images of Handball

Olympic Sports


Handball is an all-action team game played on the largest court of any Olympic indoor ball sport.


In handball, teams of seven players pass and dribble a small ball with their hands. The aim is to throw the ball into the opposition's goal, which happens often: spectators might see 50 goals or more in a single match.

Handball was developed in Denmark, Sweden and Germany in the late 19th century. Originally played outdoors as field handball, the sport first appeared at the Berlin 1936 Games. The modern indoor version made its Olympic debut at Munich 1972. The first women's competition was held at the Montreal 1976 Games. Handball has featured at every Olympic Games since. The International Handball Federation was founded in 1946 and has around 200 member countries and regions.

Twelve teams will compete in both the men's and women's competitions at Tokyo 2020, with the top eight nations moving beyond the group stage into a knockout format.

International Federation: International Handball Federation (IHF)(Open in a new window)

Event Programme

  • 12-team tournament (Men/Women)


Teamwork the key to success

Handball Players

Handball is played on a court measuring 40m long by 20m wide. The goal post at either end are 3m wide and 2m high, with each surrounded by a D-shaped area. The inner D, at a distance of 6m from the goal, is called the goal area, which only the goalkeeper can enter. However, players may jump into this area when attempting a shot at goal but must release the ball before landing. The outer D, defined by a dotted line at a distance of 9m from the goal, marks the free-throw line.

Matches consist of two 30-minute halves, followed by two five-minute halves of overtime if the scores are level. The winner is the team scoring most goals.

The principles of the sport are similar to football and basketball but handball has a greater amount of legitimate body contact. Contact from the front of the body is not considered a violation of the rules and referees may choose not to stop the game as a result of each foul, allowing play to flow more freely.

Players have different positions and roles on court including backs, wings and a goalkeeper. As well as strength, stamina and excellent ball skills, strong teamwork and tactics are vital. All players must be skilled in both defence and attack. Court players can only hold the ball for a maximum of three seconds and take a maximum of three steps while holding it. Goalkeepers can touch the ball with any part of their body while in the goal area and are not restricted by the three-second/three-steps rule. Watch for goalkeepers leaving their goal area when not in possession of the ball and taking part in the game as any other court player.


Challenging Europe's dominance

Handball Players

The only non-European country to win a medal in men's handball is Republic of Korea, which took silver at the Seoul 1988 Games. That country has, however, been a perennial contender in the women's competition, winning six medals including gold at Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992.

At the Rio 2016 Games, the men's teams from Denmark, France and Germany won the gold, silver and bronze medals respectively, while Russia, France and Norway finished in that order in the women's competition.

As the sport grows in popularity and standards rise around the world, look for a strong showing at Tokyo 2020 by men's teams from Africa, South America and the Middle East - together, of course, with host nation Japan. Noteworthy developments in women's handball, in addition to Republic of Korea's consistent medal haul, include the growing presence of Angola at international level.



The men's ball measures 58-60cm in circumference, while the women's measures 54-56cm. How do Olympic Handball players grip the ball with one hand?


A:They apply a special pine resin, formulated specifically for handball, to their hands in order to increase adhesion.

As of 1 Dec. 2018

Competition Venues

  • Yoyogi National Stadium

Olympic Sports

Paralympic Sports