In defiance of all those topics football’s lawmakers of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) have recently put on the agenda of things to be urgently discussed – mostly for political reasons –, the probably most apparent controversy is still remaining untouched: the question of what the term “deliberate handball” means at all.
|Handball yes - but also deliberate, chargeable handball? (c) focus|
In the past, many examples have shown that there has been no real consistency and uniformity in terms of handball and its assessment in situations occurring in the penalty area. That’s because the Laws of the Game define a package of criteria that must be applied when assessing these situations, e.g. the hand position, the hand movement or the distance between the shot ball and the player’s hand. Parts of this criteria can be fulfilled, while other parts of them can work in opposite direction. A process of weighing up has to be induced, which is similar to almost every tough decision you face in life. The problem: referees have no respite, they have to take these decisions based on their weighing up in a self-confident and convinced manner after mostly very little seconds, if at all.
Handball situations are not “black-and-white”, they require a profound and individual assessment, they depend on the referee’s feeling and grasp for the game. In the interest of football and its players, it is merely good that not every contact between hand and ball must be penalized – contrary to other kinds of sports. Though it must be achieved that teams, players and even supporters can comprehend the referee’s decision and that they do not perceive them as pure arbitrariness. In the same league, in the same competition and within the same federation, predictable and reliable decisions must be taken with regard to handball. It is happening too often that quite similar handballs are ruled as an infringement and entail a penalty kick in the one match, while another referee is waiving play-on in another match at another venue. National federations and, above all, UEFA and FIFA must ensure uniform instructions and an improved coaching of their referees by analyzing more material like video-footage to create a harmonious feeling for what handball is really deliberate, intentional and therefore chargeable among their officials, who are otherwise left out in the rain.
Solely simpliying this rule will undermine the foresight and prudence that are aspired by the differentiated assessment of in-box handball situations. In this specific case (and contrary to other cases), more uniform instructions for referees seem to be the best solution. And, what is even more relevant, dear lawmakers and federations: explain your instructions to the referees, teams, players and supporters to gain more comprehension and approval.
Besides that, it is good that those grey areas linger on – if they did not, what would we discuss about?