Wheelchair handball – a sport with Paralympic future

Croatia and Spain are 2022 IHF Youth Beach Handball World Championship winners
June 20, 2022
Mediterranean Games set to start on 25 June in Algerian Oran – handball represented with 18 teams
June 24, 2022
Show all

Wheelchair handball – a sport with Paralympic future

Handball is a sport with a variety of forms, and one of them is wheelchair handball. A sport played by people with varying physical disabilities that disqualifies them from playing an able-bodied sport. But make no mistake, wheelchair handball is not less entertaining than regular handball. And with certainty we can say, watching wheelchair handball matches fills your heart with the warmth you never felt before.

History of the sport

In 1990, the wheelchair handball competition is held in Kyoto, Japan. Three years later, during the Coaching Symposium held in Leipzig Germany, the first wheelchair handball match was played. After eight years, the first regular annual wheelchair handball competition took place in Japan, but in 2005 during the IHF Symposium for Coaches and Referees in Bangkok, Thailand, and a year later at the EHF Youth Handball Convention in Vienna, Austria wheelchair handball was presented. From that time until today, many demonstration matches were played, and a lot of seminars were held, but the initiative to popularize the sport worldwide and make it a Paralympic sport is still ongoing. In 2013, the first unofficial Wheelchair handball World Championship was held in Brazil, but it was not officially recognized by the IHF. Hosts, Brazil won the championship in all categories. In February and March 2019, the IHF Executive Committee discussed Wheelchair handball and in March the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group was established. The plan of the Working Group was to set the Wheelchair Handball rules and organize the first Wheelchair Handball World Championship recognized by the IHF in 2020. Because of COVID-19, the championship was not held (nor 2022, nor 2021). For wheelchair handball to be recognized as the Paralympic sport in 2028, two World Championships must be held, and the future plans of the IHF Working Group are that in 2022 the 1st IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championships (six-a-side) and 1st IHF Men’s and Women’s Wheelchair Handball World Championships (four-a-side) will take place.

Rules of the game

Wheelchair handball shall be played according to the rules of traditional handball and with the spirit and philosophy of Beach Handball. That means fair play and safety shall be the most important aspects of the game.

The sport is played by two teams of six players including one goalkeeper per team. Team delegation consists of a maximum of 20 persons including a minimum of 12 players and max. of 16 players. There is one important aspect when talking about teams, and that is a minimum of three female players shall be part of the team. During the match, one female player must be on the court.

Since wheelchair handball is for people with disabilities such as spina bifida, birth defects, cerebral palsy, paralysis due to accident, amputations, etc. players have to verify their status during the classification evaluation. All the officials need to be informed about the class of each player, and the class is marked with colour code which is placed on the back rest of the wheelchair. More about classification is available here.

The Wheelchair handball match is played in two halves, 20 minutes each with a half-time break of 10 minutes. During the match, each team has a 1-minute time-out. The dimensions of the playing court are the same as in handball (40 meters long and 20 meters wide), but the dimensions of the goal are different. In wheelchair handball, the goal is 3 m x 1.7 m, and the catch net in the goal is removed or fixed to the goal, in order to avoid entangling with the wheelchair.

Since the whole sport is based on safety and fair play, all measures are taken to avoid risks for the players. That includes the wheelchair specification, meaning the wheelchair needs to be constructed as shown in the scheme below.

Read more about the rules of the game here. 

Competitions and future plans of the IHF Wheelchair Handball Working Group

  • 2022: 1st IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championships (six-a-side) (postponed from 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19) and 1st IHF Men’s and Women’s Wheelchair Handball World Championships (four-a-side) to take place.
  • 2023: 2nd IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
  • 2024: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
  • 2025: 3rd IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
  • 2026: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
  • 2027: 4th IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
  • 2028: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
    • Inclusion in the Los Angeles 2028 Paralympic Games
  • 2029: 5th IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship
  • 2030: Continental Wheelchair Handball Championships
  • 2031: 6th IHF Wheelchair Handball World Championship

The next goal for the wheelchair handball is to include the sport in the LA 2028 Paralympic Games, for which the sport needs full membership in the sports program. That means the sport is played in at least 24 countries on three continents with two world championships organized across a four-year program.

“We want to be included in the LA 2028 Paralympic Games. It’s a long way to go but we are working hard to reach this goal. I want to ask all of our National Federations to react to the IHF goal of creating wheelchair handball in their countries, so we have the sport to promote and to be able to fulfill the criteria and our vision”, said IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa at the first IHF Wheelchair Handball Webinar in 2020.

How the sport will progress and will it become a Paralympic sport, we shall yet see. But until then, we can enjoy handball in all of its forms.