The International Football Association Board (The IFAB) has announced key clarifications to the handball law, which will come into force from July 1.
Players will no longer be penalised if an accidental handball leads to a teammate scoring a goal or having a goal-scoring opportunity. Fulham thought they had equalised against Tottenham in the Premier League on Thursday night, but Josh Maja’s goal was disallowed for a handball in the build-up by Mario Lemina. The goal would not be ruled out next season.
The changes were proposed at the IFAB’s technical advisory panels in December and are not a direct result of any one incident.
The IFAB also moved to clarify the interpretation of defensive handball, underlining that handball should only be considered if the position of their arm is not a consequence of 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.
Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of the FIFA referees committee, admitted that the lawmakers had “gone too far” in disallowing goals when the ball had been accidentally handled by a teammate before a goal was scored.
“This was a change that responds to the spirit of football,” Collina said.
Handball is always going to be a journey to an ideal but we’ll never get there because it’s a subjective area. And we have to accept that. That is why applying the spirit is the most important aspect of the law.” — David Elleray, The IFAB Technical Director.
David Elleray, the IFAB Technical Director, explained the reasons for changing the defensive handball law.
“Handball will always be a problem in the sense it will always be a subjective judgement,” Elleray said. “And unless we went to the extreme of the hockey foot rule, where any time the ball hits the foot it’s an offence, that is the only way we can stop perceived inconsistencies.
“So handball is always going to be a journey to an ideal but we’ll never get there because it’s a subjective area. And we have to accept that. That is why applying the spirit is the most important aspect of the law.”
Collina added: “What we tried to do in 2019 was to reflect into the Laws of the Game all the criteria the referees were already given. This was interpreted too strictly. The decision was made today, in terms of wording and not sense of handling the ball, to make the law more understandable by the football community, to allow the referee to make the final decision based upon the assessment of the incident itself.
“People have said that the current wording is far too rigid and inflexible. what we’re basically doing is reflecting in the wording exactly what football commentators and football people say, which is referees must continue to take account of the player’s arm position relative to what that player is doing and how that player is moving for that particular moment in the game. That is the over-riding principle.”
Arsene Wenger also made a presentation to the IFAB Board proposing a change to the offside law, which would mean a player would be onside if any part of their body was level with the second-last defender. However, at present there are no confirmed plans to push ahead with this change, and it would require extensive trials before entering the Laws.
“We will test a potential change to the offside law, an offside law which has only changed twice,” FIFA president Gianni Infantino said. “Our aim as IFAB is always to see if we can make football more attractive, without changing the nature off football. With the change in the speed of the game, especially VAR which makes it clear when there is an offside and when there is not, we have been saying that maybe, maybe we could think about a law which allows a bit more attack in football.
“Arsene Wenger presented to us today as well, what this could look like. In summary, it is if the attacking player is ahead of the second-last defender but still with one part of the body that can score still in line. So giving the attacking player a bit more room. Obviously, such a change will need to be tested. We have to see what kind of impact this would have on the game: if positive, if negative. But we are always here to be open to ideas and if we can make football even more attacking we’ll certainly look at that.
“To say it will happen in a few years from now? Well we will see.”
Elleray added: “It’s not a preferred solution, it’s a possible solution. Timelines are impossible to give especially given the pandemic. But it’s an interesting idea which will be looked at carefully.”
The IFAB confirmed that trials of Artificial Intelligence-driven semi-automated VAR offside technology, aimed at speeding up the VAR process and making it more accurate, were successful at the Club World Cup in February, and the plan remains to implement it at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
VAR-lite was also approved, which will enable more leagues with limited budgets to use the technology at a much lower cost. The representatives of the Welsh and Northern Ireland associations said they would look to implement this as soon as possible.