Handball at the Tokyo Games will feature a 12-team men’s tournament and a 12-team women’s tournament.

For each event, the 12 teams are divided into two groups of six. In the preliminary round, each team plays the five other teams within its group. The top four teams in each group advance to the quarterfinals as the format changes to a direct-elimination tournament. The semifinal winners play to determine gold and silver, while the semifinal losers play for bronze.

With the exception of South Korea winning six women’s Olympic medals, the sport of handball has been largely dominated by European nations.


Handball is played on a court. Each team attempts to score goals by throwing the ball past the opposing goalie. The ball is almost always played with the hands. A player may stop, catch, throw, bounce or strike the ball in any manner and in any direction, using hands, fists, arms, head, body, thighs or knees. However, a player may not touch the ball with any part of the body below the knee; unless it has been thrown directly at the player’s legs.

Each handball game consists of two 30-minute halves with a 15-minute halftime. Each team can take three timeouts per game. Each goal scored is one point. Handball is a high scoring game; it is not uncommon to see a team score upwards of 20 times in a game.

The Tokyo tournament will feature 12 men’s and 12 women’s teams. Each team’s roster can include up to 14 athletes, but only seven play on the court at a time (including the goalie).

Pool Play

Each tournament begins with pool play. The 12 teams are divided into two pools of six. Each team plays every other team in its pool in a round-robin format. Ties are not broken during pool play.

During pool play, teams earn points as follows:

Win 2 points
Loss No points
Tie 1 point per team

These points are used to rank to teams heading into the knockout round. If two or more teams in the same group earn the same number of points, the following criteria is used to break the tie:

  1. Points earned in games only between the tied teams
  2. Only if more than two teams are tied: Goal difference in the game(s) played by the tied teams
  3. Only if more than two teams are tied: Number of goals scored in the game(s) played by the tied teams
  4. Goal difference in all games played in pool play

At the end of pool play, the top four teams from each pool move on to the knockout round. The bottom two teams are eliminated from medal contention.

Knockout Round

Quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals are played in a single-elimination format. At the start of the quarterfinal round, teams are drawn into a bracket using their pool play ranking.

Quarterfinal Round

The winner of each game advances to the semifinal round. The loser of these matches will be ranked 5th-8th depending on their pool play ranking.

  • QF1: 1A vs. 4B
  • QF2: 3B vs. 2A
  • QF3: 3A vs. 2B
  • QF4: 1B vs. 4A

Semifinal Round

The winner of each game will progress to the gold medal game. The losers will play for bronze.

  • Winner of QF1 vs. Winner of QF2/SF1
  • Winner of QF3 vs Winner of QF4/SF2

Medal Games

  • Gold medal game: Winner of SF1 vs. Winner of SF2
  • Bronze medal game: Loser of SF1 vs Loser of SF2


Overtime is played only during the knockout round.

If regulation ends in a tie, overtime begins following a 5-minute break.

Overtime consists of two halves of five minutes, with a 1-minute halftime break. Overtime is NOT sudden death; both halves are played in full.

If the teams are still tied, a second overtime is played following another 5-minute break. This also consists of two halves of 5 minutes with a 1-minute halftime break.

If the game is still tied after two overtime periods, a shootout will be used to determine the winner.


Shootouts use a best-of-five format. Each team selects five shooters, who can shoot in any order. Each shooter stands seven meters from the opposing goalie when they take their attempt. The shootout ends when one team cannot outscore the other in the best-of-five competition.

More information:

Official Tokyo site – Handball

USA Handball

International federation