The new handball rule has caused quite a storm up and down the UK football scene during the last seven days. Everyone from Motherwell to Tottenham has had something to say about this contentious debate.
Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson took aim at it following debatable decisions against his side whilst Tottenham fell foul of it twice in high-profile incidents. In Scotland, Motherwell were penalised twice in the one game.
So what is the new handball rule? And why is it so controversial?
Letter of the law
Before the 2020/21 season kicked off, the handball rules were changed in an effort to help stem the tide of goals being disallowed in harsh circumstances thanks to a rule applied before the 2019/20 term.
That ruling meant referees would disregard intent surrounding some actions on the field like the ball hitting the arm whilst in an unnatural position. This was binned for 20/21 and replaced by a new set of Ifab regulations.
Ifab, who determine the footballing laws, state that handball can be given as follows: “For the purposes of determining handball offences, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.”
Your usual penalty claims via handball can still be given. Deliberate handball is still penalised whilst stopping a goal with your arm whether intentional or not can still give the ref the choice of pointing for a penalty.
Ifab also interpret that a spot kick should not be given if the opposing player managed to commit a handball directly from their own play, e.g. heading it onto their own arm in the act of a clearance.
A new tactic?
These new rulings on handball have opened up plenty of debate. Universal condemnation of it has sprung up from players, fans, pundits and managers alike but it would seem we are stuck with it for this season at least.
All players on the attack need to do in order to win a penalty is hit the arm under the armpit. Whether it’s deliberate or not, the letter of the law states that they could be awarded a penalty for doing so.
This was most apparent in Eric Dier’s handball, with the Tottenham defender facing away from the ball yet still having it strike his arm. Penalty given, disbelief all around, confusion in the air, leading to the likes of Crystal Palace boss Hodgson and Motherwell defender Bevis Mugabi asking questions of football’s new rule.
It opens up a can of worms for strikers in particular. Could an SPFL forward really be blamed for trying to strike an opposing player’s arm in the box now, given it could give their side a free hit at goal?
Whilst extremely unfair on the defending side, attackers couldn’t be blamed for using the rules to their own advantage. It does put the onus on lawmakers in football to do something before more players are unfairly exploited and penalised by this.
Nobody seems to be keen on this rule – so questions have to be asked as to how football got stuck with it in the first place.