- Handball is played on a court measuring 40 x 20 metres. There is a goal at each end, as in football, and a goalkeeper, but players have to throw, not kick, the ball into the net. The team with the most goals wins. In some games, a lot of goals are scored – sometimes as many as fifty!
- There are two teams of seven players, and each match is divided into two halves of 30 minutes.
- Players have to pass the ball or dribble it. They dribble the ball by bouncing it on the floor.
- A player may shoot at the goal while standing still, running or jumping.
- Play starts or restarts with a throw-off from the centre line.
- If the ball goes over the sidelines, there is a throw-in.
- If a player commits a serious offence the opposing team gets a penalty throw. If a player commits a foul he may be shown a yellow card by the referee.
- For a second foul, he may be suspended for two minutes.
- For a third offence, he may be sent off.
Handball! But handling the ball is a foul, isn't it? In football, anyway.
In football, yes. Not in rugby, of course. Or American football. But in handball you have to use your hands – you aren’t allowed to use your feet!
So there's no kicking, then? Or kick-off?
No, the game starts with a throw-off, instead.
So it’s a bit like football then – only with your hands...
A bit, yes!
I've heard of something called American handball. Is that the same thing?
No, that's more like squash, but using your hand instead of a racket. It's sometimes called wall handball. The Olympic sport is called team handball to distinguish it from wall handball.
So how old is handball?
It's one of the oldest sports – in Europe it goes back about 5,000 years! There are pictures of it on Ancient Egyptian tombs. The Romans and Greeks played it, or something like it. It was played in the Middle Ages, too. And in ancient American cultures.
Yes – it was played in Mexico over three thousand years ago! There are pictures of handball games on pottery, paintings and sculptures. They've found remains of handball courts in archaeological sites in Central America.
Fascinating. Has it always been in the Olympics, then?
Well, no. There was an outdoor version called field handball in the 1936 Olympics. Then people started playing it indoors. But team handball wasn't included until the 1972 Games.
As they've been playing it longest, do Egypt and Mexico win most of the Olympic medals?
Surprisingly, no! Apart from the Soviet Union, South Korea and Serbia have won most medals.
Its popularity has spread far and wide, then?
Yes - you can go a long way in a few thousand years!...