The origins of Handball are a subject of great debate. One view is that it was invented in Germany, back in the late 19th century, as an outdoor sport to keep soccer players fit during the summer months. Outdoor Handball involved 11 players on each side and was played on a virtually fullsize turf soccer ground with soccer goals. It was mainly played with soccer rules, except it was played with the hands and kicking the ball was illegal rather than the other way round. However, there are records of handballstyle games going back to antiquity. The sport was depicted on a tombstone carving in Athens dated 600BC. The first match of the modern era was officially recorded on 29 October 1917 in Berlin, Germany. Outdoor Handball had its only Olympic Games appearance in the XIth Olympiad (1936 Berlin Games). The first international match recorded was played on 3 September 1925 with Germany defeating Austria, 6:3.
The sport's international governing body was first formed in 1928 as the Federation Internationale Handball Amateur, and took its current name in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1946 as the International Handball Federation (IHF). The IHF's first president was Avery Brundage an American who went on to become president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Indoor Handball was invented in the 1940s in Denmark. This is a 7aside game, played on a court slightly larger than a basketball court with smaller goals than its outdoor counterpart. Again, this sport flourished in the Germanic nations where it was hoped that it would appeal to a wider audience. With rules from other sports like basketball being introduced, this made the game simpler to play and more exciting to watch. The fact that it became a winter sport added to the spectator appeal being away from the cold, seated in comfort, with more action and excitement and higher scores than soccer. The sport is now played all over the world and was reintroduced as an Olympic event for the XXth Olympiad (1972 Munich Games).
Handball has always been a sport dominated by the European nations. In its formative years as an outdoor game, Germany, Austria and Denmark dominated in the international sphere, even though not many other nations outside Europe were playing the game.
After World War II, and the introduction of the indoor game, the Eastern Europeans quickly become competitive and were soon dominating the sport. Nations like the Soviet Union, Romania, Yugoslavia, East Germany and Hungary were regularly in the top three in most of the male and female international competitions. Only Sweden showed any significant resistance to the Eastern Bloc.
With the conclusion of the cold war and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc alliance, many of these nations suffered a temporary economic downturn which effected some of the national teams to lose the winning edge and a number of prominent players and coaches migrating to the west. Countries like France, Spain and Germany began to dominate. Some African (Algeria and Egypt) and Asian (South Korea and China) nations started to make an impact on the international competitions (especially the Olympics) in the late 1980s early 1990s.
The indoor game is now the more popular of the two types of handball. The outdoor variety is rarely played these days mainly for special occasions or by purists.
In recent years, a new outdoor version has emerged called Beach Handball, played naturally on the sands of a beach. This variety is now recognised by the IHF and now has formal rules.
Handball is now played on every habitable continent on this planet. It is estimated that about 7 million players are registered with a club. Many of the European clubs are professional and professional clubs in Asia (in South Korea, China and Japan) are becoming established and are considered as very competitive on the international stage. Africa, Americas and Oceania (our region) mainly comprise of amateur clubs but are very enthusiastic.
The UK has a small but thriving community of handball clubs in most parts of the country, and welcomes participation by members of both sexes and of all ages.