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Handball beyond traditional European perspective

Handball. One of the oldest sports played with a ball in the world. Handball is a team sport played by seven players for 60 minutes. For the longest time sports experts claimed that handball is seen as a European sport because only Europan teams played a major role on the handball scene. When you think about handball, you probably  think about teams such as France, Denmark, Croatia, Norway and Spain. But teams outside of Europe, such as South Korea, Argentina and Brazil are slowly taking the spotlight.

When it comes to the major world championships both in the men’s and women’s handball, European countries are having a main role – in organization and winning the medals. In women’s handball there were 25 world championships in total. The only non-European teams that managed to win a gold medal were the Brazilian national team at the 2013 IHF World Championship in Serbia and South Korean national team at the 1995 IHF World Championship in Austria and Hungary. On the other side, in the men’s competition, except Russia (at that time the Soviet Union) which is considered both European and Asian country, no other non-European team managed to become world champion. Olympics games are the place where teams outside Europe are collecting  medals. Especially South Korean women’s team who have six Olympics medals in total (2 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze medal) and Chinese women’s team which won one bronze medal. Men’s handball on Olympic stage has so far seen only European teams on the podium with one exception. South Korea is the only non-European team that won medal (silver) at 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.

The magnificent playing halls at the 2015 IHF World’s Championship

The attempts of handball expansion are mostly seen throughout major competitions which were organised outside of Europe. Women’s tournaments were organised two times in the Soviet Union (1968 & 1975), once in Russia (2005), South Korea (1990), China (2009) and Japan (2019). First ever men’s championship organized outside Europe was in 1997 in Japan. After 18 years, the biggest world championship was back in Asia. The 2015 IHF World’s Men’s Championship was held in Qatar. Handball was played in magnificent playing halls with stunning architecture. Qatar won the silver medal and secured their first IHF medal in their history. From this  spectacular 2015, Qatar men’s national team also won the Asian Championship for five times in a row.

When we talk about handball in Asia we can’t simply bypass South Korea, which has the same number of Olympic medals as France – seven. They truly had extraordinary women’s team which won gold medal at 1995 IHF World’s Championship hosted by Austria and Hungary and bronze medal at 2003 IHF World’s Championship in Croatia. Also, four handball players from South Korea won prestigious IHF World Player of the year award – Kim Hyun-Mee (1989) and Lim o-Kyeong (1996) in the women’s competition and Kang Jae-Won (1989) and Yoon Kyung-Shin (2001) in men’s competition.

Egypt as a team full of perspective for the future

When it comes to organising big competitions, Africa hosted the men’s tournament three times – Egypt (1999 & 2021) and Tunisia (2005). The most important African teams are Egypt, Angola and Algeria. So far African teams didn’t leave significant trace on world handball scene, but it is important to mention that Egypt began to invest in handball and they have built a strong team led by European coaches. Also, many Egyptian players play in one of the most important European clubs – Yahia Omar (Telekom Veszprem) and Ali Zein (Barca). It would not be a surprise to see Egypt in a battle for the medals in the future. At the last Olympic games in Tokyo, the Egyptian men’s team secured semi-finals, but they lost a match against Spain and failed to win their first major international medal.

Brazilian gold medal and USA team as a sleeping giant

When you think about sport in Brazil the first thing that comes to your mind is probably football or volleyball which are Brazil’s national sports. But, did you know that major European clubs started to sign Brazilian players, who are playing major roles in their clubs. Those are Eduarda Idalina Amorim Taleska (CSM Bucuresti), Bruna de Paula (Metz Handball), Barbara Arenhart (RK Krim Mercator) or Thiagus Petrus and Haniel Langaro (Barca), Rogerio Moraes Ferreira (Benfica) or Pedro Pacheco and Guliherme Linhares (Tatran Presov). Talking about Brazilian players at the international scene, we shouldn’t forget to mention two Brazilian players who won IHF World Player of the year award – first one is Alexandra do Nascimento in 2012. She is a right back who is currently playing in French Bourg-de-Peage Drome, but she also played in Hypo Niederösterreich and HCM Baia Mare. The second one is Eduarda Idalina Amorim Taleska in 2014. Back then she was a part of one of the greatest European teams Győri Audi ETO KC and she had the honor to lift five EHF Champions League thropies.

Also, when it comes to handball in South America, two major teams are Argentina and Brazil. The biggest success of Brazilian handball on the international scene, happened in 2013 when the women’s team became World champion and joined the South Korean team as the only two teams outside Europe who became World champions in women’s competition. The best result for the men’s team was 9th place at the 2019 World Championship where they managed to win against Croatia, Iceland, Serbia, Russia and Korea. Same as Egypt, Brazil is making progress and raising the quality of the game from tournament to tournament.

On the other hand, North America and handball aren’t much familiar with each other. USA as a true sport nation that is striving for the greatness  and plays a major role on an international level in various disciplines, isn’t a country where handball is popular. Handball in the USA is a combination of two opposing words – minority and majority. Basically, handball is a minor sport in the USA and the majority of people don’t even know that it exists. This will probably change in the future, as Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympic Games and surely a great effort will be invested in forming a team with high goals. Also, when we talk about the name handball, there is one fun fact – this sport in the USA is often referred as wallball or American handball.

To wrap up this story, handball is still a sport that we can call ”European”, but teams from other continents have a tendency to play competitive handball. The main aspect of popularization is constant work on the development. The IHF strives to expand and popularize handball all over the world, but a lot still needs to be achieved in order to really say that handball is played competitively around the world and that non-European team win over European team is no longer a surprise. (AS)