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Handball – The Laws of the Game 2020/21

The handball is discussed throughout. It is always a question of when a handball is really a handball. What is allowed? What is prohibited?

At this point, we would like to discuss the textual amendments to clarify the handball law in the Laws of the Game 2020/21 in a more understandable way.

For the purposes of determining handball offences, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.”

For the first time the range of the handball was defined. More precisely, to where the football term “arm” reaches: to the height of the armpit. Everything above it is part of the shoulder. This clarification does not make handball a black-and-white decision, but it does limit the scope for interpretation. Before that there were discussions whether the shoulder belongs to the arm in the football sense and up to where this shoulder reaches.

after the ball has touched their or a team-mate’s hand/arm, even if accidental, immediately

It was also clarified that a goal only has to be disallowed if the handball (whether accidental or not) was committed immediately before the goal was scored. So it is not about the whole APP, but the immediacy is valid.

A few short thoughts about handball I have written down here recently.

The evolution of the handball

The field players’ handball was not always forbidden

The handball in football is a subject that has been evaluated very differently and is one of the two distinct differences to rugby. In early football there were still mixed variants, even in the FA Rules. The Fair Catch, the direct catch of the ball from the air, was also common in association football until 1871. This was linked to the free kick, which was an award for the Fair Catch. It is only since 1874 that a free kick is imposed as a penalty against a team that has violated the rules. Previously, there was only the means of caution and sending-off.

And the means of the Fair Catch was quite welcome. Because after the decision was made at the Annual General Meeting to ban the Fair Catch, there were alternative proposals. For example, Barnes FC wanted to add that a ball could be caught during the first bounce. And Clapham Rovers suggested that at least the defenders should be allowed to use the Fair Catch and then restart the game with a drop kick. Both proposals were not submitted to the Annual General Meeting and therefore never implemented.

As already written: It was never discussed at the Annual General Meeting what belongs to the arm in the football sense. However, it was discussed how to deal with scoring a goal that was preceded by a handball. It was shortly after the Sheffield FA had adopted the (London) FA Rules. In 1878 the proposal of the Old Harrovians and Finchley was accepted:

“If the handball happens near the own goal (no goalkeeper handball) and the referee considers the the ball would otherwise have went into the goal, a goal is obtained.”

In 1882, at the suggestion of the Sheffield FA, it was clarified that “near the goal” could be a maximum of 2 yards. This is a parallel to today, where the immediacy to the goal was added later. Even if here also with the help of the distance and not the time component as from 2020/21.

Only handball which is …. committed, is forbidden.

  • 1897: “wilfully”
  • 1898-1995: „intentionally“
  • since 1995: „deliberately“

Since 2014, attempts have been made to better formulate the handball law in order to clarify more clearly the lines between what is permitted and what is an offence.