Handling offense? Yes or no?

The below 30-second clip shows a potential handling offense in the penalty box during one of my recent U17G games. Watch this first before reading on – would you have let this go or whistled for a handling infraction?

Obvious handball, right? Well, NOT according to the Laws of the Game so I did not give a penalty kick for the white team.

It is probably fair the say that pretty much everyone associated with the white team disagreed with me and that everyone associated with the blue team was pleasantly surprised.

The easiest decision would have been to blow the whistle for a penalty kick – it almost certainly would have been accepted by pretty much everyone present. But it would also have been the wrong decision.

Here’s why this wasn’t an infraction (confirmed through slow-motion review of this clip):

  1. The ball was kicked hard and from very close range – probably a yard or so. The defender had no time to react. She could not have avoided the contact.
  2. The defender shows no deliberate attempt to deflect the flight of the ball or otherwise deliberately gain an advantage after the ball makes contact with the arm.
  3. The arm flops backwards on impact which typically strongly supports the notion that there was no deliberate attempt to control the ball. The arm would have been rigid and shown some forward movement or leaning into the ball if this was a deliberate attempt to control the ball.
  4. The arms were moving in a natural position given the movement of the player. Watch the couple of seconds before impact when the blue defender runs toward the attacker and even changes direction. She uses her arms to balance her body in a natural way. Keep in mind that the rules don’t say ‘straight down the side of her body’ but rather ‘natural position’. This natural position depends on the specific moment and context.

Please note that the location of this incident has no bearing on the decision. In other words, the fact that this happened in the penalty box doesn’t change how we apply the rules.

In fact, this would NOT have been an infraction even if the blue defender had been standing on the goal line and the arm contact had prevented a goal.

For additional background you might want to read one of my earlier posts on the ‘handling’ rule.

I hope this helps clarify a tricky part of the game.

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

9 thoughts on “Handling offense? Yes or no?”

  1. To play devil’s advocate here, the ball did fall near her feet so she or her teammate benefited from the bounce given the incidental contact, and that is one of the elements in determining whether this was handling or not. Very difficult call.


    1. Benefiting from a touch of the ball with the hand or arm is in itself not an infringement. From USSF: “The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement.”

      My read of this situation is that she neither deliberately handled the ball nor was her arm in an unnatural position for the specific body movement she was executing. She also had no chance to pull her arm away – too close and hard a shot/kick.

      In this specific case, the fact that the touch benefited her team isn’t a deciding factor.

      I agree with you – very difficult split-second decision. I suspect that a fair number of referees would have called a handball and it wouldn’t necessarily be ‘wrong’.


      1. Yes! much easier to wind it back a couple of times and take a look, reconsider, rewind. Ha! Good call on your part. Did you explain it to the coach or players?


        1. Yes, I spoke to the coach briefly after the game and then followed up with an email and this clip explaining the decision. He agreed with my decision but said that what frustrates him is that even referees often don’t understand ‘handball’ and call it inconsistently. I actually agree with him on that point.

          Interestingly, if I recall correctly, the players didn’t complain much at all.

          Btw, later in that same game a similar handball incident occurred – I posted that one too. This incident I did call as an infringement and also later explained it and the coach agreed. But you can imagine how the parents reacted. Interestingly, again, the players didn’t complain much.


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