Beach handball history
At the end of the 1980s beach volleyball was the sport that flourished on the beaches of Italy – and that sport soon became the inspiration for the country’s handball players to consider how they could transfer the game to the sand.
It was Italian coach Simonetta Montagni who first began developing handball on the beach at about the same time as the players in the Netherlands began experimenting with the new trend sport.
In 1990, the newly elected president of the Italian federation, Ralf Dejaco, recognised the attractiveness of the sport and asked the Italian coach, Luciano Bartolini, to begin work on the first set of rules for the game.
Bartolini developed a concept for a quick and spectacular game with a goalkeeper and three court players per team and a substitution area the full length of the court. In order to make use of the existing beach volleyball lines the court was to be smaller and with a rectangular goal area.
It was to take just 10 years until the young game of beach handball was to become an official EHF sport – with the organisation of the very first EHF Beach Handball European Championship in Gaeta, Italy in 2000.
EHF and IHF recognition
In 1992, a first demonstration match was carried out in Misano Adriatico and, some months later, Ponza was the place for the first ever official beach handball tournament where the new rules were presented.
The Italian international (indoor handball) referees Giampiero Masi and Piero Di Piero were called upon to review the rules along with Prof. Bartolini, focusing on making the game more spectacular, emphasising on acrobatic plays.
Other countries – such as Netherlands, Germany, Portugal and Russia – started their development process of beach handball at the same time, and teams of those countries became opponents for Italy at the first ever international beach handball tournament, the Coppa Interamnia in Teramo.
Steered by Dejaco, who was at the time a member of the International Handball Federation’s propaganda and development commission, the sport then began to make progress towards becoming a recognised sport.
With the financial support of the Italian Olympic Committee, a congress was organised in Formia, close to Rome, to which representatives of the IHF and also the Dutch Handball Federation were invited, and where a common set of rules was discussed.
In 1994, Di Piero presented the sport at an EHF Lecturer’s Course for the first time and Dejaco made a presentation on the sport and its rules at the IHF Congress in the Netherlands, where a test match was also played between Italy and Netherlands.
The wave of success had reached South America, where beach handball became more and more popular. In October 1995, the EHF Beach Handball Working Group was founded, including Jesus Guerrero (Spain), Tor van der Linder (Netherlands), Adriano Ruocco, Simonetta Montagni (both Italy) and EHF office member Helmut Höritsch (Austria). Some months later, an IHF working group was established too.
The original rules were adapted, tested and modified constantly while the general popularity of beach handball increased all over Europe, proved by the first ever European-wide calendar of beach handball events in 1997.
Belarus and Ukraine first champions of Europe
Two years later, the first EHF course for beach handball referees took place in Turkey, followed by the first ever EURO in 2000.
Each eight male and female teams faced for the first trophies in Gaeta, Italy – but is was not to be the beach handball founders and hosts Italy on the podium, but the Belarusian men, who triumphed in the final against Spain; and the Ukrainian women, who beat Germany in the final. In the same year, Dejaco was elected as the beach handball representative at the EHF Executive Committee.
The second EHF Beach European Championship in Cadiz, Spain, saw 16 men’s and women’s teams taking part, the highest ever number of participants were each 18 men’s and women’s teams at the 2007 EHF Beach EURO at Misano Adriatico in Italy. The development of beach handball specialists had started, while children were attracted by the number of Younger Age Category EURO events which had begun to take place.
The EHF was fully aware of the development and started several activities such as the first coaches’ course in 2005, the implementation of the European Beach Handball Tour (ebt) in 2003 and the installation of the EHF Beach Handball Commission in 2007, currently under the leadership of the Norwegian Ole Jorstad.
This rapid development of the sport, which includes the first ever Beach Handball World Championship in 2004 in Egypt, has not reached its end.
With next year’s planned EHF EURO in Bulgaria in 2021 promising to be one of the biggest in beach handball history the future of the sport looks bright.
Having already made its debut at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games hopes are high that the sport can become part of the senior Olympic programme.
With a passionate and dedicated community behind it, it would be the ultimate achievement for a fledging sport whose journey has only just begun.