What is a Handball in Soccer ? Handball rules in football explained, including latest changes by FIFA, UEFA to hand ball in soccer

What is a handball in soccer ? The handball rules in soccer are among the game’s most contested and vague laws. Below you can get familiar more with its most essential aspects. Handball is an important rule for the game of soccer, and it differentiates it from many other sports and is one of the most significant impacts on how the game is run.

In a nutshell, a handball in football is when the ball makes contact with a player’s hand/arm illegally.

Where does the arm start/end?

The arm commences from the bottom of the armpit, implying that the ball causing contact with the shoulder is not considered a handball. It can sometimes be ambiguous whether the ball has touched the arm or shoulder of the player, which gets us to the arbitrary essence of the handball rules in soccer in general.

It’s up to the referee to decide if it’s a foul if the ball hits this area. In general, the referee will look at the closeness between the player and the ball and the initial position of the hand/arm whenever handball contact is made.

If the proximity is very close, giving the player little chance to react, that might overrule the handball offense.

A lot of aspects are concerned when summoning a potential handball offense. Due to its influence on the game, VAR can only be used in decisive defensive and attacking scenarios.

Handballs in defensive scenarios

We frequently see players fold their arms behind the back or in the sides of the body, in a so-called “natural position” when defending near an attacker’s cross or shot.

Handballs in attacking scenarios

No goals can be scored with the arm or hand, even if accidental. Therefore the handball rules in football are more strict in attacking scenarios.

Handball offenses

As the understanding of handball, incidents have not always been agreed upon due to inaccurate applications or interpretations of the Law. With the latest rule change confirming that not every touch of a player’s hand/arm with the ball is an offense, the idea is to change it.

what is a handball in soccer


A handball in soccer is when the ball illegally makes contact with a player’s arm or hand. A handball is perhaps the most important rule during a soccer game, significantly impacting how the game goes.


A handball in soccer is any part of the arm that runs from the fingertips to the shoulder. If a player uses their fingers, arm, or upper boundary of the arm, or bottom of the armpit to handle the ball, it is a handball.

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If the player gets hit by a ball and the ball hits the fingers, arm, or shoulder, it is not a handball because the player did not intentionally touch the ball.


The laws of the game of soccer clearly state that a handball refers to the hand/arm. It is a handball if a player:

Creates an obvious goal-scoring opportunity immediately after the ball has either touched their hand or arm or a teammate’s hand or arm
Purposely touches the soccer ball using their hand or arm

Touches the ball using their hand or arm when it is above the shoulder level

Scores in the opponents’ goal using their arm/hand

Scores in the opposing team’s goal immediately after the ball touched either their arm or hand or a teammates arm or hand

Touches the soccer ball using their arm or hand when their arm or hand made a part of the body seem larger

Overall, it is a handball offense if a player purposely touches the ball using their hand or arm, including moving their hand or arm towards the soccer ball.


There have been several changes in the handball rule book from the International Football Association Board throughout the years. In current times, handball is seen as either intentional or unintentional.

Formerly, a handball was a particular punishable offense or a discretionary offense. When deciding if a handball is deliberate, there can be some confusion.

Determining if the handball is intentional can be difficult, as a player’s true intentions are often unclear. As IFAB’s March 2021 rule changes, if a player handballs to build up to a goal, the goal will not be allowed. A VAR (video assistant referee) will review the goal to decide if the handball was intentional or unintentional.


No, it is not a handball if the ball hits your leg first. If the soccer ball is moving quickly and you cannot move the player’s hand or arm out of the ball’s way after it hits your leg, it is not considered a handball.


A red card is awarded for soccer handball if the offense prevents the player from making a clear goal. A player may also be awarded a red card if they get a second yellow card for a handball.

A player may receive their first yellow card if the handball is deemed worse than a standard handball. The cards are awarded to players based on the discretion of the referee. Soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo has received 11 red cards throughout the years, including in Manchester city in the premier league.


A standard handball foul during a soccer game is typically punished with a free penalty kick or a penalty is awarded

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A yellow card may be given to the player if the referee considers the handball worse than a regular handball

A red card may be awarded to a player if the offense prevents a clear opportunity to score and make a goal. A red card may also be given if a player or goalie receives two yellow cards because of a handball

Football handball rules and FIFA guidelines

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) is the body charged with setting, overseeing, altering, and releasing the Laws of the Game which all football leagues across the world use as a universal set of rules.

In this, IFAB have done their best to define a handball offence, but for years there has been uncertainty and gray areas.

IFAB define what part of the arm is against the rules to use, which has changed. Back in 2019, IFAB permitted contact with the top of the arm, colloquially dubbed the “sleeve rule,” which gives players some leeway with using their shoulder.

This means a ball which touches the upper portion of a player’s arm will not be considered a handball, and leaves only blatant handball fouls to be punished.

The rule reads, “the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.” There are also diagrams in the Laws of the Game to help with this concept.

Does intent matter in handball rules?

The way the rule is written, intent does not matter.

The first bullet point in the Laws of the Game cited above does allow referees some leeway to judge intent and penalise a player for intentionally handling the ball (“deliberately”), but the second and third bullet points, regarding a player making their body bigger and scoring a goal, do not allow for inadvertent handballs.

In fact, the rule as written, specifically mentions that intent does not matter “when a player has made their body unnaturally bigger,” noting that players take risks with certain movements, even if not done with the intention of handling the ball.

The rule reads: “by having their hand/arm in such a[n unnatural] position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalised.”

Furthermore, in the final section, the rule adds the language “even if accidental” to clarify that any unnatural touch with the hand/arm, whether intentional or not, should be penalised.

So in summary, intent does not matter in judging handball offences, and should not factor into an official’s decision regarding a handball offence.

However, there is one major exception. The rule does make a specific exception for handball occurrences committed as long as a player’s body position is “a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation.” Then a handball is not whistled.

This exception largely comes into play for a defensive player sliding to make a block. It is generally considered impossible to make a sliding movement without using an arm on the ground for support.

Thus, the use of an arm for support while sliding is a “justifiable” action for that particular body movement, and therefore a ball which strikes a support arm would not be considered an “unnatural” position even if extended from the body.

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Is there a ball to hand rule?

The way the law is currently written, there is no ball to hand rule.

This often goes hand-in-hand with intent, as the idea of “ball to hand” being unavoidable for a defensive player lends itself to a lack of intent to handle the ball.

As the law is written, a defensive player assumes the risk of their arm’s unnatural position, and therefore ball to hand does not apply. A defensive player’s risk assumption predisposes him to the ball potentially being kicked into his arm without time to react, and therefore it would be a penalised offence regardless of their ability or inability to react in time.

what is a handball in soccer

How UEFA handball rules are different

IFAB’s Laws of the Game cannot possibly address every single situation and every scenario that could unfold during a match.

The Laws, like any codified rules, will always be somewhat open to interpretation. Therefore, every league, competition, and governing body has its own guidelines as to how to interpret the rules based on how that body wishes their product to play out.

European governing body UEFA, has moved to do just that with guidelines for the 2023/24 season already released. Most importantly, the European governing body wishes to relax the whistling of handball offences with regards to deflections, as well as relaxing the punishment for yellow and red cards shown.

The guidelines for 2023/24 suggest that “no handball offence should be called on a player if the ball is previously deflected from his own body, and, in particular, when the ball does not go towards the goal.”

UEFA also states that “not eery handball should automatically lead to a caution after every shot at goal, as anticipated by the current guidelines.” As currently written, UEFA guidelines encourage officials to essentially give automatic yellow cards for handball offences in the penalty area which result in a penalty. Under the new 2023/24 guidelines, that would be relaxed.

Finally, the new UEFA guidelines also state that they will petition IFAB to change the rule of an automatic red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity by handling the ball, specifically to take intent into account with this decision.

Thus, under the UEFA suggestion, the laws would be changed to show a red card only in the situation of an intentional handball to deny a goal, whereas a yellow card would be shown in situations where intent was not clear.

These recommendations come after UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin told the Men In Blazers podcast that “nobody in the world understands when there’s handball or not.”

“We had the best coaches in the world in the room,” Ceferin said in reference to a meeting of the UEFA Football Board. “We showed them a situation where a ball hits the hand of a player and we said penalty or no penalty, half said penalty, half said no penalty.

“Those are coaches of the best teams in the world. I think that the referee on the pitch should decide because otherwise we don’t need a referee anymore. We can just have a machine that says handball or no handball, and I don’t like it.

I don’t like it. We have to, and we will start working on that to tell the referees that they have to decide if it’s a natural move or not, and so on.”

Above is information what is a handball in soccer. Hopefully, through the above content, you have a more detailed understanding of what is a handball in soccer .Thank you for reading our post.

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