The popular sport that Britain forgot

In her latest column on local sports clubs Bobbie Makoni discovers a handball team competing for national honours

Olympia Handball Club

Players from both the men’s and women’s teams of Olympia Handball Club, at the Score Centre in Leyton (credit Sandijs-Skujins-Photographer.com)

Each Olympics we all convince ourselves there’s one sport we’d be brilliant at ‘if only I had the chance to play at school’.

My personal favourite has always been handball. Therefore, I was super excited to be welcomed down to Olympia Handball Club at Leyton’s Score Centre where I was met by enthusiastic club chairperson Diaraye Diallo.

Originally from France, Diaraye started playing handball aged 11, before competing at a regional level. Much to my surprise I was immediately thrown into the first team ladies’ practice session where I got my first feel of the resin-coated ball.

The club consists of five teams; first and second division teams for men and women, plus a junior team comprised of 14-18-year-olds. Most of the club’s players are originally from Europe, with strong contingencies of Romanian, Polish, and French. Many are in London to study, and with so many different languages and cultures mixing at the club it makes for entertaining training sessions!

The depth of knowledge within Olympia is huge, with a number of ex-professionals involved on the coaching and playing side (there are professional handball leagues across Europe). Both first division teams continuously perform extremely well in national leagues, something Diaraye believes is fundamental to the success of the club as a whole: “While we receive grants for the community aspect of the club, this is getting more competitive as more clubs apply, so we rely heavily on marketing and for this to work we need at least some teams that dominate nationally.”

As well as sponsorship from two local businesses, the club currently has four interns from AMOS, a sports management school, who take on various administrative roles within the club.

Diaraye and her team are working hard with governing body England Handball to increase visibility of the sport. While the majority of the British population only gets to watch handball at an Olympic Games, it is in fact the second most popular sport in Europe as a whole.

The key to mastering the sport, Diaraye stresses, is co-ordination with the wider group: “This is something I really try to convey to my juniors, I actually teach them different positions from an early age so they can have appreciation for each role on the team.”

To further discourage individualistic mentalities, she tells her players not to look at the scoreboard during the game and doesn’t allow them to take pictures of the scoresheet.

Other than the size of a regulation hall (40×20 metres) which is often difficult to find in the UK, I see no reason why schools across the country are not streaming towards the world of handball. Improved athleticism, co-ordination, teamwork and a chance of an Olympic medal mean we should be encouraging more young Brits to take up one of the continent’s most popular sports.


For more information on Olympia Handball Club:

Visit olympialondonhandball.co.uk

 

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