Frequently Asked Questions about Handball

What is the USA W-D-L record in Olympic Competition?

Men
1972 1-0-4 (14th out of 16 teams)
1976 0-0-5 (10th out of 11 teams)
1984 1-1-4 (9th out of 12 teams)
1988 0-0-6 (12th out of 12 teams)
1996 2-0-4 (9th out of 12 teams)
Overall: 4-1-23

Women
1984 2-0-3 (5th out of 6 teams)
1988 1-0-4 (7th out of 8 teams)
1992 1-0-3 (6th out of 8 teams)
1996 0-0-4 (8th out of 8 teams)
Overall: 4-0-14

Source: http://www.ihf.info/upload/matchresuts/SReihe_Olympic_Games.pdf


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How do nations qualify for the Olympics?

There are multiple paths for Olympic Qualification, but nations initially qualify via their performance at either the World Championships or a Continental Championship. Here is how the 12 Olympic slots have been awarded for the past several Olympics. (The format is the same for both Men’s and Women’s Qualification)

  • Olympic Host: 1 Slot
  • Current World Champion: 1 Slot
  • European Champion: 1 Slot
  • African Champion: 1 slot
  • Asian Champion: 1 Slot
  • America’s Champion 1 Slot
  • Olympic Qualification Tournaments: 6 Slots

Olympic Qualification Tournaments

The IHF organizes three separate tournaments, each with four nations. The four nations play a round robin tournament with the top two nations from each tournament qualifying for the Olympics. Teams qualify for these Olympic Qualification Tournaments based on their final rank in either the most recent World Championships or Continental Championships. The final composition of these tournaments is often somewhat complicated as there is a hierarchy in terms of qualification path and if, for example, a team wins their continental championship they directly qualify for the Olympics and the next ranked team is awarded their qualification tournament slot.

  • 2020 Olympic Qualification (Men): Link
  • 2020 Olympic Qualification (Women): Link

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How could the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams have qualified for the 2020 Olympics?

The U.S. (and all nations, for that matter) had two paths for Olympic Qualification: Either through the continental championship (The PANAM Games) or the World Championships. The simplest path, and one that the U.S. principally qualified through before, was winning the Handball Tournament at the PANAM Games. The other, more challenging path, would have been to place 1st or 2nd at an Olympic Qualification Tournament.

  • How do nations qualify for the Olympics: Link

Short Answers

  • USA Men: The USA Men would have had to have won the handball competition at the 2019 PANAM Games. They finished in 6th place and lost to the eventual champion, Argentina, 38-25 in Pool Play
  • USA Women: The USA Women have had to have won the handball competition at the 2019 PANAM Games. They finished 4th and lost to the eventual champion, Brazil, 34-9 in a semifinal match.

Here, are the specifics for how the U.S. Men and Women fared in competitions that could have led to 2020 Olympic Qualification

U.S. Men

  • Continental Qualification (2019 PANAM Games)
    • The U.S. men first successfully qualified for the PANAM Games by defeating Canada in a 2 match aggregate series Results
    • At the 2019 PANAM Games in Lima, Peru, the U.S. Men were placed in a challenging group with Argentina, Chile and Cuba. They lost to Argentina, 38-25; lost to Chile, 34-26 and beat Cuba, 26-25 to finish 3rd in their group. In consolation play they beat Peru, 22-16, but injury depleted side lost to Cuba 32-22 to finish 6th overall. Results
    • Argentina won the tournament and secured the America’s Olympic slot. Chile, which upset Brazil in the semifinals placed 2nd and was awarded an Olympic Qualification Tournament Slot
  • 2019 World Championships
    • The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2019 World Championships.
    • The path for qualification was to first finish 1-3 at the 2018 North American Championships to qualify for the Pan American Championships. The U.S., unfortunately finished 5th at this event and Cuba, Canada and Puerto Rico qualified for the final tournament. Results (It should be noted, that the U.S. roster for this 2018 tournament was significantly different from the 2019 PANAM Games roster which added several dual citizens)
    • At the 2018 Pan American Championships, Argentina, Brazil and Chile qualified for the World Championships Results
    • At the 2019 World Championships, Brazil finished 9th and secured the last Olympic Qualification Tournament slot. They later ended up beating Chile in an Olympic Qualification tournament to secure an Olympic slot
  • Summary: In order to have qualified for the Olympics, the U.S. Men would have to have had to have beaten Chile or Argentina to reach the PANAM Games semifinals. Then they would likely have had to beat Brazil in a semifinal, then beat Argentina in the gold medal match. So, basically the U.S. would have to pull off back to back victories over teams that are about 12 goals better than they are. Qualification via a World Championship is an even tougher route.

USA Women

  • Continental Qualification (2019 PANAM Games)
    • The U.S. Women first successfully qualified for the PANAM Games by defeating Canada in a 2 match aggregate series Results
    • At the 2019 PANAM Games in Lima, Peru, the U.S. Women were placed in a group with Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Peru.. They lost to Argentina, 26-15; Beat the Dominican Republic, 26-22 and beat Peru, 34-26 and beat Cuba, 29-11 to finish 2rd in the group to qualify for the Semifinals. In the semifinals they were overwhelmingly beaten by the eventual champions, Brazil, 34-9. In the bronze medal match they narrowly lost to Cuba, 24-23. Results
    • Brazil secured the America’s Olympic slot and Argentina was awarded an Olympic Qualification Tournament Slot. At the Olympic Qualification Tournament Argentina was soundly beaten by Spain and Sweden. Results
  • 2019 World Championships Qualification
    • The U.S. failed to qualify for the 2019 World Championships.
    • The path for qualification was to finish 1st at the 2019 North American Championships. At this tournament the U.S. finished 3rd in Group play, narrowly missing out on a semifinal berth due to a lower goal differential than 2n place Greenland. Results (Note: this was the first time that N. American World Championship qualification was separate from S. America.)
    • Cuba won the tournament to qualify for the World Championships. At the World Championships Cuba finished 21st and would have had to have placed 7th in order to qualify for an Olympic Qualification Tournament.
  • Summary: Qualifying for the Olympics would have required beating Brazil at the PANAM Games. Brazil is currently a top 10 team and the U.S. hasn’t come close to beating them since a drawn match at the 2003 PANAM Games.

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Where is Handball popular in the world?

In general terms, the cradle of the sports popularity is in Europe, with Scandinavia, the Balkan countries, Germany, France, Spain being the countries where the sport has the greatest popularity. In several of those countries Handball is the 2nd most popular team sport after soccer.

These articles with color coded maps depict the sport’s popularity in different continents:

  • Europe: Link
  • Africa: Link
  • North America & the Caribbean: Link
  • South and Central America: In Development
  • Asia: In Development
  • Oceania: In Development

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How big is a handball court compared to a basketball court?

Handball Court Dimensions: 40 m x 20 m
International Basketball Court Dimensions: 28 m x 15 m
U.S. Basketball Court Dimensions: 28.7 m x 15.2 m (94 ft x 50 ft)

A handball court is 6 meters longer at each end and 2.5 meters wider on each side. As a result of this difference, wing players in handball travel significantly greater distances than basketball players while other handball positions match more closely to basketball offense to defense transitions.

International Basketball court superimposed on a handball court

Also, note how the 6 meter arc abuts perfectly with the baseline of an international court. Whereas, with U.S. basketball court dimensions it’s off by roughly 1 foot on each baseline. It has been speculated that the international basketball court length was adjusted to fit evenly with the 6 meter lines to avoid extra lines on multi-use courts.


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Are there any youth handball programs or competitions in the U.S.?

Yes. There are currently a handful of youth programs and competitions in the U.S. See below for more information.

  • San Francisco Bay Area:
    • SF Cal Heat: The SF Cal Heat Team Handball club has a youth team and hosts Middle School and High School Leagues in the Bay Area. More info: Link
    • San Francisco THB: The SF Team Handball Club has a youth team that participates in Cal Heat’s league and practices year round. More information: Link
  • Chicago Area:
    • Team Handball Academy: Link
  • New York City
    • USA Team Handball has a partnership with New York Edge and there are plans to incorporate team handball into their after school and summer school programs: Link
  • Montgomery County, Maryland
    • Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland play team handball as a corollary sport to provide more opportunities for students not involved in traditional varsity sports. More information: Link

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What are the markings on a handball court and what purpose do they serve?

  • 6 meter line (Goal Area Line): The 6 meter line is used delineate the goal area where neither offensive or defensive players can physically stand. Players, however, can jump into this area, but must shoot or pass the ball prior to landing. If a player touches this line while in possession of the ball it is a “goalkeeper’s ball” (turnover). If an offensive or defensive player moves into the goal area they need to move back into the field of play as soon as possible without impacting play. If play is not impacted there is no penalty. If play, however, is impacted it may result in a penalty shot or free throw for the other team.
  • 9 meter line (Free Throw Line): The 9 meter dotted line is used when a “free throw” is awarded after a foul. All players on offense must start play above the 9 m line.
  • 7 meter line: The 7 meter line is used for penalty throws. The shooting player must stand behind this line and avoid touching or crossing this line when he shoots.
  • 4 meter dot (Goalkeeper’s Restraining Line): The 4 meter dot is only relevant on penalty throws and the goalkeeper must stand behind the dot. Many goalkeepers will defend the shot from this location to cut down the shooter’s angle for shots in the corners of the goal.
  • Substitution Area: 4.5 meters from the center line is a small line that defines the substitution area. Each team must make substitutions between the center line and the substitution line.

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Where can I find information on U.S. Team Handball Club Rankings and Results?

Current season U.S. Club ranking and results can be found at the Northeast Team Handball League (NTHL) website: Link

Some Wikipedia pages have historical results from the annual USA Team Handball National Championships. The USA Championships are typically played over a 3 day weekend tournament.

  • USA National Championships Home Page: Link
  • Men’s Elite Club Championship: Link
  • Men’s Open Club Championship: Link
  • Women’s Open Club Championship: Link
  • Men’s Collegiate Club Championship: Link
  • Women’s Collegiate Club Championship: Link

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What is “passive play” and how is it called?

There are situations, typically towards the end of a close match, where a team would like to just keep possession and run out the clock. If, in the referee’s opinion, the team with the ball has not made a clear move to attack the opponent’s goal, he or she will call “passive play” by raising their arm in the air. The offensive team then has 6 passes in which to score a goal. If the offensive team fails to take a shot on goal, the referee will blow the whistle and the ball will be turned over to the defense.

A few notes regarding this rule

  • There is no set time for making the initial passive play call and it is up to the discretion of the officials. Typically it is around 20-30 seconds, but that can vary depending on the aggressiveness of the offense and defense.
  • While 6 passes are typically allowed, if the offense is overly passive the referee has the discretion to call a turnover sooner.
  • If there is a defensive foul, the initial pass on the free throw does not count as one of the 6 passes.
  • A defensive foul that results in a free throw will usually lengthen the time before passive play is called. At the very end of a match the offense will often try to create a foul while the defense will try to avoid a foul, but not to the point of creating too easy of a shot on goal.
  • If the offense recovers the ball on a shot on goal the passive play is lifted and the sequence of events starts over. A shot on goal would be a ball that either touches the goalkeeper or the posts and bounces back into play.
  • As it is the referee’s discretion, how passive play is called is often a point of controversy in that one team will claim that passive play is either being called too soon or too late.

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What impact has the name confusion for Handball/Team Handball had on the sports development in the US?

A huge, negative impact. Development of any new sport can be challenging, but the additional semantic challenge Team Handball has due to simply having the same name as an unrelated sport has added another layer of difficulty. While a semantic issue might not seem significant at first, the fact that virtually everyone in the US who is introduced to the sport, must first be explained what the sport is and that it is not the Handball they think it is a difficult hurdle to cross. In the USA, the sport is often described as “soccer with your hands” or “water polo without water” or “lacrosse without sticks” to help newcomers visualize the sport. Still even with these descriptions many still can not conceptualize the sport because the vision of a little ball being slapped off a wall is too engrained into their brain.


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What are the current development plans of USA Team Handball?

The new USA Federation envisions a broad development program focused on regional development. For more information check out the USA Team Handball website www.usateamhandball.org


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What is a “free throw” in handball?

The basic sanction to an infraction (foul, double dribble, etc.) in handball is a “free throw.” (Note: A “free throw” in handball is not analogous to a “free throw” in basketball. Rather it is analogous to a “free kick” in soccer.) When an infraction occurs the referee blows the whistle once and signals with 1 arm towards the goal of the team that has been awarded a free throw. A player then gathers the ball and stands where the infraction occurred and throws it to a team mate. Or, alternatively the player can also try to score directly on goal.

Defensive players are required to stay 3 meters from the player throwing throwing the ball. If a foul is committed by a defensive player within the 9 meter area, the free throw takes place at the point of the 9 meter line closest to the place of the infraction. Additionally, players on offense are required to exit the area between the 6 and 9 meter lines and start play beyond the 9 meter line.

For most infractions the clock does not stop and the team awarded the free throw can immediately start play with a throw in. However, if the infraction also resulted in a yellow card or a 2 minute suspension the clock is stopped and throw in can only be started after the referee whistles to start the clock.

If at the end of a half a free throw is called, but the the throw in does not occur before time has expired the team awarded the free throw can still take one last shot on goal with no time remaining. One offensive player then takes the shot typically over a defensive wall 3 meters away.


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How are the National Champions determined in the United States?

A 3 day weekend open club tournament organized by the National Federation is held in the spring of each year, usually in late April. Teams are usually split into an Elite, 1st Division and 2nd Division, but the format has varied from year to year. Depending on the number of clubs there are 1 or 2 Women’s Divisions. For the past several years there has also been a separate collegiate championship conducted on a separate weekend at a different location.

What is the IHF Trophy competition and what Nations are Eligible to Participate in them?

The IHF Trophy is a world-wide competition organized for developing handball nations. As currently structured the competition is conducted in phases with competition taking place in sub-continent, continent and inter-continent phases. The competition is also age based with separate competitions for Youth (U19) Men, Jr (U21) Men, Youth (U18) Women, and Jr (U20) Women. The timing of the competition is structured to parallel the existing Youth and Jr competitions with the Inter-Continental Jr Champion qualifying for the Jr World Championships.

  • IHF Inter-Continental Trophy Results (Wikipedia): Link

Note: The North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (CACHC) is is currently using the IHF Trophy as its Youth and Jr Championships. The winner of the NACHC IHF Trophy (Continental Phase) also qualifies for the World Championships.


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Why has the USA become less competitive and failed to qualify for recent Olympics?

3 basic factors can be attributed to this decline and poor performance.
1) USA athletes often first start playing the game in their early 20’s after their career in other sports have ended. While a simple game in principle, mastering the finer techniques of the game can take years. The USA has always been at a technical disadvantage against top sides.
2) The National Teams have been less successful in recruiting top, natural athletes since the 1996 Olympics. This is, of course, an opinion, but most long term observers of USA Team Handball would generally agree with this statement.
3) Other nations in the Pan-American region have improved their programs substantially. Brazil, and to a lesser extent, Argentina, have dramatically improved their programs from top to bottom. In the 80’s and 90’s a team of great, raw athletes could be recruited, assembled, taught the game and have a reasonable expectation that they could beat the other Pan-American Teams that used the same model. As recent results would attest, this is no longer possible.

Has the USA ever been competitive in International play?

The USA has been more competitive in the past, with the high water mark probably being the 1984 Olympic Games. The Men’s team placed 9th, but lost by no more than 3 goals in their 6 matches. The Women’s team placed 5th, but would have won a bronze medal, if they could have turned a 1 goal loss to Germany into a victory in the pool play competition.

Both the Men’s and Women’s National Teams continued to have a measure of respectability for the rest of the 1980’s through the 1996 Olympic Games, occasionally garnering victories in Friendly competitions like the Goodwill Games against European teams. In World Championship and Olympic competition the USA has repeatedly come up short. In particular, the USA men, have the dubious distinction of an 0-0-25 record in World Championship competition. Following the 1996 games, International competitiveness dropped dramatically with losses of 20 or more goals against the top teams becoming commonplace.

USA Men’s National Team Results at Every IHF World Championship: Link


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Why hasn’t USA Team Handball simply copied the successful sport development plans of (soccer, lacrosse, etc)?

This earlier article assesses why these analogies may or may not support the development of Team Handball in the United States: http://teamhandballnews.com/news64.html

Has the USA previously competed in Handball at the Olympics?

Yes. The men participated in the 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988 and 1996 Olympics. The Women participated in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996

Where is Handball played in the USA?

How are US National Team programs organized?

Currently, there are no active US National Teams. Until recently, the US Men were practicing in the Atlanta area on a part time basis. In the past the US has had resident National Team programs that trained full time. As the US had only a limited number of youth players, the full time program was generally used to convert athletes from other sports into handball players. For several years there had been no Men’s program and the Women’s program which had been training in Cortland, NY was stopped after the Women failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.

What are the age requirements for Youth and Jr National Team competitions?

The IHF organizes aged based World Championships for both men and women every 2 years. The Men’s Youth (U19) and Men’s Jr (U21) World Championships are held in odd years and the Women’s Youth (U18) and Women’s Jr (U20) World Championships are held in even years. These championships take place in the summer and the timing of these events factor into age based requirements.

  • Age Requirements for World Championships: Calendar years are used to determine the maximum age of participants. In principle an athlete can’t turn (UXX +1) in the calendar year of the tournament. As an example, for the Men’s Youth (U19) World Championships held in 2019, all athletes had to be born in the year 2000 or later. If an athlete had been born in 1999, they would turn 20 years old in 2019 and therefore would be ineligible. Because of this athletes are often identified and grouped by their birth year (e.g. 2000, 2001, etc)
  • Age Requirements for World Championship Qualification: Most continental federations have continental championships that serve as qualification for the World Championships. Depending on the timing for these events the age requirement may shift a year younger. This is intended to make the rosters consistent from qualification to the World Championships. As an example, Europe typically hosts their Men’s European Youth Championship is even years and the event is classified as a (U18) tournament. The nations that qualify then play in the World Championship (U19) event in the following year. The same principle also applies for IHF trophy events that serve as qualification for the World Championships.
  • Specific Age Requirements for Upcoming World Championships
    • 2022 Women’s Youth (U18) WC: Born in 2004 or later
    • 2022 Women’s Jr (U20) WC: Born in 2002 or later
    • 2023 Men’s Youth (U19) WC: Born in 2004 or later
    • 2023 Men’s Jr (U21) WC: Born in 2002 or later
  • Specific Age Requirements for Upcoming IHF Trophy Competitions
    • To be updated when the tournaments are scheduled

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How is club competition organized in the United States?

Competition has been mainly restricted to participation in weekend tournaments. Weekend tournaments vary in size and format, but as the name implies, the competition generally consists of a lot of games over a 2 or 3 day weekend. Depending on the format of the tournament games may be shortened to 2×20 minute halves to allow for more games in a time constricted weekend. Often a tournament will consist of two pools of 3 to 4 teams, with the top two teams from each pool advancing to a semifinal crossover, with the winners advancing to the final. Currently, there are no organized leagues in the United States. A number of reasons can be attributed to this shortcoming, but the biggest factors are the small number of clubs and the geographical distances separating them which makes frequent travel for games expensive.

How is Handball organized in the Unites States?

USA Team Handball is the National Governing Body (NGB) for Handball in the United States and is responsible for the sports development and the organization of it’s National Teams. USA Team Handball receives funding and administrative support from the US Olympic Committee, but it is an independent organization. It is also important to note, that USA Team Handball was only recently certified by the USOC in May of 2008, after a tumultuous 2 years that saw the decertification of the previous Federation. For more information check out the USA Team Handball webpage: www.usateamhandball.org

Are there any ongoing plans to bring professional Handball to the United States?

Yes, the creation of a professional summer league has been proposed: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.528
Additionally, the French Handball League is scheduled to bring the “Final Four” of their league’s cup tournament to Miami in 2009. This attempted outreach is similar in many ways to the NBA and the NFL‘s exporting of matches to Europe: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.529

Are there any professional clubs in the United States?

No. All teams are amateur. All players are usually expected to contribute funds to the club for gym rental and equipment. Additionally, players are usually responsible for their own travel costs to attend tournaments. Clubs affiliated with a college or school sometimes receive funding to help offset costs. Additionally, the coach might receive a small stipend.

What percentage of Americans are familiar with the sport of handball in the US?

A small percentage for sure and it would be interesting to conduct a nationwide poll as to what level of name recognition the sport has. Such a poll, however, would have to take into account the problems with the sports conflicting name with “wall handball” An educated guess is that only about 5% of Americans even knows that the sport exists.

What is the popularity of handball in the United States?

Handball is a very minor sport in the US and the vast majority of Americans are totally unaware that the sport even exists. Handball is rarely shown on TV in the USA and the only significant coverage has typically been during the Olympic Games.

There are 20 – 40 handball clubs in the United States and they are mostly located in large cities and at some colleges and universities. Clubs typically practice 1 or 2 times a week and participate in weekend tournaments 3 to 4 times a year. Some clubs located in the northeast also particpated in the Northeast Team Handball League.


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What does it take to get a two minute suspension?

In handball, punishments tend to be metered our progressively. Normally if a player commits a minor foul he or she will receive a warning from the referee in the form of being shown a yellow card, as in soccer. If a player repeatedly commits the same offense, a serious foul without a warning, or other sorts of misconduct then he or she will receive a 2-minute penalty. Just as in ice hockey, the penalized player must then leave the playing field (although there is no designated “penalty box”) for a full 2 minutes regardless of the number of goals scored by the team on the power play. Team officials such as coaches can also receive 2 minute suspensions; in these cases, a player who was on the court at the time of the infraction will serve the penalty and their team will be short handed for 2 minutes. If a player accumulates 3 2-minute suspensions in the same match he will be disqualified for the remainder of that match although the team will only be short handed for 2 minutes.

Most of the world simply identifies Handball as Handball, so why does the United States call the sport Team Handball?

Handball is called Team Handball in the U.S. to distinguish it from another sport called handball which is more well known. This Handball is played with a small rubber ball and is a 1 on 1 or 2 on 2 game that involves players slapping the ball with their hands off a wall. This “wall handball” is played throughout the United States and has a much higher name recognition than the Handball played in Europe and other parts of the world. Referring to Handball as simply Handball in the United States therefore often leads to confusion because most people are only familiar with wall handball.

To distinguish the sport from “Wall Handball” the name Team Handball was adopted. Wall Handball is also played in other parts of the world including Ireland and Canada. To differentiate the sports in those countries, Handball is often referred to as Olympic Handball in Ireland and in Anglophone Canada the sport is sometimes called European Team Handball (ETH).

Wikipedia article on Wall Handball: Link
Wikipedia disambiguation discussion on Handball: Link (Semantic problems are also difficult for Wikipedia to solve)


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How do nations qualify for the World Championships

How is handball organized in Oceania

How is handball organized in Central and South America?

How is handball organized in North America & the Caribbean?

How is handball organized in Asia

Asian Handball has been rife with division between the Persian Gulf region and Japan/Korea. This most notably came to a head with the Olympic Qualification for the 2008 Olympics being adjudicated in court. In terms of Men’s programs, the Gulf states are probably the most organized with several nations having organized club leagues.
Asian Olympic Qualification Dispute Article: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.535

How is handball organized in Africa

Africa is organized much like Europe, but there is a significant split in the level of organization between the North African Arabic nations and the Sub-Saharan nations. For men’s Handball, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria have National programs and club competitions that are comparable to Europe. With the exception of Angola, handball is less developed in Sub-Saharan Africa. As such Men’s competition is principally dominated by the North African countries. For women’s handball, the North African nations are not as structured and the dominant nation recently has been Angola.

There are a lot of strange club names for teams in Europe. What is the meaning behind those names?

This wiki page identifies the meaning of several European clubs.  If you know some more feel free to contribute to the wiki:  http://teamhandball.wikispaces.com/Club+Names

How is Handball organized in Europe?

Without question, Europe is the continent where the sport is most popular and best organized. This previous article addresses Handball organization in Europe: http://teamhandballnews.com/content12.html Although, well organized, handball in Europe is not without it’s problems. These articles assess some of its shortcomings:
What’s wrong with European Handball (part 1): http://teamhandballnews.com/news134.html
What’s wrong with European Handball (part 2): http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.207


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How popular is Handball worldwide?

The answer to this question is open to debate and is highly dependent on how popularity is defined.

The International Handball Federation (IHF) Marketing Webpage lists 209 member federations representing 28,000 clubs, 128,000 teams and a total of 27 million players. These numbers have to be taken into context, however, as some of these nations have negligible handball programs and what exactly constitutes a team in the 128,000 referenced teams is not defined.

For many years the often quoted statement was that Handball was the 2nd most popular sport in the world. This was always a bit of a stretch in light of basketball’s increasing popularity, particularly in China. While #2 may not be true world-wide, handball is the consensus #2 sport in several countries. This FAQ contains maps depicting where the sport is popular on each continent: Link


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How much do professional handball players earn?

This previous article attempts to extrapolate the salaries of players in Europe: Link 

Where are the best professional leagues?

For Men’s Handball the top 2 professional leagues are the German Handball Bundesliga (HBL) and the Spanish Liga Asobal. Based on their combined domination of the Intra-European Champions League competition few would argue with their superiority over the other European National Leagues. Additionally, with only a few notable exceptions, the top National Team players playing at the Olympics play for clubs in those two leagues. As to which of the two leagues is better there is considerable debate. In recent years head to head competition in the Champions League has been a wash. Behind these two leagues the top divisions in France, Denmark and Hungary are also competitive.For Women’s Handball, Denmark is widely regarded as having the best professional league.

How is Handball organized world-wide?

Handball has a world-wide structure very similar to soccer’s FIFA and other international sports. The world-wide governing body is the International Handball Federation (IHF). The IHF is responsible for organizing the Olympic Handball tournament and World Championship competitions. Membership consists of 147 nations. The IHF’s administrative office is located in Basel, Switzerland. Regionally, Continental Federations have been established in Europe, Africa, Asia, Pan America and Oceania. These Continental Federations are independent of the IHF and are responsible for organizing regional competitions. Apart from National Team competitions, club leagues have been organized usually on a National Level. Many of these club leagues are professional/semi-professional, particularly in Europe. The IHF, Continental Federations, and club leagues are all independent of each other and this has resulted in conflicting interests from time to time over player availability and revenue streams for national team competitions.

Why don’t I ever see a player jump out of bounds to try and save a ball before it hits the ground?

Unlike basketball, the ball is out immediately after it crosses the sidelines and the baseline.  Essentially there is an imaginary plane above each line.  It is even possible for a wing player to accidentally put the ball out of play with a throwing motion if the player is not careful.

How does player substitution work for Handball?

Much like in ice hockey, the players (including the goalie) are free to substitute on and off during the play always entering and exiting the court from the area near the half court line designated for substitutions. The new player cannot come on the court, however, until the departing player has exited the court entirely. Coming in too soon results in a 2 minute suspension. Many teams like to substitute 1 or 2 players for offensive/defensive purposes. These substitution patterns can easily be accomplished from defense to offense as the team on offense can slow play up a bit to make the substitution. The switch from offense to defense, however, cannot always be made because the time required for substituting could result in the offense having a man advantage.

What does it take for a defensive foul to result in a penalty shot?

Illegally interfering with a clear goal scoring opportunity by a defensive player, such as by grabbing the shooting arm of the offensive player from the side or from behind, will result in a penalty shot. Much like in soccer, the shooter is “expected” to score.  Another common occurrence is playing defense inside the 6 meters line.  This often takes place when a defender slides over to help.  As the defender tries to get in front of the advancing offensive player the defender loses track of the line and ends up defending inside the 6 meter line.

If the offensive team scores a goal while the defensive team is short handed, does the defensive team return to full strength?

No, that’s a rule in Ice Hockey, not handball. The defensive player does not return until the full two minutes have expired.

What constitutes a defensive foul?

A defensive player may obstruct his opponent by using his body and/or arms. Strictly speaking, he is not allowed to strike, grab or tackle the opponent. However, as the usual penalty for frontal tackling or grabbing is just a free throw, defenders regularly try to stop the attacker by
– blocking/grabbing the attackers ball handling arm with one arm/hand while
– putting the other hand on the attackers hip/back and
– pulling the attacker against his own chest.
In order to keep the game flowing (thereby opening up holes in the defense) the attacker will try to evade this. For the same reason, referees usually do not interfere as long as the attacker is still able to pass the ball safely along to a teammate.

How are the rules for an offensive charge different from basketball?

The rules as to whether the defensive player has established position are similar, but the defensive player is given more leeway in handball. As a result, you’ll see offensive charging called more often in handball when compared to basketball.

What are the rules for the 6 meter goal area?

 Only the defending goalkeeper is allowed to stay inside the 6m goal area (though any player may attempt to catch and touch the ball in the air within it, or jump into the area and throw the ball before landing). Also, the restrictions for travelling with the ball do not apply to the goalie in this area. However, if he leaves the goal area, movement and dribbling rules apply as they would to any court player.

How long can the player hold on to the ball before passing, shooting or dribbling?

Players are allowed to hold on to the ball only for 3 seconds before a turnover is called.

Can players kick the ball?

The goalkeeper is the only player that can touch the ball with their lower legs. If an offensive player touches the ball with his feet it is a turnover. If a defensive player intentionally kicks the ball it is a two minute penalty.

What size ball is used in handball?

Men’s handball  
– Circumference: 58-60 cm
– Diameter:
– Weight range:425-475g

Women’s handball  
– Circumference: 54-56 cm
– Diameter:
– Weight range:325-375g

For reference a handball is slightly smaller than a volleyball. However, a handball is heavier and is textured for easier gripping. Sometimes a cantaloupe is also used as a reference point for describing the size and weight of the ball.

What are the offensive alignments commonly used?

There are only a handful of offensive alignments used in handball

  • Standard Offense: 5 players (LW/LB/CB/RB/RW) facing the goal at 9 to 12 meters and 1 player (P) with his back to the goal at 7 meters: This is the standard offensive alignment most commonly used and is depicted below
  • Two Pivots: 4 players (LW/LB/RB/RW) facing the goal at 9 to 12 meters and 2 players (P) with their backs to the goal at 7 meters: This variant as described has one of the out front players moving into a pivot position. This is sometimes done during the normal course of play, typically with a wing player playing as a pivot for a few seconds. At other times it is done with a 2nd pivot substituting for another player. The four players out front typically shift their spacing to account for the missing “out front” player.
  • Two Pivots with Extra Player: 5 players (LW/LB/CB/RB/RW) facing the goal at 9 to 12 meters and 2 players (P) with their backs to the goal at 7 meters. This is a very aggressive offense that requires pulling the GK and adding an extra pivot. This strategy is used for the following reasons:
    • At the very end of a match when a team wants to maximize its scoring opportunity and thinks the other team won’t have time to score an empty net goal
    • During the match to increase the tempo of the game.
    • During the match to force the defense into a 6-0 defense.

How are the rules for handball dribbling and traveling different from basketball?

Palming the ball: In theory, the rules for dribbling are identical as there are no specific rules governing the motion that is to be used to direct the ball to the floor. In practice, however, “palming” or catching the ball while dribbling is more closely called in handball. Palming the ball results in a turnover.

Steps after dribbling: This situation applies after a player dribbling the ball takes his last dribble. While basketball allows 2 steps after dribbling handball allows 3 steps after dribbling. A handball player must shoot or pass the ball to a teammate before he takes his 4th step or it will result in a traveling violation.

Steps with no dribbling: This situation typically occurs when a player receives a pass, usually while moving. While basketball players can take two steps after receiving the pass, handball players can take three steps. Taking a 4th step will result in a traveling violation without.

Steps before dribbling: When a basketball player starts an offensive move (where he intends to dribble) that player must start dribbling before he takes his second step or he will be called for a travelling violation. A handball player, however, can take 3 steps before starting to dribble. (This arguably is the most significantly different travelling rule. In particular, more than one converted basketball player has been fooled by a handball player taking 3 steps, faking a jump shot, taking one dribble and then taking another 3 steps for a wide open shot.)

Double Dribbling: As with basketball, you can not dribble, then stop and hold the ball, and then start to dribble again. That is a double dribble and constitutes a turnover.

Jump stop: If a player jumps and lands with both feet at the same time, the landing only counts as one step.

Each time a foot touches the ground is counted as a step. Additionally, unlike basketball there is no pivot foot exception. In other words a player can keep one foot stationary and pivot around like a basketball player might, but each time a step is taken it counts as one of the player’s 3 steps.

How are goals or points scored in handball?

A goal worth one point is awarded to the offensive team each time the entire ball crosses their opponent’s goal area. There is no equivalent to a 3 point goal in basketball. All goals are worth just 1 point.

Occasionally, a shot attempt results in the goal keeper stopping the ball at or near the imaginary plane of the goal area. This can be a very challenging call to make and a special goal camera is used at major competitions.

IHF Rules of the game page 35 (photo)

Why is a “Man-to-Man” defense used so rarely?

The principal reason a man-to-man defense can be effective in basketball, but is extremely risky in Handball, is directly related to the locations of high percentage shots in both sports. In basketball there is only one spot for a very high percentage shot: immediately near the basket (i.e. a layup). In Handball, the entire 6 meter line with the exception of the extreme wings is the equivalent of a basketball layup. In basketball, a defender who is beaten can usually count on help from another defender to immediately step in between the offensive player and the basket. In handball, another defender might also step in to help, but as the defense is spread out along the 6 meter line such help is less likely to arrive in time.

What are the defensive alignments commonly used?

Defensive alignments are commonly referred to by a numbering scheme which indicates how many defenders are playing close to the 6 meter line and how many defenders are playing 2-3 meters above the arc.

6-0 Defense: This is the basic defensive scheme, on which the other alignments are based. There are 2 variants:

  • The classic 6-0: Used by most teams in the 70s and the 80s. The 6 players move along the line (using side steps) along with the ball and remain rather passive, unless a defender needs to prevent his opponent from penetrating the defense or to block a shot.
  • The modern 6-0: Based on the classic version. However, along with the ball movement, defenders move forward to the 9m line to disturb their respective opponent. When the ball is passed along, the defender will move back again to the 6m line, while another defender moves forward to meet the new ball handler. As the ball moves from left to right and back again, the defense moves in a wave pattern to meet the threat. The modern 6-0 is widely used in handball, mostly by European teams that can rely on the height of their players to block shots by opposing backs.

5-1 Defense: In this defense, 5 defenders stay near the 6 meter arc, while one defender stays higher, usually near the 9 meter arc. Typically, this point defender is in the center and seeks to disrupt the backcourt offensive players

3-2-1 Defense: Similar to the 5-1 defense, except that the two players defending the left and right backcourt are also extended further from the 6 meter at typically 7.5 meters so they are more ready to defend against back court jumpshots. (i.e. 3 players are essentially on the 6 meter line, 2 players are at roughly 7.5 meters and 1 player is at 9 meteres; hence 3-2-1). As offensive players move from side to side, defenders will stay with the attacking offensive players longer than they would in a 6-0 defense. This is because the uneven level of the defense makes the transfer of responsibilty more challenging as there is more open space between the defenders. The advantage of this defense is that jumpshots at 9 or 10 meters are more closely defended. The disadvantage of this defense is that the openness of the defense makes it more prone for breakthroughs and it is also more physically demanding. This defense is often used by teams that are shorter and/or quicker than their opponents.

4-2 Defense: Similar to the 5-1 defense, except that two players stay at the 9m line, usually defending against the right and left back. Rarely used.

Marking: Similar to the 5-1 defense, except the point defender plays man to man against a specific player. This is similar to a “box-1” defense in basketball and is usually done against a team in which one player is doing most of the scoring. In some instances, the marked player on offense will stand at about 12 meters and let his team play 5 on 5. The logic being that 5 on 5 is a significant advantage for the offense as each defensive player has more space around the arc to cover. Marking can also be done on 2 players with the result being similar to a 4-2.

Man-to-Man: A basketball style man-to-man defense, in which each defender is assigned a particular player to guard, is sometimes used as a last resort in the waning minutes of play during a close game.

Why are left handed players so important to the game?

When players shoot the ball it is advantageous to swing one’s arm toward the center of the 6 meter arc as it is a more natural arm motion and provides a better shot angle. As a result, right handed players are more effective on the left side of the court and left handed players are more effective on the right side of the court. This handicap is most pronounced with respect to wing players, as it can be very difficult to score on the wing with the “wrong arm.” For a perspective on how difficult, imagine this right wing taking the same shot right right handed.

How big is a handball court?

A handball court is 40 m x 20 m. It is divided into 2 halves which are both 20 m x 20 m.

How long does a handball game last?

A regulation handball match consists of two 30 minute halves separated by a 10 or 15 minute half time. The clock runs continuously unless a timeout is called or a player is injured. Additionally, at the end of the match, the referees will often call timeout after a foul to prevent excessive stalling by the team with the lead.

In terms of “real time” elapsed a typical handball match will last around 1 hour and 30 minutes.

What are the offensive player positions

Most often teams set up with the offensive positions depicted in the chart above. Here are a few notes on each position:

  • Left Wing/Right Wing: Wing players are typically quicker players that, as the name suggests, spend the bulk of their time on offense as the extreme end of the court. Often as plays develop the defense commits toward the center leaving the wing player with a relatively open shot at the less desirable wing angle. Wings are also often the players who are out first on the fast break.
  • Left Back: This position typically is the strongest shooter on the team and is usually a tall player who can shoot over the defense at 9 to 10 meters.
  • Center Back: The center back position is somewhat similar to the point guard position in basketball in that this player is typically the best passer setting up the Left Back, Right back and Pivot players for good shots.
  • Right Back: This position is essentially the mirror image of the left back position. However, since the position is more effectively played with a left handed player not all teams have a right back that is as effective as their left back. Some teams lacking an effective left handed player will play this position with a right handed player or perhaps with a left handed player that is shorter and less capable then the left back of big shots from a distance.
  • Pivot: This player plays with his back to the goal along the 6 meter circle. (Note: This position is also referred to as a circle runner or line player.) This is a physically tough position as the circle runner tries to muscle in between the defenders, who often line up on the 6m line with their backs to their own goal. The pivot tries to block defenders and create spaces between them thereby opening up shooting lanes for the offense. If the defender then moves to block the attacking back, passing lanes to the unmarked pivot open up.

Where can I find the official rules of the game?

The official rules of the game can be found at the IHF Website: Link