How Handball encapsulates Danish society

May 28, 2021 1:01 pm


Before moving to Denmark I was vaguely aware of the sport of handball, but knew next to nothing about it.

My sense was that it was a niche sport played in cold countries, its popularity sort of on a par with table tennis (no offence ping pong enthusiasts).

Therefore when starting the podcast, high on the list of things to understand was why the sport was so prominent in Denmark.

How the episode was made

I decided to go right to the source of handball in Denmark by reaching out to the Danish Handball Federation. A couple of weeks' later I was sat down in the office of the Director General (and former national player) Morten Stig Christensen.

He showed me around his office and we chatted for a couple of hours about the history of the sport, his perspectives on what it means for the country and, as he was uniquely placed to do, the direction he and the organisation want the sport to take.

  • Handball in Denmark is almost always organised in the form of foreninger (voluntary associations): which makes it a "grassroots", inclusive sport (vs other sports that require high membership fees etc)
  • Denmark invented the sport (sort of): it was a Danish high school teacher who wrote down the rules for team handball. A few years later there was an international convention in Germany where the rules were formalised
  • It is super popular in lots of countries: many (warm!) places like France and Spain have handball as their 2nd/ 3rd most popular sport
  • Handball was part of Cold War propaganda: the sport is popular in Eastern Europe and it was always a coup for a country behind the iron curtain to beat a team from a capitalist country
  • Mikkel Hansen is a superstar: he seems to be a bit like the David Beckham of Danish handball. Mikkel features in the photo of this episode's artwork
  • There's a reason handball is big in Jutland: the western (more rural) part of the country is renowned for its love of the sport. Morten explains the reasons (both "supply" and "demand") for this

Morten also generously answers my many (newbie) questions about the sport which, if you don't know much about the sport, you might find helpful too.

You can listen to the episode now via Apple Podcasts, Spotify and other podcast platforms.

Handball post script

I should note that since doing the interview I've now watched a few handball games and think it's great! There's always something happening, and the momentum can easily swing between the teams meaning everyone is kept on their toes.

There's quite a few classic games showing on Youtube, so do give it a watch if you fancy trying it out this weekend...

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The end of Season One approaching...

This handball episode is the last "deep dive" episode we'll be doing for a while. Next week we'll have a "Season One summary" before going on a break where we'll take stock of everything we've learnt from launching the show, and then figure out what to next.

If you have any feedback you'd like us to consider for the future of What The Denmark, please reply to this email with your thoughts.

We want to make a show that people enjoy (and actually listen to) and so would love to hear any ideas/ comments/ reflections you have!

Thanks as always for your support so far. If you're in Denmark right now, you might empathise with this.

Happy Friday,


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