Hanging Judge | Battling to make head or tail of new handball law

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The new handball law is causing havoc. I’m at a loss as to where to start on the topic.

In the past, it was quite simple, but the International Football Association Board (Ifab) has managed to make a complete mess of the law.


The previous law read: “Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.

“The following must be considered: the movement of the hand towards the ball, not the ball towards the hand.”

For the purposes of determining handball offences, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.
New Law

There were a few add-ons, but, essentially, it was the movement of the hand towards the ball, not the ball towards the hand.


Today, the law says: “The boundary between the shoulder and the arm is defined as the bottom of the armpit.

“Accidental handball by an attacking player (or team-mate) is only penalised if it occurs immediately before a goal or clear goal-scoring opportunity.

“For the purposes of determining handball offences, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.”

Ifab also says that if a player scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, it is an offence.

It’s also an offence if a player touches, even accidentally, the ball with their hand or arm.

That’s why there is so much controversy around accidental touching.

And how about this? It’s also an offence if a player tries to “make his/her body unnaturally bigger”.

But “it is not an offence if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm:

. Directly from the player’s own head or body (including the foot);

. Directly from the head or body, including the foot, of another player who is close by;

. If the hand/arm is close to the body and does not make the body unnaturally bigger; and

. When a player falls and the hand/arm is between the body and the ground to support the body, but not extended laterally or vertically away from the body.”

The phrasing is difficult enough to understand for the initiated, but for the ordinary fan or supporter, it must be terribly frustrating, even baffling.

I have to confess, I’m struggling to comprehend it myself.

One has to ask why Ifab went to such lengths to change the law when it was straightforward to begin with.

Football is a simple game; let’s keep it simple.
A former England manager

I’m seeing players being penalised even though they have made every effort to get their hand out of the way.

I saw one player being penalised even though his hand/arm was behind his back. How can that be a hand ball?

I have great sympathy for my active colleagues trying to make head or tail of the new handball law.

Ifab is made up of eight members of Fifa, four of which are from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the other four from the wider Fifa family.

For a law change to come into being, it has to have the support of six of the eight members.

Interestingly, the technical director of the board is former English Premier League referee David Elleray.

I’ll let you make up your own mind on this, and I’d love to hear your comments.

A former England manager once said: “Football is a simple game; let’s keep it simple.”

Stay safe, stay well and keep your distance during this pandemic. Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

Happy whistling! 

Follow me on Twitter @dr_errol


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