Each team consists of seven players on the field and seven substitutes on the bench. An unlimited number of substitutions are allowed during the game. Two referees monitor the game. It takes place in an indoor sports hall on a court measuring 40 x 20 m. Goal posts, measuring 2 m high and 3 m wide, are placed at the centre of each end line.
The goal area is defined by a continuous, semi-circular line at a distance of 6m from each set of goal posts. Only the goalkeeper can enter this area. Each game includes two half-time periods of 30 minutes, with a 10-minute interval in between. If the match ends in a tie, the game goes into two 5-minute periods of extra time, with a 1-minute interval between. The team with the higher score (most goals) wins.
During the game, players are allowed to hold the ball for only 3 seconds before they pass, dribble or shoot it. They can also struggle for the ball with their body and hands, without hitting the opponent.
Players are not allowed to push, hit, or fall on their opponent. Handball competition at the 2004 Olympic Games will be run by the regulations adopted by the International Handball Federation (IHF), which are related to the Olympic Charter. According to the Charter, IHF assumes the control and application of the sport's technical parameters and competition procedures during the Olympic Games.
Each country is allowed to register up to 15 players on its team, 14 of which can participate at any given match. Men and women's Handball in the Olympic Games includes the preliminary, quarterfinal, semi-final and final rounds, as well as the play-offs, which are held to determine final standings for the teams that will take 5th to 12th position.
In the preliminary rounds (games), all the teams are divided into two groups. In the women's competition each group consists of five teams, and in the men's competition there are six teams. Each team then plays against every other team in its group.
Based on the number of points gathered in the preliminary rounds of the women’s competition, the teams that rank 5th in each group compete for positions nine and ten. In the men's competition, teams that rank 6th in the preliminary rounds of each group must then face each other for positions 11 and 12.
The top four teams from each group proceed to the quarterfinal round. Teams of the first group face the teams of the second group with the reverse rank. To be specific, the first team of group A faces the fourth team of group B, the second team of group A faces the third team of group B and so on. Teams that lose in the quarterfinals compete in play-offs for positions five to eight.
The four winners of the four quarterfinal games advance to the semi-finals. The finals are held between the two winners of the semi-finals, and that final match determines the first (gold medal) and second (silver medal) place. The two teams that lost in the semi-finals face each other in a play-off match, in order to determine the third (bronze medal) and fourth place.