I have an issue concerning the 12th law. In this law (2007/08) it states, “A direct free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following four offenses… handles the ball deliberately” (Law 12 Page 25). There are a few reasons I have an issue concerning this law.

First of all, let us consider Law 11. Concerning offside positions it is an offense intentional or not; the same should apply to handling. It is not an offense to be in an offsides position if no advantage is gained; therefore, it should not be an offense to handle the ball if no advantage is gained. If an advantage is gained from being in an offsides position, deliberately or not, it is an offense; therefore, if an advantage is gained from handling the ball, deliberately or not, it should be an offense.

Secondly, this change in the law makes it much less ambiguous. This means there is less reason to argue with the official; it is much easier to argue intent then it is to argue if advantage was gained.

Thirdly, this law makes it much easier for the official to make a decision. It is much harder for the official to decide if the handling was deliberate than it is to tell if an advantage was gained.

Finally, on a side note. I believe law 12 (2007/08) should be left alone in the “Sending-Off Offenses” portion where it states, “A player, substitute, or substituted player is sent off and shown the red card if he commits any of the following seven offenses… 4. denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball” (Law 12 Page 26). I don’t believe a red card should be given for unintentionally handling the ball preventing an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, but it should still be a foul and a direct free kick (or a penalty kick) should be awarded to the opposing team.

In conclusion, I think that the current law should be changed because it isn’t fare, it is easily arguable, and it is difficult to know when to call.

USSF answer (July 17, 2008):
You seem to have missed the crux of the matter: Handling is an offense ONLY and punished ONLY IF IT IS DELIBERATE. There are many occasions on which a player may handle the ball accidentally,. Some examples: When it is kicked at the player from short range and there is no time to react, when the player turns around (we will assume no guile here) and finds the ball coming at him and there is no time to react, or when the player is protecting him- or herself while in the wall. This is not only soccer law, but soccer tradition.

We have covered the topic in our publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” which states:

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.).

In comparing the concept of “advantage” under Law 12 with the same concept in Law 11, you are comparing peanuts and watermelons: Both are essentially the same shape, but their constituent parts function differently.

A further point to ponder is that there is no element of intent or deliberation or even advantage when it comes to an offense under Law 11.

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