16 Jul. 2021
While it is impossible to chart every single moment in the evolution of wheelchair handball – although our ‘timeline’ below highlights key moments – as part of our series of International Handball Week features delving into the different disciplines of handball, one thing is clear – the upward trend for the sport is gaining momentum, globally.
Asia, Europe and South America have been long-term proponents of the sport, which can be played with men’s, women’s or mixed teams. Japan can record games as far back as at least 1990, while Brazil hosted an unofficial world championship in 2013, long after it was recorded being played at university in 1993. Europe is also key to the sport, with the European Handball Federation (EHF) hosting a demonstration match at the EHF Youth Handball Convention in Vienna (AUT) in 2006.
Origins at the IHF – a global direction
At their meeting in Doha, Qatar, in October 2018, upon a proposal from IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa, the IHF Council unanimously agreed to form a working group for wheelchair handball with IHF Council and IHF Executive Committee Member Dr Frantisek Taborsky nominated as its Chairman. With experience of the sport going back to as far as 1993, Taborsky was the perfect choice to oversee the global co-ordination of the rapidly-evolving discipline and you can read more from him here in our Q&A.
In February 2019, a few months after that decision in Qatar, President Moustafa requested, via letter, nominations from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), European Handball Federation (EHF), French Handball Federation (FFHB) and Japanese Handball Association (JHA) of experts to join the newly-created working group.
By March 2019, the members of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group were nominated, then confirmed and, finally, briefed on their tasks, working programme and main goals, which were:
- To initiate interest in wheelchair handball and support the development of the sport organisationally, methodically and economically at national, continental and IHF levels
- To create a system of regular competition and provide organisational facilities for the competitions i.e. rules, classifications, regulations, organisers, referees, technical delegates, volunteers
- To build ties with the IPC, sponsors and government institutions at all levels
The world was keen to help develop and grow the sport – after being presented at the XXXVII Ordinary IHF Congress in Gothenburg (Sweden) in July 2019, 40 National Federations from across the globe showed their interest in the sport, with a majority already registering activities in it or their intention to support it.
And exactly one year after its proposed formation, October 2019 saw a critical step on the pathway to wheelchair handball’s global standing with the first meeting of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group in Basel, Switzerland at the IHF Head Office.
A mixture of experience and talent, accessible to all
In addition to its Chairman, the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group consists of four members from three continents including Nicole Rabenseifner (AUT), Flavio Anderson Pedrosa de Melo (BRA), Minoru Kino (JPN) and Jerzy Eliasz (POL), with a number of collaborators working alongside them.
The first face-to-face meeting of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group took place in October 2019 in the IHF Head Office in Switzerland with one of its first, key moments formulating rules for the two versions of the sport, the six-a-side version and four-a-side, which were confirmed by the IHF Council on 27 February 2020 and 19 February 2021, respectively.
Following that first working group meeting, a few months later, at their meeting in Kumamoto (JPN) on the fringes of the 2019 IHF Women’s World Championship, the IHF Executive Committee agreed to organise the 1st IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship, in collaboration with the EHF, scheduled for Kristianstad (SWE) in November 2020 followed by a World Championship to be held in December 2021 on the fringes of the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship in Spain.
However, COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it just a few months later. Plans were changed, events – including both the proposed 2020 and 2021 Wheelchair Handball World Championships – were cancelled. Despite the disappointment and change of plans, wheelchair handball powered forward.
The future: LA 2028 – a Paralympic sport?
After gaining status as an IPC Recognised International Federation back in 2009, the IHF has forged close links with the global governing body of Paralympic sport from the very top down. Working Group members and collaborators have participated in numerous IPC meetings, all working towards including wheelchair handball in the global celebration of Paralympic athleticism.
Full membership on the sport programme means having, at least, the sport played in 24 countries on three continents with two world championships organised across a four-year programme. Under the IHF umbrella, 12 National Federations support the sport in the South and Central America Handball Confederation (SCAHC), eight in the EHF and two in the Asian Handball Federation (AHF), including Pakistan, who held their first-ever national championship earlier this year.
In 2020, meetings went online and people adapted, learning to live with the virus. People connected online more than ever and with this in mind, the first IHF Wheelchair Handball Webinar Series took place from 17-18 October 2020 and addressing those in attendance with an introductory speech, IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa was clear about the future goals of the sport for the IHF.
“We want to be included in the LA 2028 Paralympic Games,” he said. “It’s a long way to go but we are working hard to reach this goal. I want to ask all of our National Federations to react to the IHF goal of creating wheelchair handball in their countries, so we have the sport to promote, to be able to fulfil the criteria for inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Paralympic programme and fulfil our vision.”
Wheelchair handball – A timeline
1990: Wheelchair handball competition is held in Kyoto (JPN).
1993: Demonstration match is held at Coaches Symposium in Leipzig (GER).
Wheelchair handball is played, without rules, at the State University of Campinas (BRA).
2001: First, regular annual wheelchair handball competition takes place in Japan.
2003: Japanese Wheelchair Handball Federation (JWHF) is formed.
2004: 1st Japanese Wheelchair Handball Competition is held in Himeji (JPN).
2005: Demonstration match is held at the IHF Symposium for Coaches and Referees in Bangkok (THA).
The European Handball Federation (EHF) discusses first initiatives for wheelchair handball, co-operate with rehabilitation patients and the Austrian wheelchair basketball team ‘Sitting Bulls’ on trying different variants of the game.
Unofficial French Championship is held in Nantes (FRA).
Decio Calegari organises wheelchair handball at the University of Parana (BRA).
2006: Demonstration match takes place at the EHF Youth Handball Convention in Vienna (AUT).
A club team is formed in Liverpool (GBR).
2008: First EHF Wheelchair Handball Seminar and Tournament is held in Vienna (AUT).
Chile (CHI) start wheelchair handball initiatives.
2009: IHF gains status as an IPC Recognised International Federation.
Argentina (ARG) and Bolivia (BOL) start wheelchair handball initiatives.
1st Brazilian Wheelchair Handball Championship is held in Toledo (BRA), Brazilian Wheelchair Handball Association (ABRAHCAR) is formed.
Brazil (BRA) play Chile (CHI) in a friendly international series.
2010: First IHF Wheelchair Handball Seminar is held in Basel (SUI).
1st South American Wheelchair Handball Championship is held in Almirante Brown (ARG).
2011: 2nd South American Wheelchair Handball Championship is held in Campinas (BRA).
2012: Libertadores of America Cup is held in Curitiba (BRA).
Uruguay (URU), Venezuela (VEN) and Colombia (COL) start wheelchair handball initiatives.
2013: 1st Wheelchair Handball World Championship (unofficial) takes place in Curitiba (BRA) from 21-29 September featuring ARG, AUS, BRA, BOL, CHI and URU.
2014: Panama (PAN) start wheelchair handball initiatives.
16-20 September 2014: 1st Pan-American Wheelchair Handball Championship is held in Almirante Brown (ARG) with seven teams.
12-13 December 2015: 1st EHF Wheelchair Handball Nations’ Tournament is held in Vienna (AUT) and features NED, POR, NOR and SWE, won by NED.
July 2016: EHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group meets for the first time.
7-8 December 2016: 2nd EHF Wheelchair Handball Nations’ Tournament is held in Solvesborg (SWE) and features NED, POR, SWE and ITA, won by NED.
2018: 3rd EHF Wheelchair Handball Nations’ Tournament is held in Leiria (POR) and features POR, CRO, NED and HUN, won by POR.
18 October 2018: At their meeting in Doha (QAT), the IHF Council unanimously vote to form a Wheelchair Handball Working Group.
2019: 2nd Women’s South American Wheelchair Handball Championship is held in conjunction with Brazilian Paralympic Committee.
4 July 2019: Wheelchair handball is presented at the XXXVII Ordinary IHF Congress in Gothenburg (SWE).
4-7 September 2019: Chairman of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group, IHF Council and Executive Committee Member Frantisek Taborsky attends 2019 IPC Vista Conference in Amsterdam (NED).
22 October 2019: 2nd Pan-American Wheelchair Handball Championship is held in Sao Paulo (BRA).
26 October 2019: 1st Meeting of IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group is held at the IHF Head Office, Basel (SUI).
November 2019: Rules and Regulations for EHF events & EHF classification manual (based on the manual used by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation) produced by EHF.
12-15 December 2019 4th EHF Wheelchair Handball Nations’ Tournament is held in Zagreb (CRO) and features CRO, POR, HUN, NED, ROU and SLO, won by CRO.
2020: Plan for 18th national Japanese Wheelchair Handball Competition were paused due to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak
27 Jan-2 February 2020: At their meeting in Cairo (EGY), the IHF Council approve the Rules of the Game for six-a-side Wheelchair Handball and the Competition Manual for the proposed forthcoming IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championships in 2020 and 2021.
27-28 February 2020: At their 6th Meeting in Cairo (EGY), the IHF Council agree to organise the World & European Wheelchair Handball Championship in collaboration with the EHF, scheduled for Kristianstad (SWE) in November 2020 followed by an IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship to be held in December 2021 on the fringes of the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship in Spain. The decision follows the earlier proposal from the IHF Executive Committee at their meeting in Kumamoto (JPN) on the fringes of the 2019 IHF Women’s World Championship, on 10 December 2019.
The Rules of the Game, Competition Manual are approved by the IHF Council, who also propose the inclusion of wheelchair handball in the IHF Statutes, to be submitted to the next IHF Congress for decision.
26 June 2020: Plans for both the World & European Wheelchair Handball Championship and the IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship are made in a joint IHF-EHF meeting, but both are later postponed due to the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak.
18 July 2020: Wheelchair handball is presented in the SCAHC Webinar series with the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group participating.
17-18 October 2020: The first-ever virtual IHF Wheelchair Handball Seminar takes place.
19 February 2021: Four-a-side Wheelchair Handball Rules of the Game (edit) regulated by IHF, are confirmed by IHF Council.
1 June 2021: IHF Wheelchair Handball Classification Rules and Regulation are finished by the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group.
2022: Next opportunity for wheelchair handball to be included in Paralympic Games programme with LA2028 the goal.
Future plans – IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group
2022: 1st IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championships (six-a-side) (postponed from 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19) and 1st IHF Men’s and Women’s Wheelchair Handball World Championships (four-a-side) to take place.
2023: 2nd IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
2024: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
2025: 3rd IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
2026: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
2027: 4th IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
2028: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
Inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympic Games
2029: 5th IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
2030: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
2031: 6th IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
Photo: Portuguese Handball Federation