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Question Number: 33837

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 1/13/2020

RE: Youth to adult, comp and rec.

Barry Stewart of Chilliwack, BC Canada asks...

This question is a follow up to question 33834

I'd love to see what VAR would think of this scenario:

Attacker 'A' is in front of the goal, facing outward. Defender is right behind him as a cross comes in, chest high.

Attacker 'A' is going to leave the ball for a teammate 'B' who is ready to head it home.

Just as the ball arrives, the defender lightly (but tactically) bumps 'A' from behind, causing A's arm to contact the ball. The ball still continues on to 'B' and is headed into the net.

In many cases, the bump from behind would be seen as trifling - though it clearly was the cause of the accidental handling.


Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Barry,
The VAR would likely act only on something that was painfully OBVIOUS. I have seen a player grab the arm of an opponent then punch themselves by pulling on his arm!!!! I have called the interlock of linked elbows as a pulling (holding foul )

If it was OBVIOUS the bumping motion by the defender caused the secondary contact thus CREATED the situation where a goal can not be awarded due to the DFK offence of an accidental handling. God I hate saying that, it is so against the Spirit of the LOTG as a mickey mouse way to be sure an unintended goal is not awarded due to maleficence! You could call for the PK as a push but one other way might be if he say only swung the arm of the player you could stretch it into misconduct & give it credence by cautioning the defender and awarding an INDFK for USB. That is plausibly defensible albeit harsh but perhaps better then denying the goal and awarding a DFK out!

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Barry,
I don't think it matters if the VAR or the referee spots this.
As you know, any accidental handling causing a goal is a foul. So, that's black and white - you can't have a goal. Even if you decide the push by the defender is a foul, you can't score by committing a foul of your own.
So, we have a foul by the attacking team. We simply need to decide if the push was a foul or not.
My opinion? Don't overthink it. It's a messy scenario where no matter what you do, one team is unhappy - and the nuances of the law here are going to be beyond the knowledge of pretty much everybody at the field except for the match officials.
Don't get caught up in the 'oh, but he only handled it because of the push, but it's not a foul, but then that's not fair, so how can I manipulate the law to make it fair....'. It's not the referee's job to 'fix' everything.
Sure, understanding fairness is a key skill for the referee - but don't get trapped into trying to find the perfect solution when there is none.
Did the defender commit a foul? If so, penalty. If not, free kick for the defence.

It may seem unfair that the handling only occurs from the push - but if it's not a foul, what's the big deal? Is it any different to the attacker's arms coming up in balance/reflex from any other non-foul contact?

I know there's the sense that it's in the back, and sure, there are times when you may even want to lower your threshold for a foul because of the situation - but this can be a trap.

Look at it this way - if there was no handling (thus no goal), then nobody would really be talking about it - there'd be an appeal, and move on. And you wouldn't be worrying about it. Does the handling really change that?

I'm not necessarily saying don't lower your threshold - after all, a deliberate bump from behind has had an impact on the game. It fits the definition for a foul, it's just well under the bar for what else you've called a foul. Whether you're comfortable with an inconsistent decision for a small, deliberate bump that would be inconsequential anywhere else is up to you.

If you do give the penalty, you're going to hear shouts for a penalty for every tiny bit of contact in the back - and you may well end up giving another four penalties that match because you'll now need to change your foul standard.

If you don't, then you're going to see constant minor pushes in the back and comments of 'pushes in the back are allowed now lads!'.

So, don't base your decision on what makes your game easier. This scenario has no perfect answer.
I'd also say that even if you're in favour of changing your standard for a foul from behind for this - there's always going to be some level of contact which can lead to the handling that you know you just can't justify penalising.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Barry,
I'm not sure this is really something that only applies to a game using VAR. For me the issue is simply whether in law, the push on the attacker should be penalised or not. First off, I think it's absolutely the core of the referee's role to ensure that sporting justice and the spirit of fair play is upheld.

Since I believe that for something to be an offence, it at least has to be something caused by the player, and the handling was in the end, caused by the deliberate and illegal actions of an opponent, I don't see that in a spirit of fairness and justice, it should be penalised. So for me, even if the push was relatively minor, I think the best way to deliver overall justice is that the push by the defender should be punished by giving a penalty kick.

I think it also serves to shine a spotlight on the fundamentally flawed nature of a handling law that seeks to punish a player for something that is totally accidental. The IFAB says that this is what football wants but I'm not convinced. There have been a couple of instances of accidental handling recently that have led to goals being disallowed. For several of them, especially the one involving Declan Rice of West Ham, I have not heard a single player, manager, pundit, commentator or ex-player who thinks what football wants is for such goals to be ruled out. Even on refereeing forums, most people seemed to think this goal should have stood.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Barry
The answer depends on the referees opinion of the *bump*.
If referees had a dollar for every time they heard *In the back ref* without calling an offence they would have a tidy sum of money.
So not all contact is a foul. I watched recently in the Premier League such a situation without the subsequent handling. To me it looked like an obvious push on the back of the attacker by a defender yet the referee did not give it nor did VAR on review. Did the referee feel it was trifling and the fall exaggerated? Did VAR opine that it was not a clear and obvious error to not call it as a penalty? Maybe on review with play continuing and having to call the handling VAR might in fairness bring the push to referees attention?
So for me it is either an offence by the defender or if not it is handling by the attacker.
Without VAR a referee might not see both situations and allow play to continue.

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