2016 is an Olympic year so in anticipation and celebration of the upcoming Rio Games I’m joining together with my blogging friends at Multicultural Kid Blogs in a series on the Olympics for kids (see more below).  I love the Olympics and France is a great sporting nation so I’m constantly surrounded by sport, particularly handball.  Let me explain more….

handball France and Olympic games

Handball is an extremely popular team sport in France, played by kids from about 6 up through to adulthood.  It’s so popular that it has the 3rd biggest number of registered club players of all team sports in France after football and basketball, and the French national team (men) are Olympic and World Champions.  It has been an Olympic sport since 1972 (after a one off time in 1936). And yet for many of my readers based in UK, Australia and USA it’s probably almost unheard of.

handball bronze match London Olympics 2012

I have to admit that I hadn’t heard of it until I married a sporty Frenchman and bred 2 sporty half French boys!  But trust me, it’s not an insignificant minor sport, there are 24 nations competing in next year’s World Cup (taking place in France) representing every continent except Oceania, though it has to be said it is rather Euro-heavy.  Handball is very popular in Scandinavia, Germany (where it originated), former Soviet states and Spain as well as the Middle East, South America, Korea and Japan.flags at handball

The game itself is fast-paced, high scoring and pretty aggressive, with bodily contact allowed. Teams consist of 6 players on the court and a goalie. Although it’s an indoor sport some clubs arrange outdoor tournaments in the summer for fun, like this one below called “sandball”. In a nutshell for non-sporty types (like me) it looks a bit like football but indoors on a smaller court and instead of kicking the ball it’s thrown. Does that make any sense?  Probably not to a footballer or handballer (sorry!)  I can’t begin to say I understand all the rules but over the last 6 years I’ve watched a great deal of amateur handball and one very professional match.


That’s because all my boys (JF included) play or have played for local teams and the teen even got to départemental level before he gave up recently owing to too much academic pressure. Supporting the teen we travelled all around the south of France as far as Carcassonne (450 kms) and Montpellier watching him defend the goal (I used to find it excrutiating watching a small hard missile hurled with force at my son from what seemed to me to be far too close for comfort; not fun being the mother of the goalie!)

handballl practice Aix

A highlight for the teen was playing in Montpellier in Thierry Omeyer‘s goal in an arena that could seat thousands (photo below).  Omeyer known as “Titi” is the goal keeper for the French national team, an Olympic, World and European champion and voted best goalie of all time by the International Handball Federation as well as holding the most records of any team sports player in France (not just handball).  He will be 40 by the time of the World Cup in January next year and he has been captain of the team which is very rare as the goal keeper.  An amazing sportsman!

handball in Montpellier

My little kid didn’t play for as many years but his great moment was meeting William Accambray, another member of the national team and also an Olympic champion when he became the mascot for his club, seen below signing autographs.

Accambray mascot

However, for all of us the greatest handball experience ever was attending the bronze medal match between Croatia and Hungary at the London Olympics in 2012.  I applied for tickets for the Games in the initial lottery but failed to get any.  This meant I could apply in the second round to a particular event so I decided to be strategic.  I reckoned the opening and closing ceremonies and 100m track events and such like would be over-subscribed and we’d miss out again, whereas knowing how unheard of handball was in UK I gambled that we’d have a fighting chance of tickets.  And I was right!

Croatia Hungary handball London OlympicsThe only mistake I made was choosing the bronze medal and not the gold-silver as France ended up in that retaining their gold medal from Beijing to become Olympic champions again.  I must admit the boys were frustrated to not see France win but the overall atmosphere just being at the Olympic Games was beyond our expectations.

handball supportersThe whole experience left us on a high for weeks, with an overwhelming feel-good factor from just about everything:  the excellent organisation, the cheerful volunteers who made queueing fun, the gorgeously landscaped park with wildflowers and waterways (we were in the Olympic Park), the spectacular architecture and sculpture, the international food, the street entertainers, the bonhomie among nations, the good humour of the supporters and of course the top class sports….

at London OlympicsI’m smiling just remembering it all.  It really was an amazing day, one that none of us will ever forget.  (By the way if you want to know why we weren’t carrying a French flag take a look here, it was not for want of trying).

London Olympics park entranceHave you heard of handball?  Do you enjoy watching the Olympics?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Related Reading:

Introducing Pelote Basque, a very un-Provençal game

Visiting the National Museum of Sport, Nice France

Pétanque – the famous Provençal game of boules


Welcome to our Olympics for Kids series! The Olympics are a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about the world and explore cultures together. Today, you can find more about other sports/games from various countries thanks to our participating bloggers: Exploring Indonesian Badminton – Multicultural Kid BlogsPopular Summer Sports in USSR – Creative World of Varya, Handball, France and the Olympics – Lou Messugo, Capoeira: a martial art with a great beat – Brynn in Brazil, The big 3: soccer, rugby, cricket – Globe Trottin’ Kids, Copa América: We Are the Champions – La clase de Sra. DuFault, Football in the Netherlands: The Men in Orange – Expat Life with a Double Buggy Summer sports in Latvia – Let the Journey Begin, Valuable Lessons From The Olympic Sports to Kids – Hispanic Mama, Fencing with Ibtihaj Muhammad – Kid World Citizen, Puerto Rican OlympiansDiscovering the World Through my Son’s Eyes. Don’t forget that you can also download our Summer Games Unit activity pack to learn more about the world and have fun during the Olympics.


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Handball France and the Olympics

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