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Soccer eases law to allow accidental handballs before goals

Fulham's Josh Maja scores a goal that was later disallowed for handball during the English Premier League soccer match between Fulham v Tottenham Hotspur at the Craven Cottage stadium in London, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Neil Hall/Pool via AP)
Fulham's Josh Maja scores a goal that was later disallowed for handball during the English Premier League soccer match between Fulham v Tottenham Hotspur at the Craven Cottage stadium in London, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Neil Hall/Pool via AP)

Accidental handballs in the buildup to a teammate scoring will no longer lead to the goal being ruled out after the law was eased on Friday.

The move by the International Football Association Board follows irritation in the game about how goals seem to be harshly ruled out since the law was changed two years ago.

“After analyzing everything it was felt this was maybe one step too far," FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. "This was the perception of the public and the perception we had at IFAB. For this reason we amended this regulation. It’s not embarrassing or a climbdown."

IFAB said an “accidental handball that leads to a teammate scoring a goal or having a goal-scoring opportunity will no longer be considered an offense.”

On the eve of the virtual meeting, Fulham was denied an equalizer in its English Premier League match against Tottenham when Davinson Sanchez's clearance hit the hand of Fulham's Mario Lemina, whose arm was down the side of his body, before Josh Maja netted.

“What happened yesterday is evidence that the decision taken today is correct, but it was not a reaction to the incident,” said Pierluigi Collina, the chairman of FIFA’s referee committee.

Goals will still be ruled out if a player using their hand before or while scoring. But referees are being urged to “use their judgment” when assessing the position of hands and arms when a ball hits them.

“As the interpretation of handball incidents has not always been consistent due to incorrect applications of the law, the members confirmed that not every touch of a player’s hand/arm with the ball is an offense,” IFAB said.

Changes to the laws of the game take effect from July 1, although IFAB said competitions have the flexibility to introduce them sooner.

Another thorny spinoff from the introduction of VAR in recent years is how forensic decisions are being taken on offsides with an array of dotted lines being used to assess the position of often blurred body parts.

FIFA is trialling semi-automated offside mapping of the players and the pitch to provide an offside decision as quickly as technology determines if the ball has crossed the line by buzzing a referee's watch.

“The fan experience is negatively impacted by waiting to see if a goal has been scored,” said English Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham, who holds one of the eight IFAB votes.

IFAB also received a presentation from Arsene Wenger, the former Arsenal manager who is FIFA’s chief of global football development, on a proposal to change the offside law. He thinks a player should be deemed onside if any part of the body that can score is in line with the second-last defender.

“We have been seeing that maybe we can think about a new law which allows a bit more attack in football,” Infantino said.

IFAB also opened the door to the use of five substitutes being extended through the 2022 World Cup. The congested calendar due to the pandemic saw competitions last year permitted to give teams two additional substitutions in matches. That currently runs through July 2022 for national team competitions but IFAB said it will “remain under review.”

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