The Foul of Handling

(Photo credit: Newscom via

At the October meeting of the SRANJ, Alan Brown, NJ State Director of Assessment, provided a clinic on handling, or “hand balls”. He described the wording in Law 12 and then the guidance for how referees should apply it. He stated that referees must first determine whether handling has occurred, then, if it did, where it occurred (for the restart) and whether misconduct was involved. He used video clips to make the following points:

  • Unless a player has placed arms to make him or herself bigger, “bang-bang” contact (short-range) with the arms likely is not handling.
  • Reflexive protection at short-range, as opposed to batting the ball away, likely is not handling.
  • Referees must look for more subtle, planned movements by players that are handling.
  • Referees must consider the location on the field and the tactical development when determining misconduct.
  • Defenders that disrupt promising attacks should be cautioned.
  • Attackers that attempt to deceive the referee should be cautioned.
  • A send-off for Denying and Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity by Handling (DOGSO-H) should be administered if the handling prevented a goal.

It was not surprising that in a room full of referees with a variety of experience levels, there was disagreement from some about interpretations. My observation was that the old adage of “if you never call ‘hand ball’ you will be correct 90 percent of the time” is probably true. We should resist the urge to cave in to the calls from players, coaches, and parents for the “obvious” (but incorrect) ball to hand situations.I have found that after the second or third time I state “ball to hand” most everyone stops appealing and goes about playing/enjoying the match (if only because at that point they are convinced I am clueless!).

At higher levels (which unfortunately seem to be younger each year), we need to watch for more sophisticated cheating that most on the pitch would not see.

Here are some supporting references:

From Law 12:

A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following three offenses:

  • holds an opponent
  • spits at an opponent
  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

From FIFA website:

Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm.
The referee shall take the following into consideration:
  • the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  • the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  • position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement
  • touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard etc.) counts as an infringement
  • hitting the ball with a thrown object (a boot, shinguard etc.) counts as an infringement
Disciplinary sanctions: there are circumstances when a caution for unsporting behavior is required when a player deliberately handles the ball, e.g. when a player:
  • deliberately and blatantly handles the ball to prevent an opponent gaining possession
  • attempts to score a goal by deliberately handling the ball
A player is sent off, however, if he prevents a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball. This punishment arises not from the act of the player deliberately handling the ball but from the unacceptable and unfair intervention that prevented a goal being scored
Four examples:
  1. attacker or defender handles the ball to gain control: foul, no misconduct
  2. defender handles the ball to break up attacking play: foul, misconduct (caution for unsporting behavior)
  3. attacker handles the ball in an attempt to score a goal: foul, misconduct (caution for unsporting behavior)
  4. defender handles the ball to prevent a goal: foul, misconduct (send off for preventing the goal)
in all cases, direct free kick restart if outside own penalty area, penalty kick if inside

From USSF Advice to Referees:

The offense known as “handling the ball” involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player’s hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). “Deliberate contact” means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player’s arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes the Law regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words “touch,” “play,” and “make contact with” mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate.

The rule of thumb for referees is that it is handling if the player plays the ball, but not handling if the ball plays the player. The referee should punish only deliberate handling of the ball, meaning only those actions when the player (and not the goalkeeper within the ‘keeper’s own penalty area) strikes or propels the ball with the hand or arm (shoulder to tip of fingers).

For purposes of determining deliberate handling of the ball, the “hand” is considered to be any part of the arm-hand from fingertip to shoulder. Using the top of the shoulder is not considered as using the hand. (A diagram showing the area of “the hand” is shown below.)


About Dan Paolini

Soccer & Futsal Referee Assignor

Posted on October 26, 2013, in Advice Posts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: