Listening to one commentator on television at Euro 2016, I was intrigued by his comment after the referee blew for handball. ‘Referees’, he said, ‘no longer have to give a yellow card for every handball’. He was referring of course to the changes to the Laws that came in force just in time for the tournament. However, the truth is that referees were never meant to caution players for every handball, – that only existed in the minds of television and radio football commentators. Perhaps that’s not entirely fair because the IFAB in their rewrite of the Laws thought that many yellow cards for handball were unnecessarily shown, so made a minor change.
Previously, handling the ball to prevent an opponent gaining procession came under the heading of unsporting behaviour, making it a cautionable offence. This led to many players being cautioned for handling. This was never the intention and that clause has been dropped leaving three occasions of handball when a referee should show the offender a yellow card.
The first one is if the handball is done with the intention of interfering with, or stopping, a promising attack. This is what the law makers wanted, rather than cautioning where handling the ball to prevent it going to an opponent doesn’t stop a promising attack. Still a free kick of course.
The second cautionable handball is when a player tries to score a goal with his hand. Think of Maradona 1986. The player should be shown a yellow card whether the ball goes in the goal or not.
The third reason that handball attracts a yellow card didn’t appear in the Laws previously but was applied by most referees anyway, although it doesn’t happen often. This is where a defender, usually on the goal line, tries to prevent the ball going into the goal by handball, but fails. It’s not a red card because he has not denied the goal but his intentions were unsporting and therefore it’s a yellow card.