Arms and the Free Kick

Shane, a U-12 and Under parent, asks:

When blocking a free kick when your arms are by your side, is there an offense if the ball hits your arm and your arms do not move from your side?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)


The International Board has been very clear in the section titled “Handling the ball” in Law 12 (2017-2018 Laws of the Game).  It starts off by explicitly stating that the offense involves “a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm” and goes on to note that, among the things to be considered are “the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)” and “that the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

What you described doesn’t even come close to an offense.

Handling the Ball

Leroy, a parent involved in youth soccer, asks:

Can the goalkeeper handle the ball in the penalty arc of the goal being defended?


Nope, not legally (at least not while the ball is in play).  The “penalty arc” is specifically defined as the portion of the area ten yards around the penalty mark which is not in the penalty area.  It is rather like the center circle except that only the part of the circle that is outside the penalty area is actually marked.  So, the important things to take away from this are that (a) the penalty arc is not part of the penalty area, (b) the only time anyone cares about the penalty arc and its area is at the taking of a penalty kick, and (c) a goalkeeper handling the ball in this area during play has committed a handball offense.

The Handball Violation

An adult amateur coach from the Czech Republic asks:

[After describing several potential handball violations which depend on the position of the hand or arm and wondering which, if any, violate the Law, the question ends with the following request.] Maybe you can describe some model situations, which can help me. IFAB LOTG 16/17 does not explain it clearly.


The handball violation (and, yes, it is now permissible to use this phrase to describe the infraction rather than the traditional  “handling offense” so we will take off our grumpy hat and bow to common usage) is the quintessential foul that cannot be described — you have to be there.  Nevertheless, it is possible to offer some generalizations that may assist both new and experienced officials in properly evaluating all the facts and circumstances so that our understanding of it is better grounded.  What makes the handball such a contentious issue is its history as one of the most important reasons why and how the sport of soccer originated.  It is also useful to remember (particularly for Americans) that the sport in most parts of the world other than North America is called football.  Simplifying dangerously, soccer is soccer rather than rugby because the use of hands is forbidden to all participants except for one specially identified player for each team and only if he or she is in their own penalty area.

Law 12 uses just 17 words to define the offense: “involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.”  The physical act itself is simple and very concrete (contact with the ball by the hand) which may be easy to see or it may be hidden from the referee but seen by others or it may be so brief that no one is entirely sure it even occurred.  What requires us to earn our money, however, hinges on one word — “deliberate.”  The act must be deliberate, and that is where we can supply some guidelines.

Law 12 (notably in the current edition of the Laws) itself offers several thoughts.  For example, the contact might be entirely reflexive or instinctive as when a player sees a hard object hurtling toward some part of the body which he or she is conditioned by nature to protect due to its importance or sensitivity.  The face, for example, but there are others, and while many may be assumed for male and female players, others could be entirely individual (as, for example, a player attempting to protect an area of the body which was previously injured and has not yet healed).  A reflexive or instinctive act is not deliberate.

What triggers an instinctive act?  One factor might be the speed of the object as in the case of a ball hard struck in a volley as opposed to rolling on the ground.  Another factor might be the lack of time to avoid contact using any other means as might be the case when the origin of the ball’s movement is close rather than distant.  A third factor might be the unexpected nature of the imminent contact, as when the ball coming from a peripheral direction is not noticed until bare moments before the inevitable collision.  These factors underlie, in part, the common aphorism that handball offenses usually involve the hand moving to the ball but rarely the ball moving to the hand.

The notion has been around for a long time that an important factor might be where the hand is at the time of contact, often verbalized as a “natural” versus “unnatural” position.  Given a player in motion, pumping legs, driving forward, trying to maintain balance, pivoting quickly, trying to get the attention of a teammate, and so forth, we are hard-pressed to conclude that there really is any such thing as a “natural position” for the hands unless we picture such extreme examples as a player standing still with a hand up in the air waving to someone in the crowd at the moment the hand is struck by a ball played in the air.  Furthermore, it has been argued that players may protect their balance while in motion by using their arms differently due to gender-based differences in body structure and/or how weight is carried on those structures.  This has frequently confused officials and has resulted in their making mistakes through not understanding gender and age differences in players.  The IFAB emphasized this concern when they stated in Law 12 that “the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

We have heard of and have ourselves seen players running with arms pumping back and forth being whistled for handling because the ball, struck from behind the player, has hit the hand while it was in motion extending behind the player!  We have seen players whistled who have fallen and are in the process of lifting themselves off the ground when the ball rolls into the weight-bearing arm!

The bottom line is that, while extremes in hand positioning might be a factor in deciding whether ball contact should be treated as deliberate based on that fact alone, it is far more important to focus on the totality of the player’s situation and what led to the contact.  Moreover, referees must consider that contact which initially should be judged as not deliberate (for reasons noted above) may become deliberate (and therefore a violation) if the player then uses that contact to subsequently control or direct the ball.  Actually, truly “whistleable” handball offenses are surprisingly rare — most hand contacts with the ball are accidental and often a surprise to the player.  Many fall under the “doubtful or trifling” rubric and are not a justifiable reason for stopping play.

By the way, you may feel that, regarding the handball offense, the 2016/2017 Laws of the Game “does not explain it clearly,” but we would suggest instead that the current Law does a much better job in this regard than at any time in the past.


Why is the touchline so named? What is the origin of “touch” and “in touch”?

Answer (September 5, 2014):
“Touch” is any area outside the boundaries of the field, particularly the lines that run between the corners across the halfway line to the corner at the far end of the field. It is the area in which the ball may be handled legally by players, i.e., “touched.” Once the whole of the ball has crossed the whole of the boundary line, it is “in touch.”


In a game i played in today the referee sent off the opposition goalkeeper for picking up a back pass and i was just wondering if there are any examples of this happening before and if the referee was right to do so? The situation the ball was kicked long the defender misread the ball and turned at full stretch he tackled the striker the ball rolled to the keeper who under pressure from another striker shutting him down picked up the ball. The referee then decided to send the goalkeeper off for denying a goal scoring opportunity and gave a indirect free kick was he right to do so? thanks harry.

USSF answer (November 28, 2011):
The referee was wrong to send off the goalkeeper in at least two ways: (1) by kicking the ball away from the opposing player, the defender was not kicking the ball to the goalkeeper, he was simply clearing it and it happened to go to the goalkeeper; (2) the goalkeeper may not and cannot be sent off for denying a goal or a goalscoring opportunity by handling the ball in his penalty; that is stated specifically in Law 12.


I hope a dead horse but here goes anyway:

The ball is loose just outside of top of the penalty area, say in the D. And suppose that the ball isn’t moving at all. An attacker is running onto the ball and the only defender, say the keeper runs out and picks up ball outside the penalty area. Can the referee send the keeper off if the referee deems that this action denied an obvious goal scoring OPPORTUNITY?

USSF answer (October 3, 2011):
In the scenario you present, the deliberate handling by the goalkeeper outside his own penalty area, no obvious goalscoring opportunity has been denied. There is no evidence that, but for the handling by the goalkeeper, the ball would have gone into the goal. The horse is dead. Long live the horse.


What is the difference between denying a goal and denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity in the deliberate handling sending off offence.

Where a player including the goalkeeper deliberately handles the ball which denies an obvious goal scoring opportunity outside the penalty area is that player sent off for DOGSO H or for DOGSO F.

The reason I ask is that the USSF opinion is that the 4Ds does not apply to DOGSO H and the ball must be destined for the goal for DOGSO H to apply suggests to some that deliberate handling is not a sending off offence unless it stops a ball entering the goal, which is plainly not the case.  Perhaps that might be explained more clearly.

USSF answer (January 19, 2011):
First, a clear policy statement: The U. S. Soccer Federation cannot and does not presume to speak for other national associations when providing guidelines on how various statements in the Laws are to be interpreted and implemented. That said, the Federation does follow to the letter what the Laws say regarding matters bearing on obvious goalscoring opportunities (OGSO) and also follows the guidance provided by the IFAB and FIFA on that topic.

Just to keep it straight, here is what Law 12 says about the OGSO offenses:

Sending-off offenses
A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offenses:
• denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
• denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick

Second, a cautionary note regarding acronyms, which are mere conveniences and not always entirely descriptive of what is being discussed. The acronyms DOGSO-F and DOGSO-H are used primarily as shorthand when filling out the referee’s match report. DOGSO-H means just that, “denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area).” However, DOGSO-F is somewhat more complicated, as it includes not merely denying an OGSO by a foul, but also by ANY OFFENSE PUNISHABLE BY A FREE KICK OR A PENALTY KICK. That includes misconduct.

The reason the Federation says (and has always said, from the very first introduction of the OGSO concept when the two new reasons for a send-off were created by the International Board) that the “4 Ds” do not apply to send-off offense #5 (DG-H) is because (a) USSF created the 4 Ds specifically for DG-F, (b) the requirement that all four Ds had to be present before a red card for DG-F could be given simply cannot be applied to a handling offense, and (c) the “D” represented by “Distance to ball” was completely inapplicable.

In attempting to decide if it were highly probable that a ball would have gone into the net if the handling had not interfered with the movement of the ball, the referee must juggle, weigh, and balance a number of factors, including SOME of the Ds, but not in so absolute a way as they are used in evaluating a DG-F situation. For example, one D involves the number of defenders and, for a DG-F situation, the Federation has said that this D cannot be rated as a “yes” if there is more than one defender between the foul and the goal (not counting the defender who committed the offense). In a DG-H situation, it is not so ironclad. In a DG-F situation, the D involving direction of play is only one of four factors but, in a DG-H situation, the direction, force, and speed of the ball are arguably the most important of the factors to be considered. For example, a ball played forward by several yards might lead to a decision that the D for direction of play (and distance to the ball) is present, but this would not be the case in a handling situation where, if, in the opinion of the referee, the handled ball either was already or would have stopped far short of the goal, a DG-H red card cannot be given.

We are concerned about how you arrived at your statement “that deliberate handling is not a sending off offence unless it stops a ball entering the goal, which is plainly not the case.” We would argue that it is in fact plainly the case. Handling the ball is not a direct sending-off offense unless, in the opinion of the referee, but for the handling the ball would have gone into the net. This is clearly a judgment, but it is a judgment grounded on analyzing a number of variables — which happen to include such matters as how close to the goal the handling occurred, how many defenders there were between the site of the handling and the goal, and the direction/speed/force the ball was taking at the time the handling occurred. The fact that these variables resemble three of the four “Ds” involved in DG-F (denying an OGSO by foul/misconduct) is not accidental. The judgment to be reached here does not have to be one of “certainty” but, rather, one of “high probability” based on the referee’s experience and reading of the variables.

It doesn’t get any clearer than that.


I’ve looked through LOTG and searched the archives and cannot find a definitive answer to the following:

Keeper Punting the Ball – Enforcement of the PA in the taking of the punt. There is differing Veteran Referee opinions / judgements: A) PA is enforced from where the ball meets the foot; B) PA is enforced from where the ball left the hand(s) of the keeper in starting the punt toss.

Example: the keeper tosses the ball into the air from inside the PA but strikes the ball 2-3 feet outside of the area. Legal?

USSF answer (October 12, 2010):
Let’s look at it in increments. If any part of the ball is on the line, the ball is within the penalty area. The fact that part of the ball might be outside the penalty area is irrelevant. The BALL on the line is still in the penalty area and, accordingly, it can still be handled by the goalkeeper, and that includes ANY PART of the ball. The BALL is a whole thing and either is or is not in the penalty area. If it is, it can be handled by the goalkeeper. If it is not, it cannot be handled by the ‘keeper.

If the goalkeeper releases the ball from his (or her) hands while within the penalty area, but does not kick the ball until it is outside the penalty area, no offense has occurred. That is entirely legal.

While recognizing that the offense by the goalkeeper of crossing the penalty area line completely with the ball still in hand is often debatable, and that it is usually trifling, we must also recognize that it is certainly an infringement of the Law and must always be treated as such by the referee. The referee will usually warn the goalkeeper about honoring the penalty area line but allow the first such act to go unpunished; however the referee must then clearly warn the goalkeeper to observe and honor the line and the Law. If it occurs again, the referee should call the foul and, if the offense is repeated yet again, caution the goalkeeper for persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game.

We have heard, but cannot believe, that any referee instructor in any state would tell referees to punish this offense with an indirect free kick. The correct restart is a direct free kick for the opposing team from the place where the offense occurred. That means the point just outside the penalty area where the goalkeeper still had the ball in hand.

One unfortunate thing is that in many cases assistant referees do not do their job correctly in this respect. Instead of judging the place where the ball is released from the goalkeeper’s hands, they concentrate on the place where the goalkeeper’s foot meets the ball, which could be well outside the area with no offense having occurred.

[This answer repeats materials used in answers from 2003-2009, all in the archives of this site.]


A referee brought up this question at our association meeting tonight. It started quite a debate and we would like to know the correct answer to put this to rest:
A shot on goal is made by an attacker. The goalkeeper is too short to stop the ball from entering the goal with his hands so he pulls on the back of the net thus preventing the ball from completely crossing over the goal line.
What should the referee do in this case? If he stops play, what action should he take and what is the restart?

USSF answer (May 6, 2010):
In using the net as an artificial aid (and extension of his hands), the goalkeeper has theoretically denied the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball. However, as we know from Law 12, the goalkeeper is expressly excluded from the requirement for a send-off in this case, “(this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area).” Solution? After the caution is given for unsporting behavior, award an indirect free kick for the opposing team on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred.


I was watching a professional game on television and saw an interesting sequence of calls and no calls. The play started with a offensive player who was very deep attempting a pass that is intercepted by a defender using his arm.The referee comes to award the free kick and give the card for the tactical foul when he sees the AR’s flag is up for offsides.There was a player in the offside position but the ball did not get to him. The card was given and the kick for offside was given.the defense got the free kick. My question is does the hand ball committed before involvement can be established by the offside player make the hand ball which happened first the foul that should be punished?Does the player in the offside position negate the hand ball foul when it can not be determined who was to receive the pass? I know the card is valid no matter what the answer to my question is?

USSF answer (April 12, 2010):
Many of us watched the incident and, based on what happened there and the guidance given in the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game (see below) and discussed in our answer of June 9, 2009, we believe that the decision, and the restart, should be for the deliberate handling.

In the context of Law 11 — Offside, the following definitions apply:
* “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” means that any part of a player’s head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition
* “interfering with play” means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate
* “interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent
* “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position

There was no interfering with play, no interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage by Ronaldo. There WAS deliberate handling by Pique.

Our answer of June 9, 2009:

ATTENTION!!! All referees please note that this answer involves a change in prior guidance due to the evolving interpretation of the offside offense by the International Football Association (the people who make the Laws).

Back in “the good old days,” pre-2008, it would have been simple: Punish the offside (interfering with play) and award the indirect free kick to the defender’s team, but caution the defender for unsporting behavior for the deliberate handling of the ball. This was based on the argument that the offside offense occurred first and, since it was going to be called because the pass was clearly “going to” the attacker, the referee’s decision to accept the AR’s flag for the offside stopped play and the handling therefore occurred during a stoppage.  The caution was for unsporting behavior since it was the defender’s intention to “interfere with attacking play.”

Now, however, in the modern, post-2008 era, we are unable to do this because the offside offense has become somewhat more complicated. Under current guidance for deciding if an attacker in an offside position has interfered with play, we look to whether or not the attacker makes contact with the ball (not counting the possibility that the attacker’s actions might be considered to have interfered with an opponent).  We must remember that, despite the intentions of the teammate and despite how clearly the ball is “going to” the attacker, that attacker could still decide not to interfere with play by avoiding all contact with the ball.  That “pass to the attacker” by itself does not constitute interfering with play.  Consequently, based solely on that “pass to the attacker,” the AR should not raise the flag for an offside violation, so we are left with the handling offense — direct free kick (or penalty kick if the handling occurred in the defender’s penalty area).  The referee should still caution the defender for the tactical foul.  If the AR does mistakenly raise the flag based solely on the pass, the referee should wave it down and proceed as indicated to deal with the handling.