Law 12: Handball explained in detail

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct: Handball

What the Laws of the Game say:

Direct free kick – Handling the ball

For the purposes of determining handball offences, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit. Not every touch of a player’s hand/arm with the ball is an offence.

It is an offence if a player:

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

• touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, 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

• scores in the opponents’ goal:
•directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper
•immediately after the ball has touched their hand/arm, even if accidental

The goalkeeper has the same restrictions on handling the ball as any other player outside the penalty area. If the goalkeeper handles the ball inside their penalty area when not permitted to do so, an indirect free kick is awarded but there is no disciplinary sanction. However, if the offence is playing the ball a second time (with or without the hand/arm) after a restart before it touches another player, the goalkeeper must be sanctioned if the offence stops a promising attack or denies an opponent or the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.


What the Laws of the Game mean:

The photos used below as examples are stills taken from the videos provided by IFAB in their presentation of the changes to the Laws for 21/22. Some stills require watching the video for a better explanation and/or to make sense. The presentation and videos are available on the IFAB website, here.

Handball offence: deliberate handball

The hand/arm deliberately makes contact with the ball by:
‣moving towards the ball
‣moving into the path of the ball

Handball offence: unnaturally bigger

The hand arm has made the body unnaturally bigger by being in a position which is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement in that situation

This includes when the hand/arm:
‣is clearly extended away from the body (to create a bigger barrier)
‣is clearly extended above the shoulder (to create a bigger barrier)
‣moves towards or is on the ground and does not support the player’s body

Not a handball offence: not unnaturally bigger

The hand/arm has not made the body unnaturally bigger because its position is a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement in that situation

This includes when the arm/hand:
‣is close to the body
‣is away from the body because of the player’s ‘natural’ movement
‣contact is a consequence of the player deliberately playing the ball with another part of the body (against himself/herself)
‣moves towards, or is on, the ground to support the player’s body

Justifiable position – players cannot be expected to move with arms by their side.
This means:
‣hand/arm position can be understood/explained by the player’s body movement
‣hand/arm position is the result (consequence) of the player’s normal movement
‣hand/arm is moving into the body to avoid contact with the ball

Not a handball offence: not unnaturally bigger

Deliberately playing the ball with another part of the body (against herself/himself)

Not a handball offence: not unnaturally bigger

Exceptions e.g. the player’s arm is already extended when there is no expectation of the ball coming at, or near, the player from a team-mate

Arm position is for support when falling or when getting up from the ground

Handball offence: handball by scorer

The goal-scorer:
‣scores directly with the hand/arm, even if accidental
‣scores immediately after the ball has made contact with his/her hand/arm, even if accidental

Not a handball offence: handball by scorer

Accidental handball which is not immediately before scoring

No longer handball offences:

As from 2021/22 the following are no longer handball offences:
‣Accidental handball by a team-mate prior to a goal being scored
‣Accidental handball which creates a goal-scoring opportunity