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

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of handball in one minute. Whether you are familiar with handball or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.

One Minute, One Sport | Handball

"One Minute, One Sport" will show you the rules and highlights of Handball in one minute


Teams of seven players pass and dribble a ball up the court to throw the ball into the opposition's goal, which happens often: spectators might see 60 goals or more in a single match.

Handball was created and 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 (IHF), founded in 1946, is the administrative and governing body of handball and beach handball. The IHF has 209 member federations.

Twelve teams will compete in both the men's and women's competitions at Tokyo 2020. Teams will begin in a group phase with the top eight nations progressing into the knockout phase of the tournament.

Event Programme

  • 12-team tournament (Men/Women)
Nikola Karabatic of France jumps to shoot against Mikkel Hansen, Rene Toft Hansen and Casper Mortensen of Denmark during the Men's Gold Medal Match between Denmark and France on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Nikola Karabatic of France jumps to shoot against Mikkel Hansen, Rene Toft Hansen and Casper Mortensen of Denmark during the Men's Gold Medal Match between Denmark and France on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
2016 Getty Images

Essence of the sport

Teamwork the key to success

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

Matches consist of two 30-minute halves. If teams are tied at the end of regular time in the knockout phase, the match goes into overtime. If there is still no winner after two overtime periods, each consisting of two five-minute halves, there will be a penalty shoot-out. The winner is the team with the most goals.

Court players can only hold the ball for a maximum of three seconds and take a maximum of three steps while holding it. While in the goal area, goalkeepers can touch the ball with any part of their body 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. Or, watch them sprint off the court as they clear the way for a seventh field player to enter, leaving the goal empty.

Handball permits body contact between players. Contact from the front of the body is not considered a violation of the rules. Referees may choose not to stop the game as a result of a foul, allowing play to flow more freely. However, they may choose to stop an attack if the team is too passive. When a tendency to passive play is recognised, the forewarning signal is shown and if the method of attacking does not change afterwards, the team has a maximum of six passes to complete the attack.

Players have different positions and roles on the court. Some of the positions are centre-backs, wing players and 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.

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
2016 Getty Images

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

Challenging Europe's dominance

The only non-European country to win a medal in men's handball is Republic of Korea, who 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, Denmark, France and Germany won the gold, silver and bronze medals in the men's competition. In the women's tournament, Russia, France and Norway won the gold, silver and bronze medals.

As handball continues to grow in popularity around the world, men's and women's teams from Africa, South America and the Middle East will also contend for medals — together, of course, with host nation Japan.