While the Greeks and Romans have already played handball-like games in the ancient times, the way handball is known today developed between the late 19th to the beginning of the 20th century from various ball sports like net- or basketball. Starting from this, a game, where balls were thrown towards goals with the hand, developed. The first regulatory for the game, which determined that players are only allowed to hold the ball for three seconds and may not run with the ball, was developed by a Danish teacher and lieutenant, who lived close to Copenhagen.
The actual hour of birth of modern handball is the 29th October 1917, when the Berlin Oberturnmeister Max Heiser published a modern set of rules and announced that the game, which was called “torball” in Germany and which he developed for women two years earlies, is called handball from now onwards. Heiser, who felt that male sports are too physical for women, developed this game in order to give females the opportunity to engage in sports (without physical contact). The Berlin gym teach Carl Schelenz further developed Heiser’s game two years later and made the game more interesting for men as he allowed physical contact, tackling and reduced the size of the ball. Schelenz used the foundations of football and applied it to handball – which should correctly be called field handball as the game was exclusively played on (football) fields outdoors – which further increased the popularity of handball.
While the first German handball championship was staged in 1921, it took four more years until the staging of the first international handball games. On September 13 1925, the teams of Germany and Austria competed in the first international match of this young sport, whereas the Austrian team was victorious. Another three years later, eleven countries – including nine European countries as well as Canada and the USA – founded the first international handball association called IAHF in the context of the first Olympic summer games in Amsterdam. One of the first acts of the IAHF was the establishment and unification of the handball regulatory on an international level.
An Olympic handball tournament was, however, not staged in 1928 in Amsterdam. Olympic fame came at the insistence of the German National Socialists – Germany had been the dominating handball nation at that time – in 1936 at the summer Olympics in Berlin for the first and only time during the pre-war period. As hoped by the German rulers, the German team won the final in front of approximately one hundred thousand audience members – which is still the existing attendance record at handball games – against Austria. The German squat also triumphed at the first world championships in the categories of field and indoor handball, which were staged in 1938 in Berlin. After the Second World War, the international handball sport had to be reorganized and restructure, as the previous leading handball nation Germany was excluded from all activities due to understandable reasons. The International Handball Federation IHF was then founded in 1964. The IHF is based in Basel and composes of the following five continental associations:
- AHF – Asian Handball Federation for Asia
- CAHB – Confédération Africaine de Handball for Africa
- EHF – European Handball Federation for Europe
- OCHF – Oceania Continent Handball Federation for Oceania
- PATHF – Pan-American Team Handball Federation for North- and South America
The most important continental association is the European Handball Federation EHF, which was founded in 1991 in Berlin and is now based in Vienna. The main duty of the EHF (as well as of all other continental associations), which composes of 52 membership clubs, is the staging of competitions for national as well as club teams, which will be further discussed below. The competitions organized by the continental associations, such as the European championship for men and women organized by the EHF, are certainly overshadowed by the handball world championships organized by the IHF.
The first handball world championship in the men’s category organized by the IHF was staged in France and won by Sweden. Once the German team was allowed to participate in international handball tournaments again in the 1950ies, the team lived up to their earlier successes during the interwar period. Thus, the German squat won all field handball world championships staged at a three to four years interval until 1966.
Besides field handball, which was dominated by Germany, indoor handball flourished between the 1950ies and 1960ies, and rang the bell for the last round of field handball at the end of the 1960ies/beginning of the 1970ies – indoor handball in the men’s category became Olympic in 1972 in Munich and Women’s team handball was added at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. The Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden and Denmark, were the driving forces in making handball an indoor sport due the climate conditions in their countries. Consequently, Sweden and Denmark played their first indoor handball-like match in 1935, and due to the rising interest in indoor handball, the regulatory was adapted until indoor handball superseded field hand ball in the 1970ies, as mentioned before.
Although the IHF, whose most important duties include the organisation of the world championships for men and women in a two years rhythm and the creation of the handball world rankings, has 159 membership clubs from all continents with approximately 800.000 teams and about 20 million players, handball is mainly concentrated in Europe. Besides the already mentioned countries or regions, Spain, France, some countries of the former eastern block like the Czech Republic or Poland as well as the successor states of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are the European strongholds in handball. Outside Europe, handball is very popular in Eastern Asia, especially Japan and South Korea, in parts of North Africa and the Arabian world, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, but also in the Gulf States as well as in parts of South America, especially in Argentina and Brazil.
At the world championships organized by the IHF, the most important handball event on an international level, national teams from four continents, including Australia, which did not take part at the inglorious world championship in 2015 in Karta, participate. While the handball world championship in the men’s category has been staged every three- or four years until 1993, they are now staged every two years. No matter in what interval the handball world championships took place, only European nations became world champions so far.
Successful nations at handball world championships in the men’s category:
- France with five titles
- Sweden and Rumania with four titles each
- Germany including the German Reich and GDR as well as the Soviet Union or Russia with three titles each
- Spain with two titles
- Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Croatia with one title each
In the women’s category, on the other side, two non-European countries, namely South Korea and the reigning world champion Brazil, have already won the world championship. Analogous to the male, handball world championships in the women’s category are staged every two years since 1993 and the most successful nations in female handball are Russia or the Soviet Union with seven titles, Germany (including the GDR) with four titles as well as Norway with two titles. Furthermore, Hungary, Yugoslavia, France, Denmark, Rumania, the Czech Republic, South Korea and Brazil won the handball world championship once.
At all handball world championships, like the just staged men’s championship in Katar, handball fans will get their money’s worth at www.rivalo.com. Besides long-term bets and various special bets, the bookmakers at Rivalo offer an extensive offer of handicap-, over/under, double chance, half-time as well as goal scorer bets with the usual attractive odds before and during all games.
With regards to club handball on a national level, the German Handball Bundesliga, where the a-list of the handball world plays and more than ten thousand fans watch the games in the halls, counts as the best league in the world, followed by the Liga ASOBAL in Spain, where the handball departments of FC Barcelona and Atlético Madrid are dominating, the Ligue Nationale de Handball in France, which national team has been the ne plus ultra in world handball during the past few years, as well as the handball leagues of the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden and Denmark.
In the women’s category, leagues from the just mentioned countries are seen as the strongest, however, with the difference that the Scandinavian leagues are stronger than the ones in the men’s category.
Club handball does not only exist on national, but also on an international level for both genders. The most prestigious competition here is the Handball Champions League organized by the EHF, which was called European Champion Clubs’ Cup (analogically to football) until 1993 and at which the best 40 handball teams of Europe participate. By far the most successful nation in the Champions League in the men’s category is Germany with a total of 19 titles, of which VFL Gummbersbach won five titles and THW Kiel as well as SC Magdebury won three titles each. Germany is followed by Spain with 14 titles, of which FC Barcelona has won eight and BM Ciudad Real has won three, in total. In the women’s Champions League, the Soviet Union is the most successful nation and has already won 13 titles in total, all won by Spartak Kiew before 1990. They are followed by Austria, where the Hypo Lower Austria has won eight titles and Denmark with seven titles, including three titles won by Viborg BK and Slagelse FH.
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