Summer Olympics Handball Rules to Know Before London

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The 2012 Summer Olympics get started in London July 27, 2012.

Among the many events is handball, a team sport that will be played by 12 countries that have men's and women's squads that have previously qualified for the Olympic Games.

Here are some key rules to know to enjoy handball:

Size of the court

The court measures 20 meters (65 feet, 7 inches) by 40 meters (131 feet, 3 inches), which is larger than a basketball court. The court includes a goal area line, or 7-meter line. The goal is 2 meters by 3 meters.


The entire ball must cross the goal line for a goal to be counted. A goal is scored when the entire ball crosses the goal and can be scored on any throw during the match.

Goal area restriction

Only the goalie can enter the goal area.


The throw-off, like a kick off in football, opens the game. The team that wins the coin toss can choose which goal to defend or to open with the throw-off. The team that loses the toss then gets to choose the other option.

How to Play

Players are permitted to throw, catch, stop, push or hit the ball by using hands, arms, head, torso, thighs and knees.

Three Seconds

Players can hold the ball for a maximum of 3 seconds. The exception of this is if the player dribbles the ball -- then the player is allowed another 3 seconds.

Three Steps

Players are allowed a maximum of three steps when they are in possession of the ball. The exception of this is if the player dribbles the ball -- then the player is allowed another three steps.

No Stalling

It is not permitted to keep the ball without making an attempt to attack or shoot on goal. In short, no stalling or dribbling out the clock. This is seen as "passive play" and the team is penalized with a free-throw against them.


Like hockey, there are certain penalties that come with a 2-minute suspension. More serious penalties lead to game suspensions.

Good Sports

Penalties include not only play, but sportsmanship. Penalties can be handed out for excessive celebration, gestures, provocative celebrations, and purposely keeping your opponent from the ball following a penalty.

What's the Call?

If both referees blow the whistle, and agree which team should get the penalty, but don't agree on the severity, then the most severe of the two choices will be enforced.


London 2012 Olympic Handball

International Handball Federation

Jeff DeLuca has been a sports writer since 1997. His favorite Olympic memories include the 1980 US Hockey Team and the Dream Team in 1992.

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