England and Scotland to unite as Great Britain handball team

English and Scottish handball chiefs have taken the decision to carry on competing as Great Britain once the London Olympics are over.

Both countries believe a united GB side has a better chance of developing the game in future and achieving success.

"I'm Scottish and I'm very patriotic," Great Britain captain Lynn McCafferty told BBC Sport.

GB claim shock 22-20 win over African Handball Champions Angola

"But I've learned what it means to be part of GB and how important it is for handball in the UK."

Wales and Northern Ireland do not field international teams, leaving England and Scotland to fly the flag for Britain.

"England are doing a fantastic job with handball, as are Scotland," added McCafferty. "Now it's about bringing it together and making it even better. It's the best move and it's the right move."

England and Scotland both agreed in 2006 to allow GB the best possible preparations for the London Games.

But such has been the success of the men's and women's programmes since then that a new deal has been reached that will run beyond the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

British Handball timeline

  • 1969 - GB men play their first-ever match
  • 1972 - GB women play their first-ever match
  • 1984 and 1986 - GB mens and women's teams closed
  • 2004 - England and Scotland accepted into the European Handball Federation as separate member nations
  • 2005 - London wins the bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games
  • 2006 - GB Handball recruitment drive launched
  • Jan 2007 - GB men play their first match (losing 36-26 to Australia)
  • Dec 2007 - GB women play their first match (losing 23-10 to Luxembourg)
  • July 2012 - GB to make Olympic debuts

The agreement follows nearly a year of talks about the future of handball beyond the London Games and has been aided by the improving performances of the GB teams.

The women beat African champions Angola at the Olympic test event in November last year, while the men pushed fellow 2012 Olympic qualifiers South Korea close at the recent London Handball Cup.

British Handball figures also show the game's popularity is on the rise, with a 600% increase in the uptake of the sport  in recent years.

"It's fantastic to be working in collaboration with the Home Nations," said British Handball performance director Lorraine Brown.

"The work they've done over the last two years building a foundation for the game will put us in good stead for the future.

"To clarify our role can only benefit the sport and ensure there is a sustainable system for Rio 2016 and into 2020."

Great Britain will now be able to compete at events like the European and World Championships, although Scotland and England will compete in smaller competitions.

GB captain Lynn McCafferty sacrificed living with her husband in a bid to reach London 2012

They will play in such events as the newly formed home internationals tournament, featuring the Irish Olympic Handball Association.  However, the focus of the English and Scottish teams will be on identifying and developing young talent.

"There is a tremendous influx of new players who are being attracted to the sport of handball," said England Handball  chairman Mike Briers.

"The player pathway will offer all of them a real opportunity to progress from junior club players, through the age groups, to GB representation in European, World and Olympic competitions."

Stephen Neilson, of Scottish Handball,  added: "Scottish players have played a big part in the existing GB teams. We aim to maximise our involvement in the future."