This week we are returning to the subject of handball and the criteria in law that referees have to consider when making handball decisions.

Law 12 states that:

It is an offence if a player:

  • deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, including moving the hand/arm towards the ball

It also states:

It is usually an offence if a player:

  • touches the ball with their hand/arm when:
  • the hand/arm had made their body unnaturally bigger
  • the hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level (unless the player deliberately plays the ball which then touches their hand/arm)

This week we are discussing two plays when referees gave penalties for handball offenses, in the games: Montreal Impact v Toronto FC and LA Galaxy v San Jose Earthquakes.

In the first play LA Galaxy v San Jose Earthquakes, when the ball is played into the Earthquakes penalty area, the ball bounces off the ground and hits the arm of defender Beason Tanner. It appears his arm is moving towards the ball. Referee Victor Rivas has no hesitation and confidently points to the penalty mark. However, this decision is not clear cut as when you look at the replay the arm does not actually move until after the ball hits the arm. It is also unclear exactly where the ball hits Tanner, arm or shoulder? The new laws of the game clarify:


  • the boundary between the shoulder and the arm is defined as the bottom of the armpit

 A few defenders question the referee’s decision, which Rivas manages well, and the penalty goes ahead without any further ado.

In my opinion the new clarification regarding the boundary between the shoulder and the arm is not particularly helpful to referees as it’s very difficult to determine the exact position of where the ball hits the arm/shoulder in real time, as this clip highlights. I am also sure that the movement of the arm towards the ball, albeit belated, influences the referee’s decision.

In the second play between Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, the ball is played into the path of Toronto’s Pablo Piatti deep inside the Montreal penalty area. He then moves towards goal, keeper Clement Diop makes a great sliding tackle on Piatti. The ball spins off him and hits the outstretched arm of Emanuel Maciel, who is falling to ground, poised to make a challenge. This is a great spot by referee Dave Gantar who has no hesitation in pointing to the penalty mark. He is then surrounded by numerous protesting Impact players. It’s interesting to observe that Emanuel Maciel doesn’t join them! Gantar remains calm and explains to the players why the PK was awarded. In the Technical Area, 4th Official Silviu Petrescu also explains the handball decision to Montreal Head Coach, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry.

As mentioned earlier the law states that if the hand/arm had made their body unnaturally bigger

and/or the hand/arm is above/beyond their shoulder level it is a handball offense.

In summary, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions there are very few occasions when players deliberately handle the ball in the true sense of the word and both of these plays fall into this category but in terms of the current law both of the decisions in awarding penalties for a handball offense was credible and expected.


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