Underarms, Catamarans and Food Poisonings

Handball? WTF!

It is only every four years New Zealanders see the sport of handball on their televisions, with viewers split over whether its a great skillful entertaining sport, or bastard-game suited solely for 5th form PE. I would say I’ve moved from the latter to the former, particularly after speaking to the Secretary General of the New Zealand Handball Federation Frank Stoltenberg. Here is the full version (it got cut for space. Damned subs!) of the story I wrote for Te Waha Nui, on the sport of handball in New Zealand.

Handball is fastest growing Olympic sport in NZ

By Paul Harper

Although relatively unknown in New Zealand, the sport of handball is popular overseas, and is gaining popularity here because of the Olympic coverage.

Secretary General of the New Zealand Handball Federation Frank Stoltenberg says the game is certainly expanding in this country with between 200 and 400 players.

“It’s safe to say it’s New Zealand’s fastest growing Olympic sport.”

He says the Olympics have given the sport great publicity and as a result new clubs are being formed across the country.

Stoltenberg says the sport is “internationally massive” with millions of players worldwide, particularly in Scandinavian countries.

“Many people regard handball as the perfect sport because it incorporates all the skills.”

He says the game is much more widely known in non-English speaking parts of the world.

“In Germany, growing up you had two choices: soccer or handball.”

Field handball was first included in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but the court version did not appear until the 1972 games in Munich.

Stoltenberg says you cannot just turn a basketball player into a superstar handball player.

“You need to start from an early age”

He says many young people and university students are playing the sport here, but it would be good to see even more adults playing it too.

“It’s surprising how many schools play it in PE.”

He says New Zealand’s handball team struggles to get international competition, largely because of the cost, and there are limited facilities available to play the game here.

“Our biggest hurdle is we don’t have the halls big enough for handball.”

Stoltenberg says Australia is 10 years ahead of New Zealand, but they still get heavily beaten in international competitions.

“We are far behind,” he says.

“We are not at the stage we can beat Australia yet.”


Perhaps an acquired taste, it took some watching for me to warm to handball. After seeing some of the close matches fought out in Beijing, I can appreciate the skills and the appeals of the sport. Although I am way too busy to pick up the sport and probably to unfit and to susceptible to injuries, I wouldn’t mind giving it a go sometime, and I hope it takes off in New Zealand.




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