Korfball is a new one for me so don’t feel badly if you too are unfamiliar with the sport. My neighbour mentioned it to me when I told him about our new project promoting women in sport. As a mixed-sex team sport (the only other one that comes to mind is horse riding) he thought I may be interested. I was – and have since discovered many others in Bristol are too, with numerous teams across the city (check out our clubs page).
So what is Korfball? It’s a Dutch game, not dissimilar to basketball, netball, and handball. At each end of the court are two baskets suspended 11.5 feet (or 3.5 metres) in the air – which is about half a metre higher than either basketball or netball. As you might expect, the aim is for each team to shoot the ball in their opponent’s basket. So far, so good.
The court is divided into zones, with 2 men and 2 women from each team in each zone. Halfway through the game, which lasts 60 minutes with a 10 minute break between periods, the teams switch sides with their opponent team’s basket becoming their own and vice versa.
Unlike basketball there is no dribbling of the ball and, with the zoning of players, I’d say the game is more akin to netball. But Korfball is truly unique – and not just for its mixed-sex dynamic. For example, after every 2 goals players switch between attacking and defending. There are no specialists and players must be good at both skills.
As an attacker, you’re not allowed to shoot the ball whilst you’re being defended. So a good defender will keep her or his attacker within arm’s length. But a good attacker will stay well away from her or his defender – and take great shots.
The game attempts to keep things ‘fair’ by having same-sex attackers/defenders meaning that a woman will never mark a man and a man will never mark a woman. Although one part of me would like to see a free-for-all – true equality? – the realist in me understands that this would be unfair, with most men towering over their female counterparts.
What I found most amazing to learn was that women and men have been playing Korfball alongside each other since it was first invented by a Dutch schoolteacher in or around 1902. According to Wikipedia, Nico Broekhuysen was inspired by a Swedish game called ringboll. It was about thirty years later that the International Korfball Federation was founded in 1933. That’s a long history of women and men playing on the same court, on the same team, together.
So what do you make of Korfball and the idea of mixed-sex games? Should more games be mixed-sex? Could this model be used for other sports, such as hockey, rugby, or football? Or do you think that the men would simply dominate the women? Or… would the women dominate the men?
Perhaps one day we’ll find out, but, for now, you can check out Korfball all across Bristol – see our Fixtures calendar for details.