Soccer Referee Resources
Ask a Question
Recent Questions

Previous You-Call-It's

VAR (Video Assistant Referee)

Q&A Quick Search
The Field of Play
The Ball
The Players
The Players Equipment
The Referee
The Other Match Officials
The Duration of the Match
The Start and Restart of Play
The Ball In and Out of Play
Determining the Outcome of a Match
Fouls and Misconduct
Free Kicks
Penalty kick
Throw In
Goal Kick
Corner Kick

Common Sense
Kicks - Penalty Mark
The Technical Area
The Fourth Official
Attitude and Control
League Specific
High School

Common Acronyms
Meet The Ref
Contact AskTheRef
Help Wanted
About AskTheRef

Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

Panel Login

Question Number: 35426

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 4/2/2024

RE: Grassroots Other

Asaph Jagendorf of Arlington, MA US asks...

Hello Panel,

Grassroots referee here (town and club youth games). I understand that the IFAB stipulates that we not penalize defensive handballs if a player makes a deliberate play into his or her own hand. All the examples I have seen have featured defenders. But are we to penalize handball as a result of deliberate play by an attacker? I have seen attackers chest a long pass with subsequent contact with the arm. Is that handball? And what if an attacker heads the ball into his own arm in the box? Should I call handball immediately?

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Asaph
The great handling debate and probably at times the most difficult call for referees to make.

Let’s take the easy part first. A goal is NOT awarded if a player scores in the opponents’ goal directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental or immediately after the ball has touched their hand/arm, even if accidental.
That’s a straightforward decision punished by a direct free kick no matter if accidental or deliberate contact on the arm.

The rest of the time there is no difference between attackers or defenders except in my opinion referees are more likely to be have a higher threshold on say a handling penalty award than say a free kick elsewhere. It should not be the case yet it happens when there may be doubt if was deliberate or not and it can be a big decision in a game.

Now what you reference about a player playing the ball on to a hand or arm was the advice in 2019 / 20 and I quote
**The following will not usually be a free kick for handling
# 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)**

Now that was subsequently removed from the Law book the following year and replaced by a more general statement which is in the current LotG and I quote
**touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation. By having their hand/arm in such a position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalised**

In essence saying the same thing yet more general allowing perhaps greater discretion to referees in certain situations either way.

Now in the case of a player playing the ball on to their arm a referee has to now consider whether a player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation.
The 2019 examples would still be applicable in not calling handling. However US Soccer was coaching higher level referees before 2019 to be strict on slide challenges where trailing arms made contact on the ball on the ground. An arm breaking a fall can lead to a continuation of that arm redirecting the ball which is handling. It is a fine line to be considered.

So a player kicking /heading the ball on to their arm by a players side or perhaps chest high would not be seen as deliberate handling while kicking / heading the ball on to an arm high above their head runs the high risk of it being called as that arm position is most likely not justified as a body position relative to the players playing movement.

As to the use of an arm in chesting the ball that has to be considered now in the context of the revised advice that the shoulder area down to say the end of a short sleeve is no longer considered for handling. It would only be considered deliberate handling if the player has used an arm from below the shoulder area down to control the ball favourably down to the feet rather than away from the player if the arm is not used. It is not chest to arm yet both chest and lower arm together making the body bigger plus redirecting through the arm position. That is less of a upper chest use motion which is unlikely to be handling under the new advice.
It can be a difficult call at speed and a referee has to see the tell tale sign of lower arm movement to redirect the ball rather thsn use of the upper shoulder area which is not handling.

Read other questions answered by Referee Joe McHugh

View Referee Joe McHugh profile

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Asaph,
glad to have you as a colleague we hope your whistling days are fun & friendly not frenzied and frantic! lol

The LOTG were altered to take away ANY ambiguity, ANY perceived unfairness, ANY DOUBT, that an attacker MIGHT have stolen a goal by redirecting it into the goal of the opposition. No longer trusted, a blamed referee who unwisely or inadvertently had his or her ITOOTR (in the opinion of the referee) the gall to think the player had done nothing wrong cannot award a goal, even KNOWING it was accidental Sigh! .

They simply stated that ANY ball to arm or arm to ball contact that results in a DIRECT goal or an immediate goal scoring advantage is NOT counted! It renders the need for a decision by referee's opinion to decide if it was an accidental or deliberately as unnecessary.

I personally disliked the change removing opinion, because at times it is 1001% obvious there is NO DIFFRENCE between the ball deflecting off your face, your butt, your legs, in fact any of the body parts just as easily as the ball could strike the arm and be redirected over the goal line under the crossbar between the posts. Sigh!

So now on the redirect of a ball that contacts the arm of the player AFTER he has tried to kick it, head it or chest it away it can certainly be accidental! Those SHOULD NOT be called! However, it is much easier to not call it out in the FOP at midfield but when directly in front of goal, by a defender, the focus narrows as to his arm movement and body actions receiving a lot of critical attention, especially when it affects scoring or attacking options for the opposition.

A referee needs to recognize the reality that a deliberate handling may well be UNINTENTIONAL in the player is, NOT, trying to do so, BUT, by the choice of arm position MIGHT be called for deliberate handling given the LOTG last few years of advice on specifications & considerations for arms away from the body or in an unnatural position!

As a referee you must have the courage of conviction to state NO! NOTHING THERE ACCIDENTAL! KEEP GOING! when you are certain it is not a foul and are willing to stake your reputation on how you arrive at those decisions. Just as you need to recognize the impulse of a player to reach out or slap, is what it is and you make the call. If it is a foul and you wish to PLAY & SIGNAL ADVANTAGE remember if the advantage is realized you PLAY ON! It is why I do NOT say "Play On!" in cases of accidental ball /hand contact because it signifies a foul. It is important, in my personal opinion to make them aware you DID see the contact, you did not MISS the contact and are emphatic it was NOT a foul when it is ITOOTR accidental!
Cheers !

Read other questions answered by Referee Richard Dawson

View Referee Richard Dawson profile

Ask a Follow Up Question to Q# 35426
Read other Q & A regarding Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct

Soccer Referee Extras

Did you Ask the Ref? Find your answer here.

Enter Question Number

If you received a response regarding a submitted question enter your question number above to find the answer

Offside Question?

Offside Explained by Chuck Fleischer & Richard Dawson, Former & Current Editor of AskTheRef

This web site and the answers to these questions are not sanctioned by or affiliated with any governing body of soccer. The free opinions expressed on this site should not be considered official interpretations of the Laws of the Game and are merely opinions of AskTheRef and our panel members. If you need an official ruling you should contact your state or local representative through your club or league. On AskTheRef your questions are answered by a panel of licensed referees. See Meet The Ref for details about our panel members. While there is no charge for asking the questions, donation to maintain the site are welcomed! <>