UEFA’s EURO 2020 referees have been instructed about clarifications to football’s laws on handball which will be applied at the tournament.
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The laws, which have been reworked for the sake of better overall understanding, were a key topic on the agenda at the EURO referees’ pre-tournament workshop in Nyon.
The gathering at the House of European Football brought together the 18 referees and 22 video assistant referees (VARs) selected as the 25th team for the EURO, which takes place in eleven cities across Europe between 11 June and 11 July.
The new Laws of the Game come into force on 1 July, but can be introduced in competitions that begin in the immediate period before then.
Football’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), have clarified Article 12 of the Laws of the Game, which contains provisions on handling the ball.
As the interpretation of handball incidents has not always been consistent due to incorrect applications of the law, IFAB has 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”, IFAB has also 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.
IFAB clarification of the handball law
“It is a handball offence,” IFAB said after its annual meeting in March, “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;
- 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.
The chairman of UEFA’s Referees Committee, Roberto Rosetti, welcomed the clarification of the handball laws. “The laws are now simpler for everybody,” he said. “In particular, the change whereby not every touch of the ball is considered as an offence is important, because the players have the right to play and move with the ball in a natural way, and referees have to understand this kind of natural movement.”
Firm action – calmness – control
The EURO match officials – meeting together for the first time since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic in spring 2020, with all necessary health precautions and protocols in place at UEFA’s headquarters – also discussed UEFA’s technical refereeing guidelines. Referees are being urged in particular to act firmly at the EURO to punish holding and pushing offences in the penalty area, and to take strong action against reckless challenges and serious foul play which could endanger a player’s safety.
“It’s crucial in this respect that referees act not only to protect players, but also to protect the spirit and image of the game,” said Rosetti. “Everyone is on the same page as far as the uniform and consistent application of the laws are concerned in these areas.”
Rosetti urged the referees to “stay calm and in control” in handling players, especially in situations of mobbing and dissent. “We have clear proof from this season’s UEFA club competition knockout stages that if referees are calm and focussed, they can send the right message to players – we’re seeing that when referees relax, the players react in a very positive way.”
UEFA’s referee officers plan to visit all 24 teams ahead of the EURO to explain the various instructions and guidelines given to the match officials, and to emphasise what is expected in return of players, coaches and team officials. Presentations to the teams on law changes and refereeing guidelines in the run-up to UEFA EURO 2016 were a crucial factor in the overall positive conduct of players and coaches at the tournament in France.
VAR’s crucial role
The video assistant referee (VAR) system will also be deployed for the first time at a EURO final tournament. Rosetti is confident of the system’s strengths: “We believe in the project, which has worked very well so far,” he said.
“We’re emphasising to the VARs that they should only intervene when a referee makes a clear and obvious mistake, or in cases of serious missed incidents. The referees must remain the centre of the decision-making process, but the role of the VARs is extremely crucial in helping them.”
Keeping up standards
Rosetti emphasised that the referee teams chosen for the EURO had “appointed themselves” with a series of impressive displays in UEFA club and national team competitions in the spring. “The quality of their performances made the difference,” he said. “The referees did very well during the season.”
“We want the referees to maintain their traditionally high standards at the EURO. We’re expecting top-quality referees who are professional and totally focussed on their task on the field of play.”