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Korfball: What is it and should it become an Olympic sport?


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"Becoming an Olympic sport would have a huge impact."

Korfball is a mixed-sex sport that is played in over 60 countries and is growing in popularity in the UK. It was featured as a demonstration sport in the 1920 and 1928 Summer Olympics but is yet to feature as an official Olympic sport. Could this change in the future?

The ball sport is an effective cross between basketball and netball, as the objective is to throw a ball through a hoop that is attached on top of a three-and-a-half metre pole. It is played by two teams of eight players with four males and four females in each team.

Tom O'Callaghan, kit organiser and first-team player for Leicester City Korfball Club (LCKC), welcomes the idea of a mixed-gender sport:

"Korfball has a unique community vibe that is neither 'laddish' nor 'bitchy' but still benefits from the usual sports club camaraderie."

When the sport first came into existence there was a lot of controversy due to players being of opposite gender. On more than one occasion korfball players had accusations of immorality made against them. The sportswear was especially criticised because women showed bare ankles and knees.

Korfball was founded in 1902 by Nico Broekhuysen, a Dutch school teacher from Amsterdam. He was inspired by the Swedish game 'ringboll', where you score points by throwing a ball into a ring that was mounted on a three-metre pole. Males and females played together, and the field was separated into three areas, where players assigned to a specific area could not leave it.

He made some slight adjustments by replacing the rings for baskets (the Dutch word for basket is "korf") and made the rules simpler so that the children he was teaching could understand and play.

The rules truly incorporate both sexes being equally as involved in the game, as players can only attack and defend players of their own sex.

Hollie Clarke, Chairperson of her Korfball team at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, believes that this is good because it keeps the game equal.

The Chairperson is the main contact source for the Korfball society to its Students' Union, the University itself and any outside parties. Examples of her responsibilities include leading the team's planned direction and supporting other members of their committee.

Certain aspects of korfball encourage the sport to be gender-equal. You are not allowed to block, tackle or hold players, in addition to being unable to kick the ball. Moreover, a player is not allowed to score whilst being defended, which limits the impact of a players' height and physical strength in comparison to their challenges.

Alexander Martin, DMU Secretary and DMU Korfball team's top scorer of all time, believes that promoting this equality within the sport would encourage more girls to play:

"I feel like including it in campaigns like 'this girl can' and similar things would help a lot because then it's not just saying girls can do the same as guys but the fact girls and guys can play in the same sport at the same time and compete would be great."

As the Secretary, Martin is responsible for handling lists of all team members on top of the email accounts. Examples of his duties consist of organising transportation to events and taking minutes from all committee meetings, together with the Korfball Society Annual General Meeting.

The International Korfball Federation (IKF) was founded in 1933, however, the oldest still existing korfball club is a Dutch club called H.K.C. ALO from The Hague in the Netherlands, who were founded in 1906.

Since the sport became internationally competitive, the country has dominated. There are nearly 600 clubs and over 100,000 people playing korfball in the Netherlands, so perhaps this is no surprise.

They have won nine out of the last ten korfball tournaments in the World Games, finishing only runners-up to Belgium in 1991. In fact, Belgium finished runners-up in each of the other nine tournaments that the Netherlands won, displaying their prominence in the sport as well. Great Britain's highest finish in these games is third which they achieved in 1987 in the Netherlands and in 1999 in Australia.

In the European Korfball Championships, the dominance is different. There has been no other winner other than the Netherlands or Belgium in the 45 Championships played, with the nations winning 39 and six Championships respectively. The only club from the UK to reach the final was Mitcham Korfball Club from London, who lost to Catbavrienden from Belgium in 1998.

But with the growing popularity of Korfball in the UK, combined with the increasing recognition of the sport globally, it may not be long before we see korfball played in the Olympics, with a team represented by Great Britain. O'Callaghan believes that journalism could have a major role in endorsing the sport further:

"A bigger profile for the sport, such as local or national news coverage, would help."

Korfball has many benefits for newcomers, one of which is that most people who start playing do not know anything about the sport beforehand. Clarke says that for non-professional teams there are generally no expectations and "everyone starts off pretty rubbish."

Another benefit is that it drastically improves your fitness. O'Callaghan explains why playing the sport is good for the fitness levels of anybody wanting to start playing:

"In terms of cardiovascular exercise, it has similarities with interval training which makes it exhausting and difficult in the long run and manageable in the moment, meaning that fatigue is rarely an excuse for a lack of performance."

Arguably the prime benefit is that the sport gives the opportunity to build a more inclusive community. Clarke especially appreciates how close everybody is within her team and the Korfball community as a whole.

Martin believes that the best part about korfball is the people and the community, and he says that he ends up making friends every time he goes to tournaments. He summarises by recommending korfball to anybody who wants to build a network by playing it:

"If you want to be social while playing a sport this is it."

Korfball is a sport that is growing in popularity, and with more people being inspired to play worldwide, it may not be long before we see countries playing korfball against each other in the Olympic Games.

Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons


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