September 2, 2013

Proposal for a new Law clarifying "Punishable Handball"

The new season has just commenced and once again we will face a year of top-class football, both on domestic level and on international stage. However, the tiresome topic "deliberate handball" will surely accompany us as usual, too. It has always been a desire of this blog to clarify this issue and to put forward appeals aiming at making sure that there are uniform, comprehensive and predictable interpretations of this woolly part of the Laws of the Game. 

Handballs are not always that clear... (c)

The recent past has shown that nothing has changed. Federations like UEFA, but also and specially national associations, have failed to communicate their instructions in a precise way. Not only players and fans, but also referees themselves are losing the overview on this clutter of vague criteria that are supposed to define a deliberate handball. And even if they published an official solution for certain match situations, they have been contradictory to others or were merely undermining common sense. Nobody of Pierluigi Collina's or Massimo Busacca's format has proven the will to clarify this controversy. None of them has taken the opportunity to create some kind of video in which they make clear what a deliberate handball is and what is not, preferably bolstered with some current examples from FIFA or UEFA matches. Videos targeting at adulating the Additional Assistant Referee programme - which is widely rejected by referees themselves - seem to be more relevant. UEFA's slogan "We care about football" does not come into praxis here. 
The lawmakers in international football, the IFAB, are still touching on quite populistic but less relevant issues like goalline technology. Or they are altering offside rules with the purpose to simplify it while achieving the opposite effect, making it more difficult for referees at the grassroots level and unleashing confusion among football fans. They still have not recognized the difficulty and inconsistency in terms of deliberate handball. 
Apart from criticizing all that, I want to present some proposals for new versions of a law that defines what deliberate handball means elaborated along with "Hagi", one of our users and blog observers. 

First of all, the term itself is a problem. According to the current instructions that do exist, there does not necessarily have to be a deliberate action by an offender touching the ball with his hand or arm. Therefore the expression "deliberate" is futile, confusing and must be changed into "punishable". Punishable handballs have to be penalized with a direct free kick.
A handball can be punishable or not punishable. Now one must continue to define what a "punishable" handball comprises.

Opportunity 1: Every handball is punishable. This would be the solution with the smallest grey area and confusion. But it would totally undermine common sense and the spirit of football. It would not be accepted by players and fans, and probably it would not meet the referees' approval either. Furthermore, forward players could seek the opportunity to waste penalty kicks and direct free kicks just by deliberately passing the ball towards their opponents' hands who would be chanceless to avoid that. That's really no option.

Opportunity 2: A handball is only punishable if the hand actively moved towards the ball. This would undermine the feeling for the game, too. A handball resulting from a player having stretched out his hand by 50 cm has to be penalized, no matter whether it moved to the ball or not. Additionally defenders could circumvent this law by going into challenges or shots with widely outstretched hands before the shot was executed. Moving the hand towards the ball would not be necessary then... Practically, it has no sense for this reason.

Opportunity 3: Deliberately or intentionally playing handball is forbidden and has to be penalized with a direct free kick and a yellow card. Players who e.g. move their hand towards the ball or do not avoid a contact between hand and ball even though latter is coming from a very long distance would be guilty of intentional handball as it happens today. Based on that, there could be another type of handball which is called "careless handball". A player who touches the ball with his hand or arm in a careless or negligent manner would be guilty of "careless handball". A couple of things could now define what "careless" means.

Opportunity 3.1: Careless handball can be defined by the distance. As it is praxis related to the new offside rule, where "challenging an opponent for the ball" requires a distance between ball and offender of max. 1 or 1,5 m, one could draw a limit in terms of handball as well. The moment of shooting or passing the ball would be decisive - as soon as the potential offender is positioned farther away than let's say 2 metres, a handball might become punishable. This definition would however ignore the pace of the shot or pass. Creating a sole dependence on the distance does not make sense.

Opportunity 3.2: Careless handball could always apply as soon as the potential offender enlarged his body hit surface. If he is widely stretching out his hand and touches the ball with it e.g. during a try to block a ball, he must be aware of the risk that he could commit a careless handball. In such a case the offender would gain a significant advantage by this hand position, so that it would be punishable. This definition would solve a lot of problems: the referees would not have to evaluate the distance and pace of the shot. They would not have to take into account whether the player could have perhaps seen the ball coming. Two weeks ago, referee Felix Brych awarded a penalty to Leverkusen and penalized Gladbach's defender Arango for deliberate handball. Arango jumped, got the ball, which came from his back (so that he had not seen it coming), at his hand, which was widely stretched out and moving towards the ball. Later on, DFB ruled this decision as a mistake. Three criteria clashed here, 2 favouring Brych's call and 1 going against it. The law proposed here, i.e. that everything depends on the question of whether the body surface was enlarged or not, would solve that trouble. Decisions would be more predictable and more uniform, more understandable for referees, players and fans. The referees would not be coerced to check this mob of criteria in their minds within a part of a second, which would take pressure from them. What must be stressed though is that this interpretation would partly reduce the protection of defenders who touch the ball with their hand without intention. Those teams who are suffering from a "careless" handball would profit by this interpretation. This would be the price you have to pay for more uniformity and consistency.

Our proposal verbatim:

"Punishable handballs
A player is guilty of punishable handball if he handles the ball ...
- ... in an intentional manner, indicated by his hand moving towards the ball (and not the ball towards the hand) or
- ... in a careless manner, indicated by having enlarged his body's hit surface by stretching out his arm or hand.

Disciplinary sanctions
Players who are guilty of intentional handballs must be cautioned, if ...
- ... they prevent an opponent from gaining possession of the ball or if ...
- ... they attempt to score a goal.

Players who are guilty of careless handballs are not cautioned.
However, a player has to be sent off if he prevents a goal or obvious goal-scoring opportunity by handling the ball, no matter whether in an intentional or careless manner.

Restart of play
- Direct free kick from the position where the offence occurred or penalty kick.

For goalkeepers, who are handling the ball outside the box, the same restrictions apply."

Finally a repeated appeal to the associations giving instructions to the referees: Damn it, make it finally clearer!


  1. Thumbs up! Keep the good work, boys!

  2. Anonymous2/9/13 22:40

    U-17 World Cup:

    Marco Rodriguez, Martin Vazquez, Juan Soto, Heber Lopes

  3. Niclas, I hope that IFAB is going to read this post, drawing conclusions.

  4. Anonymous3/9/13 01:10

    UEFA have it's own policy regarding handball situations communicated to the ELITE group, which basically means that the distance between hand and ball-paragraph stands above all the other parts of the rule. For example - if you remember Galatasaray-Schalke last season, Jonas Eriksson had two handball situations... Experts said that he missed two clear penaltys, but both situations with the no handball-decisions was evaluated as correct by the observer and the committee.

    A change in LoTG would maybe make it easier for the referees and the outsiders (media, supporters etc) but then again - I know I don't want a game where players aim at their opponents arms when they are going to play the ball in their opponents box just to win a penalty instead of trying to make a beautiful pass and find a creative solution, so I share your view. My only solution - educate football!!!! Get the coaches, the supporters, the players, media, to learn the rule and understand it's complexity. Of course, since no situation is exactly like another one, we will always have discussions, but today, those discussions are way too idiotic and on a level that is way to low, mostly because the players, coaches and especially the "experts" don't know a fucking shit about the LotG, which is even worse on the grassroot level that you are referring to. Educate football!

    /Webbs hairy chest

    1. I completely agree. That's what I demanded in May in another post on that and what I touched on yesterday, too. If you have a charismatic and popular person like Collina in your rows, why don't you use the chance to invest more into education? The technical opportunities are extremely huge and offer a lot of room how exactly that could look like.

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