Origins of Handball


Team handball is a very popular sport in many countries around the World. Unfortunately, it is little known in North America. Perhaps the following information will help you learn more about this fascinating, dynamic and exciting sport.

World History

Handball is the newest game within the sport games’ category but its development and origin goes back in history. Ball games were gaining popularity at the turn of the century in Europe. Various ball games were played but the most comparable to handball game was Konrad Koch’s Raffballspiel game. It was played in German schools in the 1890s.

As we know today, the modern game of handball developed from 3 ball games.

In Bohemia in the middle of the 1890s a ball game, called Hazena was developing. In the beginning of 1900, teachers Vaclav Karas and Kristof Antonin were regularly teaching the handball-like game in the schools of Prague. Vaclav Karas also published the rules of the game in a Bernese technical journal in 1905.

At around the same time a new ball game was born in Denmark. In one of the schools the school doctor advised the school director to prohibit the play of soccer because of the many injuries it caused. Students were not allowed to kick the ball and because they liked soccer so much they started to play the game with hands. A school teacher, named Holger Nilson, who was also an exceptional sportsman, Olympic winner in fencing and target shooting in the 1896 Olympics, had the idea to perfect the game into a new one. This is how Haandbold was born.

Haandbold was first introduced in a student sport festival at the beginning of the 1900’s. After this, the game became increasingly popular in Denmark.

The game also gained popularity in Sweden and in surrounding countries of Denmark. The rules of Hazena and Haandbold games were published almost at the same time. The first Haandbold rulebook came out in 1906 and the first Hazena rulebook was published in 1908.

Haandbold was played in a court of 45×30 meters. The goals were 3×2 meters and the goal-area was a 5×7 meter rectangle shaped area. There were 7 players per team and the game was played with a soccer ball. In many aspects the Haandbold rules can be considered to be the ancestor of today’s handball rules. Hazena was also played on a court of 45×30 meters. The goals were 2 meters wide and 2.40 meters high. The goal-area was initially square but it changed later to a 6-meter semi circle. There were also 7 players per team. The rules of the game changed as the game developed. At one point they divided the playing field into 3 sections. The rules determined how many defenders and opponents could stay in each section and movements between the sections were also restricted.

The ancestor of the handball we know today was born during the 1st World War in Germany. In 1915, Bachmann Hermann, a physical education teacher created a new game that was played by hands. The game was called Torball. It was played on a field of 20×40 meters. The goals were 2×2.5 meters and the goal-area was a 4-meter semi circle. Torball was a women’s game. It was played by women mainly and its attributes and rules were suitable to the physical training of women.

Carl Schelenz, a teacher of the Berlin Physical Education College modified Torball in 1919 to be suitable for men as well.

Torball was very popular mainly in schools. It started to conquer other countries in the 1920s. The important point in the development of the game came when the rules of the ‘large field’ handball was accepted. The first official, international competition for men was held in Halle in 1925 (Austria-Germany 6:3). The first official women’s competition was in 1930 in Prague (Austria-Germany 5:4).

It’s hard to say which game was really the ancestor of today’s handball however. It’s suffice to say that the basics were given by the above-mentioned games. Handball is a young sport. From the 1920s it was played outdoors, except in some northern countries, like Sweden, where the game was played in an indoor court.

The International Amateur Handball Federation (IAHF) was established in 1928. As a result of the federation’s consistent work, the National Olympic Committee registered handball in their program and in 1936 handball was played in the Berlin Olympic games in Germany. Teams from 5 countries in Europe and a team from the United States of America participated in the Olympics.

Indoor handball gained popularity in the 1930s and the rules of indoor handball were also accepted by the international bodies in 1936. The first International World Championship for indoor handball was played in Berlin in 1938.

During the 2nd World War the development of handball slowed down. After the war international connections were renewed and the International Handball Federation (IHF) was formed in 1946.

Between 1938 and 1966 both forms of handball – outdoor on a large field, and indoor on a smaller field – were played and they had equal popularity. However, playing on the large field came to a stop by 1969 and indoor handball gained more interest among sport enthusiast. An unimpeded view of the smaller field, the numerous possibilities of shooting for goal, the combination of exciting dives and leaps while attempting to score, spectacular saves by the goalie made this game even more exciting both for players and spectators alike.

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