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:
- 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
- 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.