Politics & Policy

An All-American Sport

The USA could dominate Men's Handball.

Am I the only person who has noticed the proliferation of Olympic sports that seem to be geared toward letting countries other than the USA get some medals? To wit, the other day I got home a little early, flipped on tube and was greeted by Men’s Handball.


I grew up in New York. Like all city kids, the game I knew as handball was played by two guys with a little black rubber ball that you hit against a wall. Sort of like squash without the rackets. The Olympic version is not that Handball.

I watched in not so quiet amusement for a few seconds before grabbing the phone and calling my older brother — this is a knee jerk reaction with me. “Phil, turn on the Olympics. I’m watching the dumbest event I’ve seen to date — and I’m not talking about any of those hoopy, ribbon, juggling ball dancy things they pass off for Olympic sports.”

He hadn’t even punched in the number on his remote before letting go with, “I already know what you’re talking about.” His next line summed it up: “Men’s Handball — a sport for non-athletic athletes.”

Thus began our discussion. We immediately decided that Handball is basically water polo without the water or skill, soccer without feet or skill, lacrosse without sticks or skill, or most closely, basketball without the rules or skill. And from the look of the contestants, I’m guessing that they were recruited from a factory soccer club on the outskirts of Warsaw.

Here is the Wiki definition: “Handball is played on a court 40 meters long by 20 meters wide with a dividing line in the middle and a goal in the center of either end. The goals are surrounded by a near-semicircular line that is generally six meters away from the goal, called the crease. There is also a dashed near-semicircular line that is nine meters away from the goal.”

In other words, it’s basically a smaller basketball court, soccer field, or hockey rink.

Wiki continues: “The ball is smaller than a soccer ball in order for the players to be able to hold and handle it with a single hand (though contact with both hands is allowed). It is transported by bouncing it between hands and floor – much as in basketball. A player may only hold the ball for three seconds and may only take three steps with the ball in hand. After taking three steps the player will have to make a dribble with one hand in order to continue moving forward, but if the ball is held in both hands after making a dribble and the player makes another dribble, a free throw will be given to the other team for a “double dribble.” There are many unofficial rule variations.”

Ah! Unofficial rule variations. That explains everything including the most important line (or warning) from the top of the Wiki entry: “This article or section appears to contradict itself. Please help fix this problem.”

You see, there don’t seem to be any real rules in Handball. The guys run with the ball, dribble occasionally, slam into each other, grab at each other, jump up and down without throwing, fake throw, and let it fly from point blank range when they feel like it (a brief word about the on-air commentators — yes, NBC actually found some Americans who feigned knowledge of Handball. Very annoying. I had to hit mute, which turned out to be a brilliant move as the game takes on a silent movie quality that exponentially increases the comedic value).

As my brother and I were trying to figure it out (we were watching Spain versus Poland), one of the Spanish players actually clotheslined one of the Poles — I mean he hammered this poor Polish dude. We both howled. It was cartoon funny — like when Bugs Bunny clotheslines the wolf. All that was missing was the head and body going forward while the rubber-like neck goes ten feet in the opposite direction to a reverberating “boing!”

Play stopped, but no foul was called. The poor dazed guy picked himself up, rubbed his jaw, and incredulously gestured to the referee — arm fully extended in the proper clothesline position. The ref and the Spanish clothesliner both just shrugged, like, “Sorry dude, all part of the game.”

That’s when it hit me. The USA could dominate Men’s Handball. How so? After all, we don’t really have any factories from which to draw our talent (Google, Yahoo!, IBM and Microsoft don’t count).

But we do have real athletes — lots of ‘em. We have thousands of big, brawny, unbelievably talented athletes. We could recruit NBA players and the biggest soccer goalie we can find. After all, the movement is similar to hoops and requires a goaltender. We get 13 NBA players who didn’t make or want to play on the Olympic hoops squad. “Okay Shaq, you want to add a little gold medal bling to the trophy case?”

We tell them that Handball is basically basketball without rules or fouls. So you can charge, clear the lane (the way you always wanted to “clear the lane”), go up and down, dribble if you feel like it or not — no refs are going to call you for traveling. Oh, and you’ll be a full eight inches taller than your tallest competitors. It will be like you’re a mix of the Harlem Globetrotters and the WWF (all we’d have to do is show them video of the no-call on the clothesline and they’d be all over this game). And you get to throw the ball as hard as you can into an enormous net. Or you can throw it at an opponent. . . .

We’ll give you a week of practice to learn the “rules.”

Let’s face it, team USA would win every match just by showing up and walking on the court. Can’t you see the look of pure terror on Olav the brewmaster’s face as 14 seven-foot professional athletes walk out of the locker room? Gulp. There’s not enough vodka on the planet to numb him before or after what he knows is most assuredly coming.

Here’s the first play: Pass the ball around over the opposition’s heads just for laughs (Hell, let’s insist that they play Sweet Georgia Brown whenever the USA is on the court), give the ball to Shaq about 10 feet from the goal and have him hurl it at the goalie as hard as his 7’4”, 320 lbs can manage. Why? Because from what my brother and I witnessed, there is no rule against taking out the goalie! That’s pure gravy. I can already hear the Star Spangled Banner being played while little Olympic officials in blazers and ascots mount step ladders to drape gold medals on our guys. What a proud moment.

Phil and I are willing to volunteer for the coaching assignment. Memo to the rest of the world: You want to drop baseball after 2008. Fine. We’re coming in 2012 to the Handball venue. We’ll bring the victory cigars. You bring your stretchers.

Mark Corallo is a partner at Corallo Comstock, Inc., public affairs firm in Alexandria, VA.


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