14 Jul. 2021
Early, sandy steps
The story of beach handball can be traced back to Italy in the 1990s, and for the specifics relating to the IHF, to an island in the middle of the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the east coast of Sardinia and south of Rome and west of Naples off the Italian mainland – the country famed for its coastline resembling a boot kicking a ball.
That island is Ponza, with a population of just over 3,000 people along with three other islands – and while its population may be small, its influence on the world’s global team sport landscape is huge.
Frustrated by the lack of indoor halls to play handball in on Ponza, Gianni Buttarelli and Franco Schiano – presidents of local handball clubs – had the idea of playing on the sand which surrounded them and on Saturday 20 June 1992 ‘HandballBeach’ was played.
During the same period and inspired by the popular sport of beach volleyball in the country, Italian Simonetta Montagni was also developing the sport as well as players in the Netherlands experimenting with what the EHF has described as the ‘new trend sport’.
Another Italian, coach Luciano Bartolini, was asked by the newly-elected president of the Italian Handball Federation, Ralf Dejaco, to begin work on developing rules which utilised the abundance of pre-exiting beach volleyball courts.
Following a demonstration match and subsequent first-ever beach handball tournament, in Ponza in July 1992, Italian international (indoor) handball referees Giampiero Masi and Piero Di Piero reviewed the rules along with Bartolini, to ‘focus on making the game more spectacular, with an emphasis on acrobatic plays’.
Big steps since the 1990s, Youth Olympic Games and full Olympic inclusion?
The rest is history as they say. Since then, the sport has grown in all continents across the world with federations all over the world actively playing the sport, coaching and refereeing.
In our in-depth interview with Giampiero Masi, who is not only the Chairman of the IHF Beach Handball Working Group, but who is one of the few people involved with the very origins of the sport, he talks us through the story of the game, the players and its rules which saw the sport debut at Olympic level when it appeared at the memorable 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
And with the IHF actively pursuing its inclusion as part of the sporting programme at the Olympic Games, the future is, well, sandy.
Beach handball – A timeline
1992: The first beach handball demonstration match was played in Misano Adriatico (ITA).
20 June 1992: Beach handball is played for the very first time on Ponza island in Italy.
July 1992: San Antonio beach in Ponza (ITA) hosts the first-ever beach handball tournament. Featuring five teams, it was played under floodlights and showcased the newly-developed rules.
The ‘Comitato Organizzatore Handball Beach (COHB)’ was founded in Italy, acknowledged as the very first organised beach handball association worldwide. Italian international (indoor) handball referees Giampiero Masi and Piero Di Piero, along with Bartolini review the rules, rewriting them to focus on making the game more spectacular.
1993: The first official international beach handball tournament was played in Rome (ITA) featuring national teams of Algeria, Chinese Taipei, the Russian province of Ural, the Italian Military team and a Junior select team of TSV Bartenbach (GER).
1994: Beach handball and its rules are presented at the 25th IHF Congress in Noordwijk (NED) with a test match played between Italy and Netherlands on its famous beaches.
May 1994: Beach handball is officially recognised by the IHF.
October 1995: The EHF Beach Handball Working Group is founded.
1998: 1st Pan American Men’s Beach Handball Championship takes place in Rio de Janeiro (BRA) and is won by Brazil.
2000: 1st EHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball European Championships take place in Gaeta (ITA) with Belarus and Ukraine winning the men’s and women’s tournaments, respectively.
23-25 August 2001: Beach handball is included as an invitational, demonstration sport at the 2001 World Games in Akita (JPN). Belarus win the men’s competition and Ukraine win the women’s competition.
2003: The EHF creates the ‘European Beach Handball Tour (ebt)’.
2004: 1st AHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball Asian Championships takes place in Muscat (OMA) with Japan’s women taking the title and the host nation winning gold in the men’s competition.
1st Pan American Women’s Beach Handball Championship takes place in Montevideo (URU) and is won by Uruguay.
November 2004: 1st IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place in El Gouna (EGY) with nine men’s and eight women’s teams participating. Egypt win the men’s competition and Russia win the women’s competition.
14-24 July 2005: Beach handball is again included as invitational, demonstration sport at the World Games, this time in Duisburg (GER).
15-19 November 2006: 2nd IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place on the famous Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro (BRA). A total of 20 teams participate (10 men’s/10 women’s), with Brazil winning both titles.
2007: The EHF Beach Handball Working Group is replaced by the EHF Beach Handball Commission.
2007: The IHF Beach Handball Working Group is founded by the IHF.
9-13 July 2008: 3rd IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place in Cadiz (ESP). A total of 24 teams participate (12 men’s/12 women’s) with Croatia winning both titles.
With the help of the Institute of Sport Sciences, University of Tubingen (GER), a scouting sheet for beach handball matches was used for the first time. The sheets helped to analyse the games.
18-25 October 2008: Pakistan (PAK) and PR of China (CHN) win the men’s and women’s beach handball competitions at the 2008 Asian Beach Games in Bali (IND) on the sports’ debut.
18-20 July 2009: Beach handball appears at the 2009 World Games held in Kaohsiung (TPE) as a demonstration sport. Brazil win the men’s competition and Italy the women’s, both featuring eight teams.
22-27 June 2010: 4th IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place in Antalya (TUR). 24 teams participate with Brazil winning the men’s title and Norway winning the women’s title.
8-13 July 2012: 5th IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place in Muscat (OMA). 24 teams participate, with Brazil winning both titles.
2013: 1st Oceania Beach Handball Championship takes place in Sydney (AUS) with a match between New Zealand and Australia.
2-4 August 2013: Beach handball at the 2013 World Games in Cali (COL) is upgraded to a full sport and is held in the Canaveralejo Bull Fighting ring ,attracting large-scale crowds. Brazil win both the men’s and women’s eight-team competitions.
22-27 July 2014: 6th IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place in Recife (BRA). 24 teams participate, with Brazil winning both titles.
12-17 July 2016: 7th IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place in Budapest (HUN). 24 teams participate, with Spain winning the women’s title and Croatia the men’s title.
11-16 July 2017: 1st IHF Men’s and Women’s U17 Beach Handball World Championships are held in Flic-en-Flac (MRI). Spain men win the 15-team competition and Hungary women win the 14-team competition.
26-29 July 2017: Brazil again win both World Games titles at the 2017 World Games held in Wroclaw (POL).
24-29 July 2018: 8th IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships take place in Kazan (RUS). For the first time, 32 teams participate, with Greece winning the women’s title and Brazil the men’s title.
7-13 October 2018: Beach handball appears at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires (ARG) for the first time, replacing indoor handball, and is a sensation, with Argentina winning the women’s title and Spain the men’s title in their respective 12-team competitions.
14-23 June 2019: The 1st African Beach Games is held in Sal, Cape Verde. Featuring beach handball, it also acts as the first-ever CAHB Men’s and Women’s African Beach Handball Championships. Tunisia claim the titles in the nine-team men’s competition and five-team women’s competition.
11-14 July 2019: The first-ever edition of the North America and the Caribbean (NAC) Beach Handball Championship is played in Port of Spain (TTO) with the USA men’s and women’s team taking gold in their respective competitions.
11-14 July 2019: 1st South and Central America Handball Confederation (SCAHC) Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball Championships are played in Marica (BRA), with the host national winning both the men’s and women’s titles featuring six and five teams, respectively.
11-16 October 2019: The men’s and women’s beach handball competitions featuring 12 teams in each is played at the 1st ANOC World Beach Games in Doha, Qatar. Denmark win the women’s competition and Brazil take the men’s gold.
11 February 2020: The IHF formally submits a request to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include beach handball as a new event at the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games. The request proposes a total of eight men’s and eight women’s teams participating, consisting of 128 athletes – 64 in each gender, with eight on each squad.
30 June-5 July 2020: The 9th IHF Men’s and Women’s Beach Handball World Championships is planned to take place in Pescara (ITA), but due to the global COVID-19 outbreak, it is firstly postponed before eventually being cancelled.