Wednesday, January 19, 2011

World Cup - Hand(not foot)ball

I recall having previously posted a blog about handball and also recall not many being highly interested. It is a sport not big outside of Europe – not yet at least. In Iceland however it is HUGE and we are very good at it to boot. Which brings to mind the question about what came first – the chicken or the egg. As obvious as the answer to that is (the egg came first of course as egg-laying species far outdate a chicken) – so is the answer to why handball is so popular here pretty apparent, we like it because our players are good at it. Any nation loves the sport which allows them to shine.

This week marked the start of the handball world championship, held in Sweden. To date the Icelandic team has played three games, been up against Japan, Austria and Hungary. We have won all three nations without breaking a sweat. This is not surprising as we won a silver medal at the Olympics in Peking 2008, losing the gold to the current world champions from France. If I am allowed to brag it is pretty amazing. Iceland only has about 315.000 people so to advance within a group sport in the world arena is pretty darn impressive - even though the game is a bit obscure in a big chunk of the world.

Sports are usually not my thing at all. To tell you the truth I don‘t even know how many players there are on each team in a handball match. In my defense it all moves very, very fast. But despite this I enjoy following the occasional national game, all the more so if we win than when we don‘t. If you are interested in how it works I can share the little I do know – namely that it is a bit like taking soccer and basketball and dividing it by two. Having read this description I assume there would be no takers if I were to offer tickets to a handball game but you can take my word for it – this is much more interesting than soccer. To me nothing really happens during those games for 88 minutes, only two minutes per game seem interesting, if you are lucky. Usually it is 89 minutes boring and 30 seconds fun – the score at the end says it all. 0-0, 1-0 and in unusual cases 2-1. Handball is a whole lot more lively, and in addition the players are tough, not crybabies like some soccer players that double as minor role actors from an episode of ER when gently prodded.

My daughter plays handball and loves it. She could most likely tell you how many players are required. Her enthusiasm is genuine despite her having entered the playing field for all the wrong reasons. When she was six the school sent her home with a flyer from the local handball club, enticing kids to join the team. A footnote mentioned bingo and a pizza evening sometime during the season. It was the footnote that sold her the idea and she has been practicing and competing since, despite arriving home really disappointed from her third practice years ago when still six - wanting to quit as there had been no bingo and much less any pizza involved.

I read somewhere that sports, be it direct participation or the on looking fan kind, soothe the human need of belonging to a team, flocking behind a winner or conqueror. This same urge has gotten us as a race into truly awful endeavors involving war and crimes that make one gag. Putting the horror to one side, this theory also explains why so much money is involved in sports, if you find something that fulfills a genetically based need or urge – you have got it made.

On this note of competing and winning – not only am I proud of the Icelandic national team, I am highly impressed and happy for Tim Hallinan who has no less than been nominated for the 2011 Edgar Best Novel Award for his wonderful book The Queen of Patpong. That’s the way to do it – forget Miss Congeniality, go for the one that counts. Rah, rah Tim!

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. I saw some team Olympic team handball a while back (2004 or 2000) and enjoyed it. It strikes me as one of those sports I'd get into every couple of years (say for the World Cup and the Olympics), but there's absolutely no coverage of it here in the States.

  2. As someone who played soccer competitively, I can attest to the absolute wonder that is teamwork and team achievement.

    CONGRATS to Timothy! I had just read the lists and was coming by here to say congrats to him. What an honor!


  3. In that it is only the last few minutes of the game that really matter, it is definitely like basketball. American football is somewhat the same although the ball does get moved around a lot, mostly when large men fall on it and refuse to get up. It is a game played in four 15-minute segments with about 10 minutes off after the second quarter. The games generally last more than two hours making a mockery of the fifteen minute business. Hockey is counted as successful not by the number of goals scored as by the number of fights a team wins. Until helmets and mouth-guards were required, really successful hockey players were the ones who didn't have front teeth.

    Baseball, alone among sports, has rules that are easy to follow: three men try to hit a ball out of reach of everyone on the opposing team. If they don't succeed, it gets to be the turn of the other side. Pretty much that is all anyone needs to know. Ideally, each side wants to run along the sides of a triangle more times than the other side and players do jump, slide, and bang into walls but their are rarely any fights.

    My kids are not athletically inclined. They all played soccer because that is a requirement of life as a child in the US even if they hate it.

    They all skated and they all skied until a near disaster. None of them own cars; they live in areas where there isn't any parking so they do a lot of walking, something they enjoy much more than chasing a ball.


  4. Bingo and champagne works for me every time. Which reminds me. Beth, you forgot the glue that ties together all those American sports: beer.

    I join Yrsa in extending warmest congrats and go kick Edgar's butt encouragement to our blogmate, Tim.

  5. I don't even know how I could miss this blog entry of yours, Yrsa, but because of it, I shall cherish every word you write from now on. Although I think playing football is fun, watching it makes drilling holes through my own toes sound like a thrilling and thoroughly pleasurable experience. Handball is so much more exciting to watch than football, it defies comparison. I also agree with you on how much tougher handball players are - I have played and survived quite a few football matches, but I don't believe I would last ten minutes on a handball court. Especially when most players are a good 30 cm taller and at least 30 kg heavier than I am - and that's on the women's teams. Canada does not have a handball team worth mentioning (which is not surprising since the sport gets no exposure at all through the local media), but thanks to the miracle that is the Internet, I have still been able to enjoy the best handball has to offer on a semi-regular basis.

  6. Thank you all for your comments - unfortunately Iceland made a mess of things after a good start and ended up in the seventh place.

    I was really happy to see that someone English speaking such as yourself Annie actually follows the sport - it is fun is it not?