Ask the Ref: Handball


Keith Hacket on the Joys of the Game, specifically on Handball.

I often hear the crowd’s screams for a free kick or penalty kick when the ball strikes the hand.

So I thought that I would try to clarify the law and also underpin at the same time how referees should act on the field of play

To clarify the first point, the hand does of course include the arm and when I am coaching young referees I point out that the hand and arm are right up to the stitched joint that joins the full body of the shirt with the arm.

Handball is one of the simplest of all the Laws of the Game, yet the difficulties for referees in a match situation is trying to determine whether a handball act is or isn’t deliberateand the complexity involved in making this judgement!

So what criteria do referees have to consider when deciding whether a handball act is or isn’t deliberate?

  1. THE PROXIMITY OF THE OFFENDING PLAYER when the ball is struck. The snap shot that strikes the hand of a defending player who is standing a short distance from the ball when the shot was made.
  2. THE MOVEMENT OF THE HAND OR ARM towards the ball or away from the ball to prevent a handball offence occurring
  3. Consideration of the hand or arm in the unnatural position
  4. Whether the player uses his hands or arms to make himself bigger


Caution if unsporting behaviour, for example to prevent an opponent from gaining possession; or attempting to score a goal

Sending off if (the handball) denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity

However not every handball offence is punished by a red or yellow card.


A goalkeeper who commits a handball offence outside his penalty area is treated as an ordinary player

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