During the past season or so I've noticed in most cases when the ball touches any part of a player's arm handball is given. Either the handball rule has changed or the introduction of VAR in top tier leagues has impacted what is being called a handball, as these calls almost always result in a couple of minute stoppage for VAR. When such fouls happen the commentators talk about "the new rule", which makes me think maybe the rule itself was modified. It's caused numerous goals being taken away and penalties awarded by VAR that would've been counted before this rule change.

Most of these handballs are accidental or the players simply didn't have enough time to react and get their arms out of the way. Not only having goals taken away or goals given (indirectly through penalties) have been impacting games, but sometimes rely on super slow motion shots to look for a handball that totally ignores the athletes' reaction time.

Yesterday, August 8th 2020, Juventus was given a penalty after the ball hit a Lyon defender on a wall in the arm while his arm is closed and pressed against his body. You can see the foul here.

And today, August 9th 2020, a Messi goal was taken back after VAR ruled it a handball. The ball made a slight touch to his arm after/while he controlled it with his chest. I wasn't able to see that in the usual slow motion speed. You can see this goal here.

And there was the infamous Lucas Moura handball. Tottenham Spurs Moura was fouled and as he fell a Sheffield United player kicked the ball at his arm, all while Moura is looking away during his fall. The referee plays advantage, Harry Kayne picks up the loose ball and scores with it. But VAR took the goal back cause Moura's arm made contact with the ball!

I understand by the letter of the law the ball touching an arm is handball, but I don't see how any of these 3 scenarios could be logically considered as a handball

So has the handball rule has been changed or these handball calls we now see are a byproduct of having video review? If the rule has changed, what was FIFA's reasoning behind it?

  • A previous conversation has been moved to chat. @alamoot for your notice.
    – Nij
    Aug 10, 2020 at 1:49
  • The Lyon defender deliberately moved his elbow out towards the ball. In slow motion we can see he did this after the ball hit him, but because of the speed it happened, the ref must have thought that the ball was deflected because of this deliberate action. This is a really, really great example of what might be a deliberate handball even if the sillouette is not made bigger.
    – dewd
    Aug 19, 2020 at 14:36
  • Harry Kane's goal was ruled out because of the new accidental handball rule. If Kane or any one of his team mates touched the ball immediately before scoring, it is an offence. It doesn't matter how accidental it is, the ball just has to make contact with the arm/hand. If Moura was fouled and advantage was played, the ref could have pulled play back to a free kick in favour of Moura.
    – dewd
    Aug 19, 2020 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


The International Football Association Board (IFAB), which is the body in charge of Laws of soccer, passed a set of rule changes on March 2019 for the 2019/20 season. Some of the main law changes were regarding free kicks, goal kicks, drop balls, and handballs.

So has the handball rule has been changed or these handball calls we now see are a byproduct of having video review?

In short, the rules have changes, and the reasoning behind is to "bring more clarity for handball".

The following are handball rule changes under Law 12:

  • Deliberate handball remains an offence

  • The following ‘handball’ situations, even if accidental, will be a free kick:

    • the ball goes into the goal after touching an attacking player’s hand/arm
    • a player gains control/possession of the ball after it has touches their hand/arm and then scores, or creates a goal-scoring opportunity
    • the ball touches a player’s hand/arm which has made their body unnaturally bigger
  • the ball touches a player’s hand/arm when it is above their shoulder (unless the player has deliberately played the ball which then touches their hand/arm)

  • The following will not usually be a free kick, unless they are one of the above situations:

    • 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/near
    • the ball touches a player’s hand/arm which is close to their body and has not made their body unnaturally bigger
    • if a player is falling and the ball touches their hand/arm when it is between their body and the ground to support the body (but not extended to make the body bigger)
    • If the goalkeeper attempts to ‘clear’ (release into play) a throw-in or deliberate kick from a team-mate but the ‘clearance’ fails, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball

So based on the above rules, an accidental handball not a handball, unless it results in a score or a scoring opportunity. So if the ball hits my arm outside of the box accidentally it's not a handball, but if I gain control of the ball, shoot and score, that handball must be ruled a foul. The way I read it, it means a non offencive handball becomes retrospectively a handball in this situation!

However, in April 2020, there was further amendments to handball law:

  • Handball:
    • the boundary between the shoulder and the arm is defined as the bottom of the armpit (see the diagram on p. 14)
    • ‘accidental’ handball by an attacking player (or team-mate) is only penalised if it occurs ‘immediately’ before a goal or clear goal-scoring opportunity

It is an offence if a player:

  • deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, including moving the hand/arm towards the ball
  • scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper

Clarification that:

  • if an attacking player accidentally touches the ball with their hand/arm and the ball then goes to another attacking player and the attacking team immediately scores, this is a handball offence;
  • it is not an offence if, after an accidental handball, the ball travels some distance (pass or dribble) and/or there are several passes before the goal or goal-scoring opportunity.

So it seems as of the latest updates, accidental handballs are an offense if they immediately result in a score, but if the ball travels some distance or there are number of passes it's not. The rule is still vague as to what distance the ball can travel, or ho many passes before an accidental handball results in a free kick.

If the rule has changed, what was FIFA's reasoning behind it?

IFAB has the following explanation for the rule changes of the 2019/20 season:

Greater clarity is needed for handball, especially on those occasions when ‘non-deliberate’ handball is an offence. The re-wording follows a number of principles:

  • football does not accept a goal being scored by a hand/arm (even if accidental)
  • football expects a player to be penalised for handball if they gain possession/control of the ball from their hand/arm and gain a major advantage e.g. score or create a goal-scoring opportunity
  • it is natural for a player to put their arm between their body and the ground for support when falling.
  • 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
  • if the ball comes off the player’s body, or off another player (of either team) who is close by, onto the hands/arms it is often impossible to avoid contact with the ball
  • When the GK clearly kicks or tries to kick the ball into play, this shows no intention to handle the ball so, if the ‘clearance’ attempt is unsuccessful, the goalkeeper can then handle the ball without committing an offence

The law changes don't mention VAR, but since goal are reviewed by VAR on top tier leagues, these new handball rules are applied with scrutiny.

  • The video you link as the Lucas Moura goal is handball - Lucas's arm is extended laterally from the body, not below it to prevent falling. It has made the body "unnaturally bigger" and is handball. It isn't magically becoming handball simply because his team scored a goal after it.
    – Nij
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:37
  • I completely disagree. I don't know about you, but if I got tripped up while running and was about to fall, I'd put one hand in front of me, not directly under me, to avoid landing on the ground with my face first. It's only natural to protect your head at all times.
    – alamoot
    Aug 11, 2020 at 19:42
  • Updated answer with the 2020 handball rule changes
    – alamoot
    Aug 11, 2020 at 20:13
  • The moment Moura's right elbow lands on the ground (the arm he leans on to fall and the same arm the ball is kicked to), his arm is making a 90 to 120 degree angle to the ground. how could he make a 90 degree ish angle and yet have his arm outstretched?? Let's just agree to disagree on this one. Anyway, I removed the Moura situation out of my answer, as I added the 2020 verbiage instead
    – alamoot
    Aug 11, 2020 at 20:51
  • 1
    You're right based on the new rules that's a handball, I just happen not to be a fan of the rule. Under the "2020 further amendments" in the answer here I mention that any handball that immediately results in a goal or a goals scoring situation is a handball. In the comment above I only argues that Moura didn't open up his body unnaturally, but as of April 2020 this is not related. It's a handball as of the new rule.
    – alamoot
    Aug 20, 2020 at 0:53

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