definitely takes 2nd place.
Methodology (or the Lack of One)
As an engineer I generally prefer to deal with data as opposed to gut feelings and anecdotal information. For sure there are a lot of different criteria that one could use to measure popularity. Here’s a laundry list for you:
- # of participants
- # of registered federation members
- # of clubs
- Attendance at matches
- Frequency of TV broadcasts and ratings
- Existence of a professional league
- The salaries of professional players
- Interest in national team performance
- Social media interest.
Each of those criteria have merit, but there are several problems.
- This data is not readily available on a country by country basis
- The accuracy of the data that is available is often suspect or open to interpretation
- The relative importance of each criterion is wide open to debate
Bottom line: An exercise to carefully weigh all of these criteria in a systematic reliable way is pretty much impossible.
That being said in most cases it’s fairly easy to weigh all those criteria and to come up with a ranking of the top 3 sports in just about any country. And, a ranking that most objective sports fans of that country would agree on without a whole lot of debate.
There’s a couple of reasons why this is true.
- In most countries there is one dominant team sport and that sport is football (soccer). Practically no one will even credibly argue against soccer’s dominance. So off the top, we’re now only talking about 2nd and 3rd place.
- And, again in most (but, not all) countries, #2 is often pretty well established based on the criteria above. Even without hard numbers the answer is obvious to people that live there.
All this being said, there are some countries, however, where handball’s place in the pecking order is open to debate. A debate, for the reasons listed earlier is pretty hard to resolve. So, instead of resolving I’ve decided to use the lack of a resolution as a way to help classify the sport’s popularity.
Here’s a few notes on how I’ve classified popularity.
- Definitely the 2nd most popular team sport:
- Countries where handball is 2nd in a preponderance of the criteria
- Either the 2nd or 3rd most popular team sport:
- Countries where there could be a legitimate debate between 2 sports as to which is 2nd or 3rd
- Countries where handball is clearly 3rd
- A major sport with a significant presence
- Countries where the ranking becomes muddled from 3rd place on down, but handball is still clearly a major sport that captures significant attention
- A minor sport with some presence
- Countries where the ranking becomes muddled from 3rd place on down, but Handball is more of a minor sport with a small, but dedicated following.
- A very minor sport with a limited presence
- Countries where the sport’s ranking is somewhat moot because it’s hard to compare perhaps the 6th or 7th most popular team sport. Overall, participation numbers are small and the sport is seen as a curiosity by most of the citizens of that country.
- A sport that is practically non-existent
- Countries where there are no national teams, leagues or clubs.
A few more thoughts
- There is a rough pecking order from top to bottom. Blue is top; Green is next, etc.
- This isn’t a perfect representation. And, one could argue for even more gradation. For instance, one could take the nations in yellow and create a rough pecking order.
- What about individual sports? If you really wanted to further complicate matters we could add Formula 1, UFC and Tennis. I didn’t want to go there.
What do you think?
This compilation/depiction isn’t set in stone. It’s just one man’s opinion influenced by feedback. If I’ve missed the boat let me know via email or social media and I’ll reconsider updating the map.
Also, I’ll be creating similar maps for the other continents and I could use some feedback on Asia and the Americas.