Why is handball such a popular sport in Europe but not in the UK?
August 15, 2008 10:04 AM   Subscribe

Why is handball such a popular sport in Europe but not in the UK?
posted by ndaguiar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total)
I grew up on Long Island in the 60s and 70s, there were handball courts everywhere and in NYC as well. Although I can honestly say I haven't seen anyone playing it here in Upstate NY, I hadn't realized it was no longer popular. Was this just a regional thing?
posted by tommasz at 10:42 AM on August 15, 2008

Speaking as an Englishman, I'd not even heard of it at all. I had to look it up to know what you meant. From that you can potentially assume that it isn't so much 'not popular' as 'not found' and this is more about just regional sporting differences than any particular level of popularity.
posted by Brockles at 10:52 AM on August 15, 2008

I've been wondering about that myself a while ago and read a few things, none of them really explaining it fully, though.
German Wikipedia lists a few possible reasons:
- Modern handball originating in Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, then spreading to central European countries. Interesting fact: Ireland and the US were founding members of the IAHF (international amateur handball foundation), though the game didn't become as popular as in central Europe there.
- Late development of the game, especially the version played inside, which requires sports halls.
- The late rise in popularity also made it compete with other, already popular sports, such as football (somehow a non-argument imo, football is big in most handball countries, too, not only in the UK)
- a popular reason among handball fans why it didn't take of in North America: the rules are quite complicated and it's fast paced (which is a kinda silly argument, american football or baseball isn't that easy to get into either, and basketball is played just as fast)
posted by starzero at 10:55 AM on August 15, 2008

Tommasz, I think the original poster was referring to what we in the States call Team Handball? - To distinguish it from the handball that you and I played and that I was freakin' kick-ass at!

Good question but it isn't a universal European thing, is it? Mostly German and Scandinavian. Do they play it a lot in Italy or Spain for example? Looks like a lot of fun though
posted by xetere at 10:59 AM on August 15, 2008

Tommasz, I think the original poster was referring to what we in the States call Team Handball?

We had it in middle school gym as "European Handball." I recall it being a lot of fun.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:04 AM on August 15, 2008

In Ireland we call it European Handball as well, but played some sort of bastardised version. Handball is the gaelic-game that's like squash with no raquettes. Fwiw it is a huge sport in scandyland (european, not gaa).
posted by Iteki at 11:13 AM on August 15, 2008

Wow, I never heard of Team Handball, thanks.
posted by tommasz at 11:30 AM on August 15, 2008

Another vote for "European Handball" we played it in school too, was awesome fun, I don't think it exists outside of gradeschool though.
posted by Cosine at 11:46 AM on August 15, 2008

I think it is a North European / Germanic thing - I've never heard of it in France or Italy or Greece but have in Switzerland . . .

The UK does have its own handball though, however obscure.
posted by protorp at 11:59 AM on August 15, 2008

protorp, I don't really know how popular it is in France, but they are a quite successful handball nation, world champions in 1994 and 2001, 3rd in 2005, 4th in 2007, 4th at the Olympics 2004.
posted by starzero at 12:15 PM on August 15, 2008

Years ago I knew someone who played it at university in the UK... I think there's going to be a push to make it more well know before 2012, as the UK will then be entering a team (the same goes for other minor sports in the UK like volley ball)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:41 PM on August 15, 2008

a popular reason among handball fans why it didn't take of in North America: the rules are quite complicated and it's fast paced

If you come up with a team ball game in the late 1800s in central Europe and Scandinavia, then you're competing against lots of recently established team ball games in the UK and US. It's just a regional/historical thing. Now, ice hockey and lacrosse occupy a similar skillset, and basketball makes use of a similar playing area.
posted by holgate at 12:51 PM on August 15, 2008

We always called the playground/schoolyard version (insert ethnic slur for Chinese people here). Maybe it was a regional thing? Two players, a ball and a wall? I think there might even be a scene in a Woody Allen movie where they are playing in a NYC playground.

The team version I'm sort of vaguely aware of, but no idea why it's not popular here in the USA.
posted by fixedgear at 12:57 PM on August 15, 2008

My girlfriend tells me it wasn't popular in Spain until one of the princesses started dating a handball player.

It's also not that popular here in Germany either. People are vaguely aware of it, but no-one cheers on the local handball team in sports bars or anything. I guess I'd say it's like lacrosse in America -- everyone knows what it is, but no-one cares. They only show the games on Eurosport, not on any of the major channels.

fixedgear: it has nothing to do with the game you're talking about.
posted by creasy boy at 1:04 PM on August 15, 2008

We played handball regularly in high school, but I've never played it elsewhere. It's a very fun game, not sure why it isn't popular but I would guess it has to do with the fact that it's too recent.
posted by Vindaloo at 1:09 PM on August 15, 2008

I grew up in germany and most of the handball clubs I know were originally part of workers organizations or local sport clubs that more or less dated back to friedrich jahn, who popularized gymnastics in germany. they all started out with track and field and gradually expanded into other sports and handball was just one of the more popular ones. it's pretty much #2 after football (erm...that's soccer to you). the idea here was (and is) that if you're a resident of a certain area and want to do some sports you can do so relatively cheaply in your area. they'd usually use facilities at public schools or the local swim halls that they'd get access to for free or at very little cost and they'd be not-for profit clubs run by volunteers.

looking at contemporary handball clubs in germany you can still see this history represented in some of the names present in the major (professional) league today: The SG in SG Flensburg-Handewitt refers to Sportgemeinschaft, which is pretty much the Jahn-idea linked to above. similar cases can be made for other prominent teams like THW Kiel (which is not the disaster relief org if I'm not mistaken) or VFL Gummersbach.

the UK has a somewhat similar history with football clubs and perhaps rugby but I'm not an authority on that and will leave this to others.
posted by krautland at 1:43 PM on August 15, 2008

oh yeah: handball is *much* bigger in northern germany and scandinavia than in southern parts, where ice hockey is more important.
posted by krautland at 1:45 PM on August 15, 2008

Something mentioned on the Olympic broadcast was that Euro handball is played off-season in indoor soccer arenas. It's the same size field, just with hardwood instead of fake turf.
posted by klangklangston at 1:51 PM on August 15, 2008

Having lived in Norway, I can testify as to it's popularity. Handball and the "Hopp", that's almost all they watch.
posted by arcticseal at 4:36 PM on August 15, 2008

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