The handball rule is obsolete -

The handball rule is obsolete


While I continue to abhor diving in soccer, I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that the handball is an infraction that is falling into desuetude. There have just been too many goals scored off handballs for it to be an accident or a matter of the game going too fast or referees being too inattentive. The closest analogue I can think of is the traveling rule in basketball. At a certain point, referees just stopped enforcing it except in the most blatant and egregious cases.

The same thing seems to have happend with the handball in soccer. As long as a plausible case can be made that it was incidental, everyone – the refs, the other team, the fans, the league, FIFA — is willing to look the other way and not make a fuss. And as in basketball, I suggest the rationale is the same: to enforce the letter of the rule gives too much of an advantage to the defence, and restricts the creativity of the offence.

Fabiano probably summed up the current mindset of the sport yesterday, when he admitted that he’d twice used his hands before scoring against Cote d’Ivoire:

Well that is true, it seems as though the ball hit my hand,” said Fabiano. “It seems the ball hit my hand and the second time it hit my shoulder.

“But in order to make the goal more beautiful, there had to be a doubtful element. It was a spectacular goal and I believe it was not a voluntary handball. It was a legitimate goal and it was one of the most beautiful goals that I’ve scored in my career. Where better to score such a goal than at the World Cup?”

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The handball rule is obsolete

  1. Since the rule says the hand ball must be "deliberate", I'm not quite sure what the point of this post is.

    Now, you could debate the merits of a rule that necessitates entering the mind of the player and assessing their intent (it's a terrible rule), but if you're going to criticize the enforcement of a rule, maybe you should first take some time to learn what the rule actually is.

    Just a thought.

    • I agree. But Potter's points still stands. The Laws provide a huge amount of leeway to the referee in interpreting "deliberate" which is a ridiculous way to write a rule. But, to agree with Potter, the referees seem to be taking the leeway provided and very generously interpreting "deliberate" to the benefit of the player handling the ball, especially when that player is an attacker.

      From the Laws of the Game, Interpretations appendix.

      Handling the ball
      Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with
      the ball with his hand or arm. The referee must take the following into
      • the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
      • the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
      • the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an
      • touching the ball with an object held in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.)
      counts as an infringement
      • hitting the ball with a thrown object (boot, shinguard, etc.) counts as an

  2. Clearly the primary point of the post, mclea (if that is indeed your real name) was to use the word "desuetude". And for a public intellectual like Mr. Potter, that is a full day's honest labour. I tip my hat to him.

    • It's a touch that adds a certain…authenticity.

      • Only authentic intellectuals with PhDs have any idea what that word means.

      • Badump Bump Chhhh!

  3. Desuetude – To allow a non-existent rule invented by the author to lapse because of the lack of enforcement of said non-existent rule.

    There you go law students. Just saved you $80,000.

  4. I just can't understand how in the face of all of this diving, petty squabbling (I'm talking to YOU, France), etc., that people can still call this "the beautiful game".

    There is just no honour in this sport. Never mind the diving, though that's egregious enough…I mean, there is a reason that they schedule the last 2 round robin matches in each pool simultaneously…so that the teams in the second game can't engineer the result they want. In what other sport would something like this even be required?

    • they schedule the last 2 round robin matches in each pool simultaneously…so that the teams in the second game can't engineer the result they want

      It's not engineering. It's simply making things fair. It's the same reason baseball teams have an advantage if they're the home team and they bat second (yes, baseball teams play differently in the bottom of the ninth if they're losing than if they're tied).

      If you're tied with a team, and you're the second team to play, then you have the advantage of knowing exactly what you need to do to advance, whether that is score lots of goals, or prevent goals, and so on. So of course you would play differently depending upon the result for the first team. It's not engineering at all.

      Suppose two teams A and B are tied in points in the standings. Team A wins 1-0 in their game against C. Team B is winning 1-0 against D. Team A has the better goal differential by one goal and would advance if team B wins 1-0.

      What kind of idiot team would you have to be for team B not to try everything they can to get another goal and win 2-0 to advance? And of course this is an advantage for team B to have the opportunity to do this! Because they're playing second they know they must get another goal!

      If the game times were reversed, and team B were winning 1-0, team B would play it safe and win 1-0, with the knowledge they've done enough to force team A to win their game. Team A would win 1-0 and advance.

      Playing second is a huge advantage!

      And you're really blowing things out of proportion with respect to your criticism of players and teams. One team is having a meltdown (France) and a couple of others are having squabbles. There's 32 teams! Compare that to the ridiculous shenanigans of Steven Avery in the NHL, Terrell Owens in the NFL, or the ridiculous number of players in the NBA who've been in trouble with the law. Soccer is no worse than any other sport.

      • That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about teams that deliberately stop scoring goals and refuse to even attempt to score another (best case), or even let in one or two, or in the most egregious cases throwing a match that is meaningless to them but not their opponents, in order to manipulate the teams that advance and the teams that get eliminated.

      • *Sean* Avery, perhaps?

        • Yes. Oops.

    • "In what other sport would something like this even be required?"

      Well, hockey. After the Swedish coach admitted throwing a game against Slovakia at the last Olympics to avoid facing Canada in the QF, the format was changed so that there could be no incentive to losing a game.

  5. I disagree with Andrew. Harry Kewell got a red card and was penalized with a penalty kick for hand ball.

    Hand balls are called all the time. The problem is that it's not always easy to see. It's not easy to see whether a hand or arm brushes the ball, or whether it remains inches away, especially when it happens very quickly. If the ref sees it, he calls it, unless of course he is playing advantage (ie the other team has possession and it's not in the penalty area). Fabiano got away with a couple, but take a look at the video from the middle of the field with no slow-motion replay and tell me you can see the handball.

    It was the same with the famous "hand of God" handball by Maradona. At normal speed it was very difficult to see. Most people didn't see it. It's only in slow-motion that it's obvious.

  6. I suspect that this post was motivated by the Argentina game where a player sort of guided the ball with his arm, which seemed to be against his side at the time. I didn't see his hand move toward the ball, but he did seem to use the point of contact between his arm and his body to control the ball. NOT, in my opinion, the most egregious hand ball I've seen.

    Refs make a distinction between "ball to hand" and "hand to ball" to determine whether "hand ball" should be called, even if they DO see it. If a players arm and hand is by his side, and a nearby opposing player kicks the ball AT the player, it's ball to hand, unless the defending player makes a really obvious move to control the ball even if his hand is at his side. Hand to ball is the obvious thing; the defending player moves his hand or arm to intercept the ball. Fabiano's first touch was (sort of) incidental to him trying to bring the ball down in mid-leap, where one's hands are often extended upwards to gain height; his second touch seemed more deliberate.

    • Yes, Fabiano's second touch should have been called, but it as very difficult to see.

      In today's US-Algeria match, Beasley was given a yellow card for the same type of handball (ie using an arm to guide the ball before or after it hits the chest). That time it was more obvious and the ref gave him a yellow card for what was obviously an intentional handball.

  7. Maradona's hand-ball was named "The hand of God", Thierry Henry's hand-ball was named "The hand of Gaul", and poor Peter Green's mishandling of a shot (which led to a USA goal) was named, by a British tabloid, "The hand of clod"!

  8. The handballs don't bother me as much as the diving and the excessive carding.

    Regarding the diving, it's come to a point where, whenever some contact is made on a play, the player with a ball goes down — especially if he has little chance of advancing with the ball. So, why not try for the flop and advance that way? However, in one of today's games, a finally saw a referee who ignored many of these flops, and it was a game with good flow and pace. I think it was Uruguay vs. Mexico.

    Regarding the excessive carding, I think two sides are to blame. On the one hand, there is a culture in soccer where rough play is tolerated, even encouraged, if the outcome desired is achieved — stopping a goal being the most prominent. So, this establishes a motivation for the leagues to crack down hard, which then gets us into the yellow and red cards for even the slightest infractions. In soccer, especially at this level, you have to play hard, which means you have to tackle hard, etc.

    So, maybe involve video review. That might achieve the balance that I think is so greatly needed. And get some referees who don't fall for every single flopping/cheating player in the game. It's a pathetic commentary on the game, imo.

    Video review might also help in dealing with the handball goals, too.

    In fact, I'd love to see video officials have complete power to veto any made or missed calls on the pitch. Or maybe utilize a second or third referee like they do in hockey and basketball respectively. Just my two cents.

  9. One of beauties of soccer is also its wart…. the rules of the game allowed for a fair bit of local interpretation. I once played on a team with representation from 5 continents. It truly is a beautiful game ( even if us Canadians were relegated to the fullback position…. thugs if necessary but not necessarily thugs.) I agree that the posturing and diving must be removed from soccer… but holy crap lets get it out of hockey first before we lecture the world.

    • I think it's crazy to suggest that hockey needs to get its act together before pointing fingers at soccer. There's cheating in every sport. Soccer takes it to a new level and then some. As I stated, players fall down on almost every play involving physical contact, then look up at the referee in expectation of a reward. It's sickening.

      What does it say about the "world's sport" when cowardly cheaters are constantly rewarded by those empowered to enforce the rules? I think it discredits the game, and reflects badly on everyone involved in it.