I was watching a U13 (I think) girls game prior to my sons game. I am a grade 8 referee myself, but not on this night.

The center blew a whistle for a hand ball in which a girl was blocking her chest ares with her arms tight to her body. In my opinion, if her arms were not there, her body would have blocked the ball anyway. I thought it was a questionable call that I would not have made myself. This, however, has nothing to do with my question.

Since the hand ball was within the penalty area, a penalty kick ensued. A diving keeper blocked the ball, but she got it in control just prior to a rushing defender kicking it. Mind you that the game was in it’s final minutes when this happened and the save preserved three points. When the keeper picked up the ball, one of her teammates came over and gave her a hug. The center immediately blew the whistle and pointed at the spot. He called the teammate for a hand ball. This time the kick was good and the game ended in a tie.

Was the hug of a keeper who has control of the ball a handball?

USSF answer (October 26, 2009):
We can only say that the referee on the night would appear not to have been ON his game. Both calls may have been in error. Please review the following material and then, if there were clear errors by the referee, you may judge for yourself.

Protecting oneself and deliberate handling are covered in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” In the current (2009) edition you will find the following, which is applicable to both the situations you described:

The offense known as “handling the ball” involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player’s hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). “Deliberate contact” means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player’s arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes the Law regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words “touch,” “play,” and “make contact with” mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate.

The rule of thumb for referees is that it is handling if the player plays the ball, but not handling if the ball plays the player. The referee should punish only deliberate handling of the ball, meaning only those actions when the player (and not the goalkeeper within the ‘keeper’s own penalty area) strikes or propels the ball with the hand or arm (shoulder to tip of fingers).

If it turns out that the decisions you saw were likely in violation of the Laws and of the guidance given in the Advice to Referees, you should consider reporting the matter to the State Director of Instruction, so that the referee can be counseled. This would mean including date, place, and time of the game in which they occurred.

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