Handball is one of the biggest sports in Europe with a huge presence bettered only by football in many countries, though it remains a footnote in the United Kingdom.

In countries such as France, Germany, and Sweden, handball is the second most popular team sport behind football with fans just as engrossed in one as they are in the other. The similarities between the sports are clear to see, with the object of both games to score into the other team’s goal, which is protected by a goalkeeper.

Handball has been an Olympic sport since 1972, though had also been featured at the 1936 and 1952 Games. While some African and Asian nations have reached finals and bronze medal matches, European countries dominate the sport such as its appeal on the continent.

Despite handball’s huge following in mainland Europe, the sport’s presence is almost non-existent in the UK. While there are leagues and clubs, there are not many and players often come from other sports.

Why Isn’t Handball More Popular in the UK?

In the UK, the main three team sports are football, cricket and rugby – three sports that are hugely popular within commonwealth countries. Outside of these three are individual sports such as badminton and tennis are also highly popular.

Handball does not feature hugely in schools, which is where the majority of people first play any sport, and neither does it have any mainstream media coverage. There is no opportunity to stumble across a game of handball on the television outside of Olympic and Commonwealth Games coverage, and pretty much no national media dedicate any time or column inches to the sport.

The only means of coming across any handball coverage is in local media publications covering clubs in the area, though that is usually dependent on other sports being relatively quiet. Unless someone is actively introduced to handball in the UK, there is little chance of them becoming interested and/or playing.

Few Clubs

There aren’t many clubs in the UK, meaning that even if you did want to try handball you may not have a club on your doorstep – unlike more popular sports such as football and rugby. For example, North East Manchester Hawks had to travel a long way outside of their city to play games in the English Premier Handball League on their way to winning both the men’s and women’s titles.

For example, if you lived in Norwich your closest registered England Handball club is 57 miles away in Cambridge, with the second-closest 71 miles away in Bishop’s Stortford. The lack of interest is clear with few clubs in the country, with the vicious cycle meaning that without the clubs in place then the interest is unlikely to build.

Will Handball Grow in the UK?

You can never say never, but it doesn’t appear to be likely in the immediate future. As the sport is very much niche in the UK, anyone playing handball either has to do so as an extra-curricular activity with no prospect of making a full-time career from it or seek out opportunities abroad.

Handball does not receive much funding, either, so the sport is completely reliant on revenue to attempt to expand the sport. Furthermore, participation numbers do not reflect well in terms of hopes of growing the sport in the UK, with just over half the number of people (14,500) playing handball in 2020 compared to 2016 (27,100).

With figures showing that you could fit every handball player in England into Wembley Stadium six times over, it doesn’t bode well for hopes of caterpulting the sport into mainstream consciousness.