23 Jul. 2021
Handball, the beautiful game. One of the most popular team sports in the world will be played at the Olympic Games for the 14th time, with a history spanning nearly 90 years since its first appearance at Berlin 1936, as field handball.
The roots of the sport are still present, but the evolution has been constant, as handball continues to grow in popularity and is now one of the fastest and most exciting team sports to watch.
If you want to learn more about the history of handball and the International Handball Federation, click here.
With new fans joining us from around the world for the next two weeks, we are here to answer some essential questions about your new favourite sport.
What is handball?
Handball is a team sport consisting of 14 total players on the court, who must pass and dribble a ball up the court to score in the opposition's goal.
Handball is played on a 40mx20m court with 3mx2m goals at each end, surrounded by a D-shaped area called the goal area. The goal area is six metres from the goal and only the goalkeeper can enter it. However, players may jump into this area when attempting a shot but must release the ball before landing. If a player jumps into the area without shooting the ball, possession is awarded to the opponent.
How long is a handball game?
Sixty minutes divided into two 30-minute halves, separated by a 15-minute break. Each coach has three 60-second time-outs, with only a maximum of two allowed per half. Therefore, a normal handball game will last about 90 minutes, including the break. During the knock-out phases at major international tournaments, if a game is tied at the end of the regulation, the game goes to overtime. The overtime period consists of two halves of five minutes, with a one-minute half-time break. If the game is again tied after a first overtime period, a second overtime is played. This second overtime period also has two halves of five minutes, with a one-minute halftime break. If the game is still tied after two overtime periods, the winner will be determined in a 7-metre throw shootout.
How many players are on the court?
Seven per team, a goalkeeper and six outfield players. Usually, there are two wings on each side on the court, a line player, who plays near the goal area, and three backs, who have the fastest shots. Coaches can substitute their goalkeeper for an outfield player when they are on offence.
How many goals are scored per game?
Unpredictability is what makes handball beautiful. There are teams who focus on a high-octane attacking style, while others put the emphasis on defence.
The number of goals scored per game has risen dramatically in the past few years. For example, in the men’s tournament five years ago at Rio 2016, the goal average per game was 54.76. In January, at the IHF Men’s World Championship in Egypt, the goal average per game was 56.89, with the reigning men’s Olympic champions, Denmark, boasting an average of 33.7 goals per game.
What are the most important rules?
Outfield players can hold the ball for a maximum of three seconds and take a maximum of three steps without dribbling. If the rule is broken, possession changes hands.
If a team does not attack the goal directly, a tendency of passive play is signalled by the referees. From that moment on, the team has six passes to try and score a goal, otherwise possession changes hands.
If a team commits a foul, the opposing team is awarded a free-throw. If a team commits a foul that the referee deems to be a clear scoring chance that was illegally prevented, a 7-metre throw is awarded.
A flagrant foul or a flagrant violation of the rules is sanctioned with a two-minute suspension, with the player not being allowed to retake the court until the suspension is over. Three two-minute suspensions result in a red card. If you are ready to take a more-detailed look at the rules, click here.
How fast is a handball shot?
Really fast. At the IHF Men’s World Championship earlier this year, the fastest shot was clocked at 126 km/h from Egypt’s Mohamed Sanad. In the women’s competitions, the most powerful shots come from backs like Montenegro’s Djurdjina Jaukovic and Romania’s Cristina Neagu who can shoot at more than 110 km/h.
Who are the most decorated teams at the Olympic Games?
In the men’s tournament, France, the Soviet Union, Croatia and Yugoslavia have each won two gold medals. France (two gold medals, one silver medal and one bronze medal), Germany (one gold medal, two silver medals, one bronze medal), Sweden (four silver medals) and Romania (one silver medal and three bronze medals) top the medal table. Meanwhile, Bahrain and Portugal are making their Olympic handball debuts at Tokyo 2020.
In the women’s tournament, Denmark have won the most gold medals, three, but Norway (two gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals) and the Republic of Korea (two gold medals, three silver medals and one bronze medal) top the medal table with six medals each.
Who are the players to watch at Tokyo 2020?
Mikkel Hansen, left back, Denmark: Three-time IHF Male World Player of the Year, Olympic Games Rio 2016 MVP, three-time IHF Men’s World Championship MVP, two-time IHF Men’s World Championship top-scorer, two-time IHF Men’s World Championship All-star
Niklas Landin Jacobsen, goalkeeper, Denmark: 2019 IHF Male World Player of the Year, two-time IHF Men’s World Championship All-star, Olympic Games Rio 2016 All-star
Nikola Karabatic, centre back, France: Three-time IHF Male World Player of the Year, two-time Olympic All-star, two-time IHF Men’s World Championship MVP, three-time IHF Men’s World Championship All-star
Others: Sander Sagosen (Norway), Jim Gottfridsson (Sweden), Ludovic Fabregas (France), Ali Zein (Egypt)
Anna Vyakhireva, right back, ROC: Olympic Games Rio 2016 MVP, 2019 IHF Women’s World Championship All-star
Stine Oftedal, centre back, Norway: 2019 IHF Female World Player of the Year, 2017 IHF Women’s World Championship MVP, 2015 IHF Women’s World Championship All-star
Nora Mork, right back, Norway: Olympic Games Rio 2016 top-scorer, two-time IHF Women’s World Championship All-star, 2017 IHF Women’s World Championship top-scorer
Others: Lois Abbingh (Netherlands), Alexandrina Cabral (Spain), Jovanka Radičević (Montenegro), Ryu Eun-hee (Korea)
Great movie @parasitemovie but we disagree, @TheAcademy Best Motion Picture – Drama should’ve gone to “The 2019 World Title-Winning Goal at the Buzzer”, by @loisabbingh and @handbal_NL #Oscars pic.twitter.com/BrGP1ZFbUg— International Handball Federation (@ihf_info) February 10, 2020
How can I follow the action?
With us! Each and every moment at the handball tournament at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 will be covered by the IHF, either on social media or on the competition mini-site. Click here to view your local Tokyo 2020 broadcaster(s).
How can I prepare?
Watch the men's tournament final from Rio 2016 of course!