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History of the international Handball Federation

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History of the International Handball Federation

The fact that the human being also differs from the animals in its ability to use its hands in an extremely skilled way leads to amazing phenomena. Probably the most beautiful one when it comes to sports is HANDBALL.

Sports historians claim that the game including the hand and a ball looks back on a unbelievably long tradition. Even if the rules and the way of playing were hardly in line with today’s handball, the “Urania game“ played by the Greek which had already been mentioned in Homer’s “Odyssey“ or “Harpaston“ played by the Romans – described by Claudius Galenus (AD 130 – 200) among others – may definitely be characterized as prototype of today’s handball. Such precursors also existed in today’s Central Europe. Minnesinger Walther von der Vogelweide (1170 – 1230) sang about a „catch ball game“ whereas in the 16th century, the Frank Rabelais described a kind of game in which the hands were used for playing the ball. Another game similar to handball was played by Greenland’s Inuits at the end of the 18th century.



The actual beginnings of the game of handball didn’t develop until the end of the 19th century. A corresponding game was held in Nyborg (Denmark) in 1897. From that point on, fixed rules for ball games played between teams emerged. Games such as “Treibball” played against or over a border (“Grenzball” or “Raffball”, “Königsberger Ball”) were well-known. Moreover, there were games towards baskets or against nets (German netball, netball, “Turmball”), and later on games towards goals without ball control. Players were not allowed to run with the ball and to hold it longer than three seconds (Handball 1906 in Sweden, “Neuer Raffball”, “Torball”). Further development included games towards goals with ball control. In this case, players were allowed to run three steps with the ball or to hold it for three seconds. A kind of game from the Czech Republic was called “Hazena”, a form of field handball which already included the division of the playing field into three parts characterizing field handball. However, countries such as Denmark, Germany and Sweden are considered as the real handball pioneers of modern times. Field handball was pushed by German gymnastics teacher so that, alongside handball, it became popular as an alternative to football, especially for women. In 1917, Max Heiser formulated the first official handball rules for women. Two years later, Karl Schelenz added the rules for the men. In the 20s, handball became a national sport.

On the occasion of a meeting in The Hague (Netherlands) in 1926, the Congress of the International Amateur Athletics Federation appointed a commission for the elaboration of international playing rules for field handball.

In 1928, the International Amateur Handball Federation (IAHF) was founded in Amsterdam on the occasion of the IX Olympic Games. One of the foundation members was Avery. Brundage (USA) who later became IOC President In 1933, handball was included in the Olympic Programme. At the XI Olympic Games in Berlin, host Germany won the final – and therefore the gold medal – in the pouring rain in front of an audience of 100.000 people, beating Austria 10:6. During the Olympic Games, the IAHF held a congress in which delegates of the 40 nations represented in the federation participated. Two years later at the first Field Handball World Championship, the German team – benefiting again from home advantage – also won this title. Once again, Austria came in second best. Then Germany started to impose a disastrous war on the nations of the world – resulting in immeasurable consequences also for handball.


One year after the end of World War II, representatives of eight nations met in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, and launched the International Handball Federation (IHF). 11 July 1946 is considered as the date it was founded. The nations involved in the foundation are Denmark, Finland, France, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland. The first IHF President was Gösta Björk (Sweden). The Scandinavian who at the same time was President of the Swedish Handball Federation executed his function at the IHF until 1950. Afterwards, he was elected Secretary General of the National Olympic Committee of his home country and resigned from the office of President of the IHF.