Games similar to modern team handball have historically been played in many different cultures around the world. We do for instance know that the ancient Greeks and Romans played a type of handball, and handball was also played by the Inuit in Greenland and the French in Europe as early as the Middle Ages. By the 19th century, handball was played in countries such as Ukraine (gandbol), Denmark (håndbold), Germany (torball), Slovakia (hádzaná) and Czech Republic (házená).
Team handball as we know it today developed in northern Europe by the end of the 1800s. It was especially popular in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany during this period, and Denmark is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern handball. The rules for modern handball was drawn up by Danish gym teacher Holger Nielsen in 1898 and published in 1906. Rasmus Nicolai, also a Danish teacher, drew up similar rules in 1897.
In Germany, handball rules were published by Max Heiser, Karl Schelenz and Erich Konigh in 1917. Schelenz adjusted the rules a few years later, and it was these adjusted rules that were used for the very first international game of handball for men in 1925 when Germany met Belgium. The first international game of handball for women took place five years later when Germany met Austria, and the same rules were used for that match as well.
In 1926, the Congress of the International Amateur Athletics Federation nominated a committee to draw up international rules for field handball. Two years later, the International Amateur Handball Federation was founded.
Handball continued to flourish in Scandinavia and Germany, and men’s field handball was showcased at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. After that, it would however take until the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich before men’s handball became a part of the Olympics, and women’s handball wasn’t added until the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Men’s handball world championship premiered in 1938 before going on hiatus until the end of World War II. It then was played every 4 (sometimes 3) years to 1995. Since the 1995 world championship in Iceland, the world championship has been in biannual event. The first women’s handball world championship took place in 1957.
On July 11, 1946, the International Handball Federation (IHF) was formed at the initiative and invitation of Denmark and Sweden. The founding members of the new federation was France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, and – of course – Denmark and Sweden. The IHF replaced the International Amateur Handball Federation (IAHF). Today, the IHF has nearly 170 members and governs about 795,000 teams worldwide.