Soccer Handball Rule Explained

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Handball Rule in Soccer

The soccer handball rule explained: What is the new soccer handball rule change for 2020? The handball rule in soccer / football is often hard to understand. It seems like a rule that is more up to what the referee thinks on that day rather than based on a set of rules. And now, with VAR, the game is stopped and the referee will look at the video and still not make a decision that’s consistent with a set of soccer rules. The key rule is this, with deliberate being the crucial part: A handball occurs if any player, besides the goalkeeper in his penalty area, deliberately handles the soccer ball when in play.

There’s too much of a gray area in terms of what is and what’s not a handball in the goal box. Now you’ll often see defender trying to defend a cross or someone in the goal box with their hands clasped behind their backs – which is not the way to play defense but helps in not having the ball hit your arm.

Soccer’s governing body, FIFA, made a change to the handball rule in 2019. The biggest questions with a handball in soccer is whether the free kick awarded is direct or indirect when there’s a handball or whether the handball was unintentional or intentional in penalty box. What is the difference between deliberate handball and ball to hand? An explanation of the handball rule (Law 12.1 Handling the Ball) in association football/soccer.

Summary: The IFAB Laws of the Game defines handball as “the deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm”. The goalkeeper is exempt from this rule inside their penalty area, but has the same restrictions as any other player outside their box. A ball off the shoulder is not handball.

The following must be considered:

1. The MOVEMENT of the hand towards the ball
2. The distance or PROXIMITY between the opponent and the ball
3. The INITIAL POSITION of the arm

Excellent video explaining what a handball is by a former English Premier League referee. Former Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg explains one of the most controversial subjects in soccer, what is a handball?

Former English Premier League referee Peter Walton joins ESPN FC to talk the early impact of the new handball and goalkeeping laws in matches since their implementation on June 1, and if these laws have made calling handballs and goalkeeper penalty infractions any clearer.


From the English Premier League rule book on how a handball is called by a referee:

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has updated the Laws of the Game for the 2019/20 season.

Any goal scored or created with the use of the hand or arm will be disallowed this season even if it is accidental.
The handball rule now has extra clarity because it does not consider intent by a player.
Another big change is to do with the position of a player’s hand/arm.
If the ball hits a player who has made their body “unnaturally bigger” then a foul will be awarded.
IFAB says that having the hand/arm above shoulder height is rarely a “natural” position and a player is “taking a risk” by having the hand/arm in that position, including when sliding.
It is, however, considered natural for a player to put their arm between their body and the ground for support when falling, so long as the arm is not extended to make the body bigger.

Premier League players will be allowed extra leeway when it comes to ricocheted handballs.
It is often impossible to avoid contact with the ball if it has deflected off the body of an opponent, team-mate, or even another part of the own player.
So a handball will not be awarded if the ball touches a player’s hand/arm directly from their own head/body/foot or the head/body/foot of another player who is close/nearby.

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