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.
As his successor, the III IHF Congress taking place in Vienna decided in favour of Hans Baumann. Baumann who had already been IHF Vice President during Björk’s presidency had to tackle different issues during his term in office, such as for example deciding on the favoured way of playing on a global level. They could choose either from field handball which was especially popular in the German-speaking area or field handball/indoor handball preferred by the Scandinavians. In the 50s, both variations were popular – resulting in sold-out indoor halls, but also in 50,000 people attending the Outdoor World Championship final. However, the variation including seven players became more and more accepted. In 1960, the last Women’s Outdoor World Championship was played whereas the last Men’s Outdoor World Championship took place in 1996. During this period, teams participating in European Cup matches still played on the field every now and then as well, because it had already been in 1957 that teams for the first time competed for the European Cup taking place under the umbrella of the IHF and initiated by the French sports magazine “L’Equipe“. When the Women’s European Cup was introduced, it was also a sports magazine that pulled the strings. The Czechoslovakian magazine “Start“ founded the Cup in 1961.
With regard to sport policy, the 50s and 60s of the 20th century were anything but easy, bearing in mind that this was the postwar period including the superpowers USA, on the one hand, and USSR, on the other hand, with their allies, in particular in Europe. In this respect, IHF President Hans Baumann certainly benefited from his Swiss origin. Baumann who also played some matches for his country promoted the reintegration of handball in the Olympic Programme. Unfortunately, the Swiss passed away in 1971 – about one and a half years before the Olympic Indoor Handball tournament in Munich took place.
His term in office was also marked by increasing numbers in terms of IHF members. While the international federation counted as few as 21 nations in 1950, there were already 54 IHF member countries at the XIV IHF Congress in Nuremberg in 1972, which is to be traced back to the decolonialization of Asia and Africa on the one hand and the growing attractiveness of handball around the world on the other hand. Japan, for instance, participated in a World Championship in 1967, being the first non-European country. Two years earlier, handball had made the Olympic breakthrough and had been included in the Summer Olympic Programme. With two referees! This was the decision the XI IHF Congress in Copenhagen made. Anyway, the Scandinavian countries again and again turned out to be the leaders of the handball movement, which is also reflected in terms of personnel selection. Paul Högberg became the next Swedish IHF President. After participating in the 1936 Olympic Games (Gymnastics), he had not only been an IHF Council member since 1950, but also Vice President during the presidency of his predecessor Hans Baumann for a long time.
Högberg presides over the federation during a period of quick growth. In addition to the participation in the Olympic Games which had finally been achieved (Men 1972, Women 1976), the large tournaments organized by the IHF were held in completely different dimensions, in comparison to the first years after the foundation. The A World Championships were completed by the B and C World Championships as qualification tournaments (1977 to 1992), the Women’s and Men’s Junior World Championships (since 1977). The successful European Champions Clubs’ Cup was added by the Cup Winners‘ Cup and the IHF Cup (since 1982/later EHF Cup). The federation also faced significant changes in terms of its structure. At the XIV IHF Congress in Nuremberg, the delegates decided to implement a General Secretariat in Basle (Switzerland). Furthermore, five Working Groups were created. In 1977, the first continental federation was founded in America. The Europeans continue to lead the field when it comes to sport. This situation was supposed to change very soon.
Politics were increasingly interfering in sport-related matters. In 1980, the USA and some of its allies boycotted the Olympic Games in Moscow. For the Men, this mostly affected the World Champion Federal Republic of Germany. Four years later, almost the complete Eastern Bloc “took revenge“. The World Champion Sovjet Union and the team of the GDR who had won the Olympic Games in Moscow had to stay at home. But at the Women’s tournament, which took place with even more important handball nations missing, South Korea and China seized the opportunity and won the Silver and Bronze Medal. For the Women’s team of Korea, this was only the beginning, because four years later, when the Games took place in their country, the Men won the Silver Medal and the Women the Gold medal which was even more sensational. In Africa, handball was becoming team sport number two. Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria for the Men and Angola, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire for the Women caused a sensation. Handball was more and more becoming a global sport and benefited from its television presence which was steadily increasing. The fast game with the ball appealed to people around the world which was appreciated by the President, because Paul Högberg planned to continue the tradition of his predecessor Baumann to emphasize the integration of non-European countries into the international federation.
Also the IHF head changed in the 80s. In 1984, Erwin Lanc was the first diplomat to become IHF President. Before his time in office at the International Handball Federation, the Austrian had been a member of the government of his country for 13 years. He had acted as Minister of Transport, later as Minister of the Interior and even as Foreign Secretary for one year. Lanc coped with any problems with regard to sport politics. During his term in office, the Eastern Bloc broke down and the former handball superpower was divided into different autonomous republics. During this period, the IHF had to accept the growing professionalization of handball and to take note of the fact that the continents strove for a higher degree of independence. In 1991, the European Handball Federation (EHF) was founded in Berlin. Today, it is based in Vienna and in addition to the continental Championships, it is also responsible for the European Cup tournaments which were implemented by the international federation. The IHF remained responsible for the World Championship for club teams which was launched in Austria in 1997. During Lanc’s term in office, also the World Championship cycle was changed. While the World Championship took place every four years until 1990, the two-year cycle was introduced in 1995 after a “short burst of speed“ in 1993 (Men in Sweden, Women in Norway).
At the Congress in Estoril (Portugal), Dr Hassan Moustafa was elected IHF President. The Egyptian has been the first non-European to pull the strings within the international federation. Moustafa’s presidency has also brought some essential modifications. The Olympic handball tournament has since included twelve teams for both the men and the women. In 2004 (El Gouna/Egypt), an official Beach Handball World took place for the first time. The growing media interest, in particular by television, is also reflected in increasing advertising revenues and new television contracts. During the XXII IHF Congress in 1988, the international federation, for the first time, passed the number of 100 members. At the XXXII Congress in Cairo, which has been the last official one so far, 167 member federations were counted. By now, handball is being played in 183 countries and the number of teams amounts to approximately 800,000.