Football lawmakers to clarify definition of handball

Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero scored against Arsenal, but changes to the handball rule mean it wouldn’t be allowed. (AFP pic)

LONDON: Football’s lawmakers have announced changes to the definition of handball in a bid to avoid a repeat of controversial decisions involving the offence.

At a meeting of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Aberdeen, Scotland, on Saturday, the organisation approved the biggest change to the handball law for decades.

Previously, a handball needed to be a “deliberate act,” but from next season accidental handballs will also be illegal in certain circumstances.

The IFAB said it will become an offence in the event of “a goal scored directly from the hand/arm (even if accidental) and a player scoring or creating a goal-scoring opportunity after having gained possession/control of the ball from their hand/arm (even if accidental) will no longer be allowed.”

Despite the widespread introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) since last year’s World Cup, the debate over what constitutes handball has rumbled on and inconsistency between match officials in their decisions has led to angry criticism from managers and players.

In the English Premier League this season, reigning champions Manchester City dropped points in a game at Wolverhampton Wanderers when the defender Willy Boly scored clearly using his hand.

The action was not deliberate, and under current rules was not deemed illegal so the goal stood.

City then benefited from the existing definition when Sergio Aguero scored to complete a hat-trick in a recent win over Arsenal.

The IFAB meeting also saw changes approved to the laws related to a player being substituted having to leave the field of play at the nearest boundary line, yellow and red cards for misconduct by team officials and the ball not having to leave the penalty area at goal-kicks and defending team free-kicks in the penalty area.

Attacking players will also now have to stand one metre away from the defensive wall at free-kicks.