17 Jun. 2022
Handball was always designed to be a fast-paced, entertaining and dynamic sport and its rules have evolved over the past decades, thanks to a sustainable growth of the sport and an improvement in its level of adoption throughout the world.
However, everything can still be perfected and the rules of the game make no exception, as the International Handball Federation (IHF) is in constant contact with its main stakeholders to review the game. With teams at all levels improving their level and constantly dictating the pace of the sport’s evolution, it is also high time that the IHF Rules of the Game keep that said pace.
With this in mind, the IHF organised an Inter-Commission Meeting (ICM) in November 2018 to hear from a variety of expert handball stakeholders – presidents of Continental Confederations and National Federations, top coaches, top referees, members of IHF Commissions, experts in marketing, TV and media – as well as representatives from the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) – about how handball can continue to develop as a sport.
Therefore, the date of 1 July 2022 will see some amendments in key areas, that aim to make handball a better sport for all the shareholders, including to coaches, players and last, but not least, the fans.
“We are always aiming to be on par with everybody who loves and plays this sport and we have been developing the rules in handball’s interest, first and foremost. The sport has been growing at a very good pace and I was never expecting such a handball revolution in the past decades. Therefore, the rules have to be altered to further help handball develop in a sustainable way, not by redesigning everything, but changing some things that could fuel this development,” says Dietrich Späte, the Chairman of the IHF Commission of Coaching and Methods (CCM).
New rules already tested
The main changes were highlighted in an amended Rules of the Game edition – highlighted in yellow in this document – after being discussed with top national team coaches over the last years, during continental championships in Africa, Asia and South and Central America, in tandem with top European coaches, teams and clubs on an individual basis.
After the collection of several new ideas, including those relating to future IHF Rules of the Game (Indoor Handball) and following the ICM, the IHF Game and Rules Development Working Group (GRDWG) prepared proposed amendments to three rules:
Passive play (Relating to Rule 7:12)
- Reduce the maximum amount of passes of the attacking team from six (6) to four (4) after the forewarning signal is shown before a free throw is called;
- A pass for the attacking team is counted if the executed throw is blocked by a defending field-player and the ball comes back to an attacking player. If the attacking team is awarded a formal throw (free throw or throw-in) after completing the fourth (4th) pass, they may play an additional pass to finish the attack.
Hitting the goalkeeper in the head with the ball (Relating to Rules 8:8, 8:9)
- A direct two-minute suspension instead of red card when a shooter hits the goalkeeper’s head with the ball on a 7m-throw;
- A direct two-minute suspension if shooter hits goalkeeper’s head with ball when in play (not just formal throw);
- Exceptions include if a shot comes from an unbalanced player due to a foul committed by defending player, or from an indirect shot (i.e. after a rebound from a defending player).
New throw-off area (Relating to Rules 10, 10:3, 10:4)
- Throw-off area to be introduced;
- Three different sizes (metres – diameter) to be tested: 3.5m, 4m, 4.5m.
“It should always be the goal to develop the game in a way that makes it more attractive, where the health and security of the players are of huge importance. We hope these rules changes will contribute to both of these aspects and so our sport will have a positive development,” adds Per Morten Sødal, the Chairman of the IHF Playing Rules and Refereeing Commission (PRC).
Passive play: Four passes instead of six after the forewarning
The first major change will be the reduction of the maximum amount of passes of the attacking team from six to four after the forewarning signal of passive play is shown before a free throw is called.
The new rule aims to make the game faster and ensures that the game is more dynamic, with teams needing less time to take a shot on goal.
“We always try to make handball more attractive and create a competitive game. Handball is now one of the fastest team sports in the world. When you take a glance at the number of attacks per match, you have 55 to 60 for each team, up to 120 attacks in each game. The time of each attack went down in the last years to 33.8 seconds on average.”
“But this does not mean that defence is not important in handball, we are also ensuring that the teams get better and better in that department and the last trends show that the focus is also now put on defence,” adds Dietrich Späte.
"A team can spend quite a lot of time with the current rules, that allow six passes before passive play is called. With four this time is significantly reduced. Of course the criteria for the referees to raise the arm remain the same. This will also contribute to making the game quicker,” confirms Sødal.
A new throw-off area to make handball more dynamic
From 1 July 2022, a new throw-off area will be introduced. Previously, the executing player had to stand with one foot on the centre line to start the attack. The new rules enforce that the ball will return into play from the new throw-off circle, which, according to the revision of the rules, should have a diameter of four meters and be placed in the middle of the centre line.
When playing with the throw-off circle, the referees may whistle for the throw-off as soon as the ball is within the throw-off circle and the player has at least one foot inside the circle. The thrower may move within the throw circle, but not bounce. Opposing players must be outside the circle and not touch the ball or opponents until the throw-off is completed.
"A throw-off from a specific area, where the player making the throw now is allowed to run, will make the game a lot faster. I think this will be the change that will have the biggest influence on the game,” says Sødal.
Head shots penalised, players’ safety remains paramount
Ensuring the safety of players is paramount to the IHF, as there were a plethora of changes made to the Rules of the Games in the past years to ensure that the amount of injuries was reduced, at all levels of the handball pyramid.
While they will definitely occur in the future, it is the responsibility of the IHF to take action against those that could be prevented. In the world of sports, head injuries are critical and, in handball’s case, goalkeepers are the most vulnerable to them.
Therefore, a direct two-minute suspension if the shooter hits the goalkeeper’s head with ball when in play will be enforced, if the shot does not come from an unbalanced player or an indirect shot.
“We are taking the safety of players seriously and there are lots and lots of discussions in other sports about concussions and the head injuries. We want to reduce this type of injuries in handball, because we also had players which needed to retire in the past years, due to head shots. We know exactly what happens in other sports, like American football or football.
“I am also very glad to have Mats Olsson in our IHF CCM Expert group and this was one of his ideas, as a former goalkeeper, to help minimise the number of head injuries which can occur in a match. This kind of input is invaluable and really helps handball in the long term,” says Dietrich Späte.
An exciting future for handball
These rules will be enforced at the top of the pyramid, in the most important tournaments and competitions, from 1 July 2022 and are likely to have a strong impact on the quality of the game.
“With such a focus on attack, after the introduction of the seven-on-six rule without the additional field player having to wear a bib – like it used to be before – and teams having therefore a more efficient option of changing the goalkeeper for an outfield player, they have focused on attack, but the defence is also key to our game. We have been definitely excited by the evolution of handball and we would like to see it further evolve,” concludes Dietrich Späte.
“The future of handball is very exciting. We are in continuous development with the goal of making the sport more attractive, more safe and fairer. This is constant work. Here the cooperation between refereeing experts, coaches, players and also media and medical experts is very important. We need to hear voices from all sides,” agrees Sødal.
In addition to the new rules, the IHF is working on a bigger “Rule Interpretation” project, which will feature the creation of three Rule Books, with Rule Book 1 including the well-known IHF Rules of the Game, Rule Book 2 featuring a more explanatory approach with videos and Rule Book 3 describing the more technical side of the game (uniforms, equipment, etc).
These Rule Books will be part of an app for handball stakeholders worldwide not only to have easy access but also get a better grasp of the rules and their interpretation. A basic version of the app with the explanation of the new rules will be available soon.
New rules applied at Slovenia 2022
The first IHF World Championship at which the new rules will be applied is the 2022 IHF Women’s Junior (U20) World Championship in Slovenia.
With the new rules in force as of 1 July 2022 and the event running from 22 June to 3 July, it was decided by the IHF Council – based on a proposal by the chairmen of the IHF Commission of Organising and Competitions (COC), the IHF CCM and the IHF PRC – in their meeting on 4 March 2022 that the event should be played entirely according to the new version of the IHF Rules of the Game.