Handball at the Olympics: GB team, rules and positions

With the Tokyo Olympic Games coming up, here's everything you need to know about handball.

Handball Olympics guide

We’ve been waiting a year longer than usual, but there’s not long to go now until the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics get underway, meaning we can soon feast our eyes on all sorts of sports that we might not usually know too much about.

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One sport that always proves competitive at the Olympics is handball, which interestingly enough is considered one of the oldest sports in the world – with references to a similar game as far back as Homer’s Odyssey.

Twelve nations will compete for medals in both the Men’s and Women’s events, with all matches being played at the Yoyogi National Stadium between the 24th July and 8th August.

RadioTimes.com has broken down everything you need to know about handball at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

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When is handball at the Olympics?

Handball runs from Saturday 24th July until Sunday 8th August.

The tournaments will boil down to a Men’s gold medal match on Saturday 7th August, with the women wrapping it all up on the final day of the Games, Sunday 8th August.

Check out our guide on how to watch Olympics 2020 or see Olympics on TV today for more details, timings, and exclusive expert analysis from some of the biggest names in world sport over the coming weeks.

Sir Chris Hoy, Beth Tweddle, Rebecca Adlington, Matthew Pinsent and Dame Jess Ennis-Hill are among the stars we have to being their esteemed opinions, so don’t miss what they have to say.

When did handball become an Olympic sport?

The first time handball was an Olympic sport was at the 1936 Games in Berlin, where field handball was played – but it was dropped after just one appearance.

Indoor handball became part of the Games in 1972 for Men and 1976 for Women, and has been played at every Olympics since.

France currently leads the all-time medals table in the Men’s event, while Denmark is the leader in the Women’s event, having won Gold on three consecutive occasions between 1996 and 2004.

Which Team GB athletes are in Tokyo?

Unfortunately, Team GB did not put forward a handball team for the Olympics in either the Men’s or the Women’s categories – indeed the only time a Great British team has competed in the sport was at the 2012 Olympics in London.

How to qualify for handball

In both the Men’s and Women’s tournaments, places were automatically assigned to the hosts, the world champions and four continental champions, while the remaining six teams qualified through World Olympic qualification tournaments.

In the Men’s event, the teams that have qualified are: Norway, France, Germany, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Denmark. Sweden, Portugal, Japan, Egypt and Bahrain.

And in the Women’s event, the twelve competing teams are: Netherlands, Montenegro, Norway, Japan, South Korea, Angola, Spain, Russia (as the Russian Olympic Committee), Hungary, Sweden, France and Brazil.

What are the rules?

A game of handball is played on a rectangular court that measures 40 x 20 metres, with both sides aiming to score in the opposing side’s net. (For a goal to count, the entire ball has to fully pass the goal line).

As in football, a team gets one point for a goal, and whoever has accumulated the most goals at the end of the match wins the game. A match lasts one hour, with two halves of thirty minutes separated by a 15-minute interval.

Some other important rules are that the team in possession has to attempt an attack, players can only run with the ball for up to three steps and can only hold onto the ball for up to three seconds, players are allowed to pull, hit or punch the ball out of the hands of an opponent, and are not allowed to make contact with the ball below the knee.

Handball positions

Seven players are on the court for a handball team at any one time, with the positions as follows:

Goalkeeper – Charged with defending the goal. 

Left-wing – A usually right-handed attacking player who covers the left-hand side of the court. 

Right-wing – Same as left-wing but on the right-hand side of the court. 

Centre back – Stands towards the middle of the court, and is responsible for both attacking and defending. 

Left-back – Stands to the right of the centre back with a primarily defensive focus although they are also responsible for initiate counter-attacks and can also shoot from distance.

Right-back – Same as left-back but on the right-hand side of the court. 

Pivot – An attacking player who works with the centre back to create attacking opportunities and is most often the player responsible for shooting. 

Read more – check out our comprehensive guides to the Olympic sports: Athletics | Basketball | Diving | Football | Judo | Rugby | Surfing | Triathlon

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