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What is korfball and why is this unique sport so popular?


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Korfball was one of the many sports featured in this year's Sheffield Varsity competition. After the successes of both universities in Sheffield on a national level, I went to speak to Hallam coach Rebecca McMath about the unique, mixed-sex sport.  

Image Credit: Peter Saxon via Wikimedia Commons

University, typically, is a time for trying new things. A time for breaking away from the routines and norms developed previously. It is a place where the vast mix of people and various societies can offer the opportunity to try something completely different. 

One such activity is korfball, a game originating in The Netherlands in the early 20th Century. It has been on the rise in universities in Sheffield recently, although few have heard of it previously.

“I think this year recruiting-wise, there were two people who knew about the sport [before attending trials],” says Rebecca McMath, who recently helped coach the Sheffield Hallam team to finish eighth in a national tournament. 

“It’s pretty much new to everyone who joins.” 

The unknown nature of it, however, appears to be something which appeals to university students wanting to try something new. 

“People come to you thinking they want to try something new. Then they hear korfball and think: ‘what is that?’ So it gives us that kind of appeal to it.

“It’s unique in the aspect that people never know what it is.”

Korfball can categorically be defined as a unique sport. While the rules bear a similarity to netball, it is the make up of each team that makes it so different. 

Teams are mixed sex, with each side containing four men and four women. They are split into attack and defence, with the rules stipulating that each attack/defence must be made up of two men and two women. The players are divided equally between positions. 

Both sexes are put on a level playing field, something which very few sports can boast about. 

“I’ve grown up playing sport my whole life, and you can always see the differences between female sports and male,” says McMath. 

“Male [sports] are always highly broadcast but this sport, because it’s mixed... you get the same kind of publicity on it.” 

In an industry where women are so often undervalued, korfball stands pretty much alone. 

Women’s sports receive only 5% of overall sports coverage. The rare emphasis on equality in korfball is an encouraging one. The very rules of it negate any of the coverage and equality issues same sex sports are often guilty of. This aspect of korfball, sadly, makes it an outlier rather than the norm. 

The gameplay itself is engrossing. Much of the action is focused around the coordinated movement of teams to open up space for a shot at the ‘korf’ - a suspended basket which acts as the goal. 

With exciting action, a unique nature and an emphasis on equality, korfball is certainly a sport worth pursuing, especially for those with a nose for trying something new. 


The Basics of Korfball

Image Credit: Joel Shooter

Lead Image Credit: Peter Saxon via Wikimedia Commons

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