Deliberate Handball is Not Always Simple

Swansea City felt they were robbed when they lost their game against Liverpool by a penalty for handball. Gary Monk, their manager, said Swansea’s Neil Taylor had his back the ball, so how could it be deliberate as demanded by the Law. In Law 12, handball is one of only two direct free kick offences that has to be deliberate (the other is spitting) to be penalised. The law interpretations describe deliberate as ‘the movement of the hand towards the hand, not the ball towards the hand’. That in itself is simple, does the player move his hand to play the ball. But it also says that the referee must consider the distance between the opponent and the ball (the unexpected ball).

Pundits often talk about, ‘the hand or arm in an unnatural position’. This doesn’t appear in the Law on handball or its interpretations. What it does say is ‘the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement’.

So if the ball is kicked at an opponent from a very close range or bounces or deflects unexpectedly, giving the opponent no time to think about handling the ball, it shouldn’t be considered deliberate if it hits his hand.

The fact is that Taylor, seeing his opponent about to cross the ball into the goalmouth, threw his body in front of the ball with the intention of blocking it. In doing so he turned his back to the kicker but his arm was spread out sideways and it stopped the ball. Although Taylor was not sure exactly where the ball was going from the kick, his action would be considered to have moved his arm/hand towards the ball.

Had he been just a yard or two in front of the kicker and flinched when the kick was taken, turning his back, and the ball hit his hand, the decision would have been different.

Deliberate or accidental, not always a simple call.

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