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The Law of Handball: Deliberate or Always?

1.66K   //    19 Mar 2013, 15:22 IST

According to the Official Laws of the Game, handball is only an offence if deliberate. FIFA give the example of when a player ‘deliberately handles the ball to prevent an opponent gaining an advantage.’ This, and the player controlling the ball for his own advantage, are the two most common occurrences of infringement.

The key word here is deliberate. The player has to deliberately handle to ball to prevent the opponent gaining advantage. Not accidentally. Even if he accidentally prevents the opponent from getting an advantage, it isn’t a foul according to the Laws. This is where the problem is being created. A lot of interpretations, both from referees and amongst commentators and pundits, ignore the word deliberate.


If you remove deliberate, handball becomes an offence ‘if the player handles the ball preventing an opponent from gaining an advantage’. This is how the law is being implemented by and large at the moment, and this is what is causing so much confusion. Some referees are sticking steadfast to the deliberate clause, and some aren’t. It’s likewise for pundits. The big problem with the ‘deliberate’ clause is that judging it is an objective task for the referee.

A player could accidentally handle it with his arms in a dodgy position and they could equally deliberately sneak a handball in with their arms seemingly out of the way. We are often told to look for arms moving towards the ball as an indicator of a deliberate act but sometimes momentum can dictate that they do. This is a problem that regularly crops up and leads to referees also taking things like territorial considerations in to account. Sometimes, if a player handles the ball in and around the box, perhaps blocking a cross or through ball, it is presumed to be deliberate. A similar incident in a harmless area of the field often goes unpenalised.

The final consideration in this mix is that handball seems to be given almost exclusively against defending players. Surely, it isn’t only defenders who are gaining an advantage from handling it?

This weekend’s games saw 3 accidental handballs punished in the Sunderland-Norwich game and one flagrantly deliberate one unpunished at Wigan. Added to that, all 3 accidental ones were by players defending and the deliberate one by a player attacking. Even on top of that, the 3 accidental handballs were all in or near the penalty area. Here is the crib sheet:

Mark Bunn – the Norwich keeper was racing out of his box with his arms by his side when Danny Graham poked the ball at him from about a yard away. Almost impossible to say it was deliberate but he did stop an opponent gaining an advantage. Red card.

Sebastien Bassong – a ball floated in to the box which the Norwich defender chested down, as it bounced up it brushed his arm which was out by his side to balance him as he stooped to chest the ball. He didn’t gain any advantage as he had already cut the ball out and could have no possible motivation to handle it. He didn’t even commit the sin of moving his hand towards the ball. Penalty.

Danny Rose – a cross is smashed at him from no more than 3 yards, Rose jumps straight up, facing the ball, with his arms clamped to his side. The ball brushed his hand. Not deliberate but in stopping the cross he gained advantage. Free kick despite ‘offence’ taking place in the box.


Maynor Figueroa – From a Wigan attacking corner Figueroa is the man at the near post. He jumps up with his arms extended above his head in an unnatural position. He punches the ball on which causes chaos in the Newcastle defence and Wigan score a winning goal, he clearly gained advantage from his action. No foul given.

Only the Figueora one wasn’t given, but it was the only one that should have been.

FIFA need to make a decision which path they want to go down. They either have to insist that handball is only ever given when demonstrably deliberate, which also then needs a rewording in the laws. Or, they drop the deliberate clause from the rule and just automatically give handball if it prevents the opponent from gaining advantage. Either way, it needs to be cleared up once and for all.

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