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Question Number: 29679

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 9/10/2015

RE: Rec Under 18

Alex of Evansville, Wisconsin United States asks...

I'm a bit confused when watching girls soccer games at the youth level. Some referees say that they are allowed to protect their chests by putting up their arms as long as it stays next to themselves however other referees don't. I think that they shouldn't be able to because they are intentionally handling the ball even if just to protect themselves.

Answer provided by Referee Dennis Wickham

It is common to see players in the wall on a free kick put their arms in front of sensitive body parts. If they don't move the arm, most agree that any contact with the ball is incidental - even though the only reason the arm is there is to block the ball.

Similarly, players will react to a hard shot from a close distance by reflexively moving the arm for protection. This too can be viewed as 'not deliberate.'

Young women will do the same to protect their breasts. But, my experience is that as these players get older and more skilled, they learn two things: how to protect themselves without using their arms and how to disguise a deliberate control of the ball with the arms.

The wise referee will observe not only the initial contact - which often is incidental and not a foul - but what the player does next. If the player is attempting to control the ball after an initially incidental contact, that also is deliberate handling.

Note: high school (NFHS) rules are a bit different. If the arm moves (even for protection), it is considered to be deliberate handling.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Alex
The perennial question of deliberate handling.
Having watched the FIFA Womens World Cup most if not all of the referees, as one would expect, gave no concession to protection on deliberate handling and indeed some other handling calls I felt were harsh as they were not deliberate.
Now the confusion you mention arises because referees have differing opinions on what is deliberate or not. Some referees will treat raised arms for protection as not deliberate while others will. A referee can consider a player using raised arms as a deliberate action in the act of charging down the ball and some times that is what it is. Other times it can just be an instinctive natural reaction to a ball played from close range.
The reaction can be a fear of the ball and my experience of the womens game is that many inexperienced player have an innate fear of the ball and react protectively to any ball that is played towards them at pace. The astute referee has to discern between the fear reaction with the natural protect reaction and the deliberate charge down using the arms to assist in that.
I recall a few seasons ago in a women's game when a substitute came on for the last few minutes. The ball was played into the penalty area and the substitute instead of heading the ball reacted in what could only be described as utter fear of the ball resulting in her last second raising of the arms to prevent the ball hitting her. Despite calls for a penalty my decision was to play on as the contact on the arm was not deliberate in the sense of handling.

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Answer provided by Referee Gary Voshol

In a wall, players are allowed to protect their sensitive parts, as long as they position the arms there before the kick is taken and don't move them.

In dynamic play, I like to say that no one is allowed to PLAN to play the ball with their hands/arms. Reflexively moving to protect oneself from a suddenly appearing hard shot is OK. (But remember, I as referee get to decide what is a 'hard shot'.) Camping out under a high lob and putting ones arms up is not OK. If you have time to think of a better way to play the ball or time to duck out of the way, you can't handle the ball.

That said, the higher the level of play, the less likely that any contact is accidental or a gut reaction. This is likely the reason that most any contact was judged handling in the WWC, as Ref McHugh notes.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Alex,
Your confusion is understandable, however, the protection of the breast area for young ladies is a given in at the youth level, it will not draw undue attention as a deliberate foul simply because being scared of being in pain is prevalent among the youth players and is a more instinctive and reactive action to danger then it is to deliberately playing the ball.

However, it is a very deliberate move to cross the arms over the breasts in preparation for the ball's arrival.
They will eventually start running towards the ball rather than wait for it to hit or they place elbows together to make a platform to redirect the ball off a hard surface. These are fouls, because under the guise of protection, they are LEARNING to control the outcome. If you watch the college or pro level or world cup, women DO NOT play the ball with crossed arms on chest except maybe in a wall on a free kick dead ball hit. Keep in mind the age and skill level and think on perhaps warning or even showing them the difference, particularly at the recreational level of football or mini sided matches. We are not coaches, but in the beginning we are ALL teachers.

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