[For up-to-date statutes of the rule please consult the International Handball Federation website.]


A traditional game consists of two 30-minute periods for men's and women's teams over 18 years of age.

Starting Play

All players begin the game in their own half. The team winning the toss starts the game with a pass from the center line. After the start of play, court players are allowed anywhere on the court except for either goal area.


A goal is scored whenever the entire ball passes the goal line between the posts and under the cross bar.

Moving the ball

A player is allowed to run three steps with the ball before it must be bounced, passed or shot. If bounced, a further three steps are allowed but the ball must then be passed or a shot taken at the goal. If a player with the ball is stationary and not dribbling, a three-second rule applies instead of three steps.


Dribbling is permitted. However, as soon as the ball is held with one or both hands, it must be passed after three steps or three seconds.

Playing the ball

Players can throw, punch or hit the ball in any direction using hands, arms, head, back thigh or knee. Contact with the ball below the knee is not permitted (goalkeepers are the exception). Passes back to the goalkeeper inside the goal area are also not allowed.


Substitutes are made at any time and without play being stopped. There is no limit to the number that can be made. Substitutions must be made in the special area near the center line and the sub cannot enter until the player has left the court.


Is limited to the torso only. Arms or legs may not be used to obstruct an opponent. Holding, pushing, hitting, running or jumping into an opponent are all fouls.

Free Throws

Infringements result in a free throw, which is taken from the spot where the foul occurred. Opposition players must be a minimum of 3 meters (1.5m in Mini-Handball) away from the player taking the free throw. All attacking players must be outside the broken line. If the infringement took place between the goal area line and the broken line, the free throw will be taken from the free throw line. In the case of serious infringements or when a goal scoring opportunity is spoiled by an infringement, a penalty shot is given. All other players, except the defending goalkeeper, must be outside the free throw line while the player takes the penalty from the penalty line ( 7 meters ). For rough play, a 2-minute penalty is given. If the same player receives three such suspensions, he/she cannot take further part in the match.


A free throw is awarded for any of these infringements:

  • an opponent is fouled;
  • the ball is played incorrectly;
  • the line around the goal area is touched or crossed;
  • players behave in an unsportsmen like manner;
  • deliberately waste time; incorrect substitution.

The Goal Area

Except for the goalkeeper, the goal area can not be entered by any other player from either side. Goalkeepers can leave this area provided they do not have possession of the ball. Only the goalkeeper is allowed to dive for a ball that is lying or rolling on the ground. Offensive players are permitted to jump in the air over the goalie's area as long as the ball is released prior to landing.

Throw ins

A throw in is awarded when the ball crosses the sideline. The non-offending team throws the ball back into play. The player taking the throw in must place one foot on the sideline. A goal can be scored directly from a throw in.