The minimum goal, at least for the Belgium Korfball team coming into the World Games in Birmingham, was to make the gold medal game. The Belgium team did just that on Saturday with a down-to-the-wire 19-18 win against Chinese Taipei.
Now the hard part starts. Next up they face the Netherlands.
“Of course, as you can see Chinese Taipei is very close,” said Belgium national team veteran Jari Hardies. “They are number three in the world; it’s always a difficult game against them. You have to defeat them first and then start thinking about the Netherlands.”
The 32-year-old Hardies has played on the national team for 12 years. He’s never been on a team that beat the Netherlands.
“It’s our rival, and we play on the national team to beat them,” Hardies said. “Maybe it’s just once, maybe it’s never. I hope [Sunday] will be a different story. Every game has to be played for 40 minutes, we’ll see. We will be well prepared and give it our best.”
Even for a novice Korfball town like Birmingham, it doesn’t take long to see the Netherlands is the team to beat. They play the game like they invented it because, well, they did. Nico Broekhuysen, a Dutch school teacher, is credited with inventing korfball in 1902. The game’s introduction came about 11 years after James Naismith invented basketball in the United States.
So, what is korfball?
For Americans, the best comparison is basketball, but there are some distinct differences. The goals are 11.5 feet from the ground, but there are no backboards. The court is split into two ends, like basketball, with four players (two male, two female) from each team on each side. The players switch sides after a team scores two goals on one end, so every player gets an opportunity to play offense and defense. The objective is to score more goals than the other team.
No one plays it more – or better – than the Dutch.
“It’s kind of a big sport in the Netherlands,” said Dutch national team member Harjan Visscher.
Barbara Brower said she started playing the sport at four years old.
“My parents met each other on the [korfball] field, so I have no choice,” Brower said with a laugh.
In the Netherlands, sports are played on the club level. It’s believed there are more than 500 clubs and 90,000 people who play korfball in the Netherlands. Pickup games are as common there as pickup basketball games are in the U.S.
“In the Netherlands, instead of basketball courts, you have korfball courts,” Visscher said.
But basketball is still an option at times.
“We like basketball,” said Netherlands’ Jelmer Junker. “What the boys do, we like to play basketball before and after training. We have fun. We watch the NBA and college.”
However, when it’s time to get serious, korfball is the sport of choice. And they play it well. The Netherlands never lost a tournament title in its first nine appearances in the World Games. The only time they didn’t win gold in 11 International Korfball Foundation appearances came when Belgium won the title in 1991.
In this World Games edition, the Netherlands has outscored four opponents, 127-54, with Saturday’s 26-12 victory over Germany the closest margin of victory.
Belgium is the next best korfball nation in the world, but their journey to the field is a bit different.
“Family sport,” Hardies said, when asked how he found the sport. “My parents were also on the international level. You could say I was born on the Korfball field. That’s for a lot of us, you start playing Korfball from a friend or family, mostly family.”
In other words, in Belgium you are born into the sport because of a family member playing the sport; In the Netherlands, you are born into the sport because, well, you are born.
“We are an amateur sport,” Hardies said. “The center of Belgium Korfball is actually in Antwerp. This year, for the first time, we have a champion outside of Antwerp, from Ghent. That’s good for the expansion for Korfball in Belgium, I think. But it’s actually not so big. If you see it in Netherlands, they are almost 10 times bigger. That’s difficult but we’ll give it everything [Sunday].”
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