Recent incidents in the professional leagues involving possible handling offenses have caused considerable comment and debate. For those not officiating the match, multiple camera angles, instant replay, and slow-motion viewing make the debate easier because they allow a leisurely analysis of the facts well after the relevant decision has to be made.
The Laws of the Game declare that a direct free kick is given to the opposing team if a player “handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his/her own penalty area).” This simple statement defines one of the ten listed offenses in the first part of Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct) and lies at the historical and traditional heart of soccer, a game played with all parts of the body other than the hands. Only the goalkeeper is exempt from this restriction and only while within his/her own penalty area.
What are the characteristics of a clear handling offense?
What characteristics of ball contact are clearly NOT handling offenses?
What are the standards of judgment which the referee will apply when the handling offense is not immediately clear?
The referee, with input from the assistant referees, must make the immediate decision based on the best available evidence in an increasingly fast-paced game. This difficult decision must be respected and final.