Get Involved: HANDBALL

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Handball at the Olympics explained (Part one)

There will be a lot of curious British spectators when the Olympic handball competition gets underway at the Copper Box.

For the first time it will feature Great Britain, as the men's and women's teams have been granted automatic places as hosts. Every effort has been made to make the British sides competitive, with an elite handball programme created in 2006.

The GB men's captain, Bobby White, had never even played handball at that stage, which shows how much catching up has had to be done. White responded to Sir Steve Redgrave's appeal for 'Sporting Giants', a programme encouraging tall under-25s to try out Olympic sports.

Progress has been made and there was an historic first competitive victory for Britain in June 2010, against Bulgaria in a men's European qualifier. It was not a result that will frighten Olympic and world champions France but it offers hope for the future, both in 2012 and beyond.

Handball is already big in most of mainland Europe and Scandinavia and is also popular in other pockets of the world, such as South Korea, where a movie called Forever The Moment, based on the South Korean women's team winning silver in Athens, was a box office smash.

Why is it good for you?

Handball players need to have strength and stamina, as well as excellent ball skills and the ability to play tactically as a team.

It is an intense sport that provides an excellent cardiovascular workout. An estimated 610 calories are burned per hour as players cover several miles in a game.

The exertion of throwing the ball at speed helps build the deltoid, quadriceps and abdominal muscles.

As handball is a team game, it is an excellent way to develop communication skills and learn to work effectively with other people.

Clubs also offer a variety of social events beyond simply playing the sport.

Get involved

Handball is a challenging sport that requires very little equipment and is easy to pick up. In the United Kingdom, there are around 75 clubs based largely in schools, colleges, universities and sports centres.

Both England Handball and Scottish Handball run a variety of training schemes for people who are interested in starting to play or coach the sport. England Handball also have a club finder to help you find out where you can take part in your local area.

For a casual game, all you need to begin is a handball, sports kit and a net. Contact your local club to find out how and where you can play regulated games in a handball league.

Although largely an indoor sport, it can be played on grass. Beach handball is also an increasingly popular way to have a go at the game.

For those wanting to play at an advanced level, British Handball's Talent Search programme puts on a number of try-out days with senior coaches to introduce newcomers to the sport and explore their potential.

There is also an Elite Coach Initiative to identify people who can help develop handball.

More on the British Handball website

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport' aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event near you.

The competition format at London 2012

  • From Saturday 28 July to Sunday 12 August, 336 athletes (168 men, 168 women) will compete.
  • The Copper Box at the Olympic Park is the venue for all the preliminary games and women's quarter-finals. The Basketball Arena in the Olympic Park will host the men's quarter-finals, plus all semi-finals and finals.
  • Both the men's and the women's events involve 12 teams, divided into two pools of six.
  • The top four countries from each pool progress to the quarter-finals.
  • The semi-final winners play in the final for the gold medal while the semi-finals losers compete for the bronze medal in a third-place play-off.
  • All pool matches will be played in the brand new Copper Box arena, while medal matches are in the Basketball Arena.

More on the London 2012 website

The rules at London 2012

Handball is played on an indoor court - which is the largest of any indoor ball sport at the Games - between two teams of seven players each.

The court is 40m long and 20m wide, with 3m wide and 2m high nets at either end.

The players' objective is, by only using their hands, to throw the ball into the goal of the opposing team, thereby scoring a goal. Each game includes two periods of 30 minutes, with a 15-minute interval.

Court players can hold the ball for a maximum of three seconds and take up to three steps while holding it. Goalkeepers can leave their goal area when not in possession of the ball and participate as a court player.

In the group phase of the competition, two points are awarded for a win, one for a draw and nothing for a defeat. If a knockout stage match ends in a tie, the game goes into two five-minute periods of extra time, with a one-minute interval between.

If the score remains level, a five-shot penalty shootout is held from a distance of 7m. The match then goes to sudden-death shots if necessary.

More on the Team GB website

Ones to watch

Great Britain have never appeared in an Olympic handball tournament before and it would be a major achievement if either side made it beyond the group stage.

Men's Olympic champions France retained their world title last year - the first side in 37 years to do so.

European champions Denmark look the team to beat in the other group.

In the women's event, Norway are reigning Olympic and world champions. Beijing Olympic finalists and four-time world champions Russia are in Great Britain's group.


A tombstone carving from Athens dated back to 600BC shows a handball-like game being played. Records also exist of similar sports being played in medieval France and among the Inuit in Greenland in the Middle Ages.

The modern game of handball was first played towards the end of the 19th century in Scandinavia and Germany. The first written set of rules was published by Dane Holger Nielsen in 1906.

The International Amateur Handball Federation was formed in 1928, and the International Handball Federation was formed in 1946. It has been an Olympic sport since Berlin in 1936 when it was an 11-a-side outdoor game.

The sport reappeared as a seven-a-side indoor event for men at the 1972 Games in Munich, with a women's event introduced four years later in Montreal.

More on the IOC website