Grassroots Coaching

Does anyone know what is handball in the area anymore?

Is it? Isn’t it? The handball in the penalty area debates rages on. There has to be a clearer guidance and mandate from the FA and Referees association on what is or isn’t handball

So what is currently defined as ‘deliberate’ handball?

Does the following guidance from FIFA actually define to anyone what is deliberate handball?

In Fifa’s Laws of the Game 2005, Law 12 says a free-kick or penalty will be awarded if a player “handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area). Page 67 of the document gives additional information for referees, assistant referees and fourth officials. It adds: “Referees are reminded that deliberately handling the ball is normally punished only by a direct free-kick or penalty kick if the offence occurred inside the penalty area”.

So that’s  as clear as mud then!!!

Former Premier League referee David Elleray said the referee’s interpretation depends on whether the hand or arm is in an “unnatural” position at the point of contact”

Elleray told BBC Sport:“Referees look at two specifics – did the hand or arm go towards the ball or in a manner which would block the ball, or is the hand in a position where it would not normally be?” He adds: “The challenging decisions are if the defending player spreads their arms to make themselves bigger. “If the ball hits the arm then the referee must decide whether this action was to deliberately block the ball or whether the player has raised their arms to protect themselves – especially if the ball is hit at speed.”

The match officials have to consider these factors very quickly and make an instant decision. Some Managers, players and fans will be happy with the decision, an equal number will not!

So confusion and controversy reigns over what constitutes hand ball in the penalty area. This might be considered great for the media, who after all pay huge amounts of money to not only screen matches, but also need to feed the football public. But, surely it is time that there were some definitive rules from the football authorities on what is handball and therefore a penalty.

Whilst we appreciate everyone has opinions, these are ours on what should be the guidelines on what is and what isn’t handball in the penalty area – or elsewhere on the pitch for that matter!

These guidelines are based upon trying to simplify what or what isn’t handball in the penalty area and also with a view of trying to give the advantage to the attacking team, thus enabling more goals to be scored and excitement generated.

The guidelines would also enable coaches to work with defenders on defending so that they keep their hands inside their body – not always possible I appreciate, but at least the defenders will be crystal clear what the consequences will be if they don’t!

“Guidelines for punishable handballs”

  • In the penalty area – If the ball hits a players arm or  hand, when the players arms are outside of the players body and an advantage is gained from this situation- then it is a penalty. Outside of the penalty area, it is a direct free kick.
  • This applies regardless of whether the player meant to handle the ball, how close the player is to the ball  or the pace of the shot or pass.
  • If in the referees view the handball stops a clear goal, then the player should be sent off

We have put together a series of videos which hopefully explain what we mean.

Typical match situation – 1 v 1 in the penalty area. The attacker tries to flick the ball past the defender or cross the ball. The defenders arms are away from their body, the ball hits their arm, preventing the ball going into an attacking situation. Advantage gained by the defender – decision – PENALTY

Interestingly, most defenders in this situation tend to put their hands behind their back when defending! WHY?


Put aside the referee would hopefully have played an advantage in this situation as after hitting the defenders hand the ball rolled into a positive shooting situation. The defender has slid in, got beaten and their hand is away from their body. The ball hits their hand, an advantage is gained – decision – PENALTY.


Here we have put together two situations. The first, an attacker has a shot, the ball hits the defenders hands – either in front of their body or in this example as they turn their back on the shot. Crucially, the defenders body is directly behind their hands – so there is no advantage gained as the ball would have hit their body if their hands weren’t there. The defender has deliberately tried to keep their hands inside the line of their body so as not to make themselves bigger. No advantage gained – decision – NO PENALTY.

The second situation is the same scenario – attacker has a shot – but this time the defenders hands are away from their body – the ball hits their arm preventing it going towards the goal or into a dangerous situation – advantage gained – decision – PENALTY.


In this example, there are two possible scenarios, which often result in two different decisions!!

Scenario one – Imagine the player trying to control the ball is the defender. They are under pressure from the attacker behind them – probable decision under current rules – no penalty.

Or, scenario two – the player trying to control the ball is the attacker under pressure from the defender –  probable decision under current rules – free kick for hand ball!

But, taking the first scenario – the defenders hands are away from their body. The ball does hit their hand / arm. But there was body contact that unbalanced the player, thus causing their arm to go out to maintain balance. There is no advantage gained –  decision – NO PENALTY.


The following match situation is taken from Real Madrid – FC København. Taken from the refereeing blog – The 3rd Team – Blog About International Football Refereeing specialized in UEFA.

UEFA’s view and guideline for referees: The blue defender has his arms close to the body and strikes the ball with his hands from close distance. This cannot be considered as a deliberate act. The referee correctly allows play to continue.

Based upon our suggested guidelines: The blue defenders arm is away from their body – the ball hits their elbow preventing it going towards the goal, therefore advantage gained – decision – PENALTY. But, the GK is in a position to possibly save the shot, so the player should not be sent off, but given a yellow card

If the referee gives a penalty for hand ball, then they must also consider what if any disciplinary actions they have to apply. We suggest the following:

Disciplinary sanctions

Players who are guilty of handball in the penalty area must be cautioned (yellow card), if:

The offence prevents an opponent from gaining possession of the ball or if it prevents a potential scoring opportunity. Examples of this might include – a cross that is blocked by a hand ball: A shot, but the goalkeeper is in goal or defenders are behind the defender and could stop or save the ball. However, a player should be sent off if they prevent a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by handling the ball.

An example of this is the following video of the Louis Suarez Handball vs Ghana, in one of the most epic matches of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.


This represents a clear cut case of a handball situation where a player has prevented an obvious goal scoring opportunity by handling the ball and should be sent off

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