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Olympics guide: Handball


We are used to handball being something to avoid at all costs, but here it is actively encouraged. Apart from the goalkeepers that is, who can use their legs. If you're as confused as us take a look below.

When? 6-21 August 2016

Golds up for grabs: 2

Olympic presence: Men: demonstration sport 1936 (as field handball), full medal sport 1972–present. Women: since 1976.

Olympic Format: There are twelve teams in each competition. In the preliminary phase they are divided into two groups of six, each nation playing all the others in its group. The four best teams in each group qualify for the knock-out stages.

Past Champions: USSR /Russia: 5 | Yugoslavia: 3 | Denmark: 3


The basics

The object of handball is to put the ball in your opponents’ net more often than they put it into yours. A match consists of two 30-minute halves separated by a 15-minute interval. If the scores are level at the end of regulation time and a definitive outcome is required, up to two five-minute periods of extra time are played. If the scores are still level at this point, a penalty shootout takes place,.

Olympic handball is played on courts 40m long by 20m wide, with 3m-wide goals pleasingly striped in the manner of barbers’ poles. The goal areas are bounded to the front by lines 6m from the centre of the goals, and to the sides by quarter circles. Free throw lines curve across the court 9m from the goals, while penalty throw lines are 7m from the goals.

Each team has seven players: six outfielders and one goalkeeper. Seven substitutes are allowed per side. Players can be changed at any time during a match and as often as the coach wishes. Each side is allowed a one minute time out period in each half but must be in possession of the ball when it is called.

Matches are officiated by two referees, who direct the action using various hand signals. The one denoting a two minute suspension, for example, looks very like an earthy Anglo-Saxon gesture meaning ‘go away’. The refs have equal authority, which you might think would be a recipe for paralysis. In fact, there are set protocols. If they have different opinions about how an infraction should be punished, the more severe option must be taken. If the refs cannot agree about a straight either-or, for instance which team should be awarded possession after the ball goes out of play, the matter is referred to the court judge.

Four Key Rules

No kicking: Handball is hands only, though goalkeepers can use their lower legs or feet to move the ball. The keeper is also the only player allowed to stand within the goal area.

Three steps to heaven: Players can take up to three steps with the ball, after which you must pass or dribble (by bouncing it). Once you stop moving you have three seconds to pass or shoot. If you jump before shooting you must let go of the ball before you land.

In and out of play: If the ball goes out of play along the sides of the court, the team that didn’t touch it last is awarded a throw-in. If it goes out behind the goal line, the attacking team is awarded a corner throw if the ball was last touched by a defender; the defending team is awarded a goal throw if it was last touched by an attacker. In other words, it’s just like soccer.

Getting the ball back : Players can steal the ball by slapping it out of an opponents’ hands and are allowed to disrupt their opponents by body checking, provided they approach them directly from the front. They may not, however, snatch the ball, use their hands to hold or check an opponent, or go in for tripping or any other rough stuff.

Crimes and Misdemeanours

If any of the above rules are broken, the opposing team is awarded a free throw from the spot where the foul was committed. If the infringement occurred between the free throw and penalty throw lines, the free throw is taken from the former. For more serious misdemeanours, especially crossing into or playing the ball into your goal area, the official can award a penalty throw taken from the 7m line. A player’s first reasonably serious foul or display of unsportsmanlike conduct gives rise to a warning, indicated by a yellow card. The next offence of a similar magnitude is punished by a two-minute suspension. A player who has not previously been warned can also be suspended if they commit a suitable offence and their team has accumulated three warnings in total. Fighting and repeated or very serious fouls are punished by red cards and permanent expulsion.

(Image: Rex Features)


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