4 MAR 21
The IFAB clarifies handball Law and confirms decision on concussion substitute trials

Clarification of the handball Law and confirmation concerning the launch of concussion substitute trials were the main outcomes of the 135th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of The International Football Association Board (The IFAB), which was held today by videoconference. 

Various changes and clarifications to the Laws of the Game were agreed at the AGM, with a particular focus on Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct.

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 offence. In terms of the criterion of the hand/arm making a player’s body “unnaturally bigger”, it was confirmed that referees should continue to use their judgment in determining the validity of the hand/arm’s position in relation to the player’s movement in that specific situation.

Following this clarification, it is a handball offence if a player:

  • deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, for example moving the hand/arm towards the ball;
  • touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation. By having their hand/arm in such a position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalised; or
  • scores in the opponents’ goal:
    • directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper; or
    • immediately after the ball has touched their hand/arm, even if accidental.

Accidental handball that leads to a team-mate scoring a goal or having a goal-scoring opportunity will no longer be considered an offence.

Other clarifications were approved at the AGM for inclusion in the Laws of the Game 2021/22, including to Law 11 (the Law 12 definition for handball, whereby the arm ends at the bottom of the armpit, must be used when judging whether a player is in an offside position) and Law 12 (the offence of using a “trick” to circumvent the Law against the goalkeeper handling the ball from a deliberate kick from a team-mate will apply at goal kicks; the instigator will be cautioned). 

The members received an update on the early stages of the trials with concussion substitutes, approved at The IFAB Annual Business Meeting in 2020 (see The IFAB circular no. 21). The IFAB confirmed that the decision to launch the concussion substitute trials was based on the strong recommendation of the Concussion Expert Group which consists of leading medical and football experts who closely examined the applicability of best practice in other sports to football. There was also consultation with, and support from, key stakeholders and The IFAB’s Football and Technical Advisory Panels. 

The trials, which are currently expected to continue until August 2022, have already been introduced in international and domestic competitions around the world, with more competitions about to join or having shown an interest in participating.

In the meantime, The IFAB and FIFA will continue to collect, analyse and discuss the football- and medical-related feedback and data that will inform any decisions about potential implementation in the Laws of the Game. 

Regarding the temporary amendment to Law 3, which allows the option of permitting teams to use up to five substitutes in games in top-level competitions (for club competitions ending by 31 December 2021 and national-team competitions ending by 31 July 2022), the members agreed that the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on football should remain under review.

The members also received updates from FIFA on potential adaptions to the offside Law and the latest developments concerning innovations related to video assistant referees (VARs) that could enable competitions with more limited budgets to use VAR technology. 

Finally, it was agreed that, to give players, coaches and match officials more time to become familiar with the changes to the Laws of the Game, the date on which they become effective will move from 1 June to 1 July, although competitions will retain the flexibility to introduce changes prior to that date.

The meeting was chaired by the President of the Football Association of Wales, Kieran O’Connor, and was attended by representatives from FIFA – led by President Gianni Infantino – as well as from The FA, the Irish FA, the Scottish FA and The IFAB’s administration.