Football’s handball law set to be clarified by IFAB next year

Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
·3-min read

The handball law is set to be further clarified early next year but former top-flight referee David Elleray says much of the controversy around it has been the result of incorrect decisions rather than the law itself.

There have been some highly contentious decisions this season, and the game’s law-making body the International Football Association Board will consider approving changes to the wording when it gathers for its annual general meeting in March.

It is expected there will be a re-emphasis on referees taking into account whether the player’s body is in a position which can be justified by their body movement at the point of play where the ball strikes the hand or arm.

IFAB technical director David Elleray says a number of incorrect handball have been made
IFAB technical director David Elleray says a number of incorrect handball decisions have been made (Haydn West/PA)

Elleray, who is IFAB’s technical director, said the organisation would also “reflect” on whether to make changes to attacking handballs. Currently even unintentional handballs must be penalised in the immediate build-up to a goal.

He said: “There is an acceptance that there has been some confusion. It is also quite clear there have been some high-profile incorrect decisions which have wrongly been portrayed as the law being wrong, when in fact it is just the referee or the VAR getting it wrong.

“What we were asked to do in 2019 was not change handball but actually give more instructions to referees and more detail in the law, and what football believes is that some referees have taken that too literally and have lost the spirit of handball, which is where there has always been an acceptance that players move their arms as part of their body movement.

“The challenge is that some people want more and more detail, because they want 100 per cent consistency, other people want more flexibility, i.e. common sense.

“And as you know, you can’t have both consistency and common sense because handball is subjective. The law wasn’t changed in 2019 and we’re not looking significantly to change it again. We’re looking for better application from match officials.”

Arsene Wenger presented to the IFAB annual business meeting on Wednesday
Arsene Wenger presented to the IFAB annual business meeting on Wednesday (Matt Crossick/PA)

IFAB also received presentations on changes to the offside law, including one from former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, but the discussions are “very much in their infancy” according to Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford, who chaired the meeting.

Elleray said FIFA was working on tools to automate the offside decision-making process, but that these were in their early stages of development.

On the difficulty of introducing any new proposal on offside, he said: “Whatever boundaries you take, even if you introduce a margin of error for offside, if the margin for error is four centimetres then somebody who is five centimetres offside is technically going to be offside by one centimetre.

“It’s very early stages because even the great wise men of the media haven’t come up with a solution yet. It’s one of those areas where people aren’t happy, but nobody knows how we can be less unhappy as it were.”