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Just for fun, what is a hand ball? What does FIFA say, what does USSF say?

So last night Real Salt Lake's Tony Beltran was falling down and the ball bounced up and grazed his arm, it went past and was played by Brek Shea into a shot, but the whistle blew as Geoff Gamble pointed to the PK spot (his 9th time in 11 matches), and if left me wondering, really? That is what qualifies for a PK in MLS now?

So I thought we would take a journey on how things sometimes go oh so wrong with the rules and calls. Up first the video of the "offense":

So after the jump, we will look at the rule, from FIFA and then how 13 words become something more thanks to the USSF:

So if you go to the FIFA Site you can find the official "Laws of the Game" and on page 34 under Law 12 Fouls and Misconduct you will find this definition:

  • handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within his own penalty area)

When this offense occurs a direct free kick is awarded, if the offense takes place in the Penalty Area a penalty kick is awarded.

OK, to me that seems like a very simple rule. So of course we can't leave it at that oh no, so along comes the USSF and U.S. Soccer Federation's National Referee Program. As a result those 13 words become this 238 word definition from The USSF's "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game":

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.

Now I could deal with that if they just left it at that, but of course we can't so we get the " Directive on Handling the Ball" from the USSF, which takes the 13 word rule that took 238 words to define, and makes it a 582 word directive:

Handling The Ball
2009 Referee Program Directives
February 2, 2009
Keys to Identifying Handling the Ball
There are several key criteria referees should use to determine whether contact between a player's hand/arm and the ball constitutes a foul for handling. Many of the criteria have formed the foundation of referee identification of handling offenses for years. Despite this foundation, handling criteria continue to be applied inconsistently.
Going forward, additional criteria will need to be considered by officials in determining if contact by the ball with the hand/arm is, in fact, a handling offense. For example: Did the player make himself bigger?
The following 3 criteria should be the primary factors considered by the referee:
1. Making yourself bigger
This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender "deliberately" putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).
• Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?
• Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the
passing lane from the opponent?
• Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending
his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?
2. Is the arm or hand in an "unnatural position?" Is the arm or hand in a position that is not normal or natural for a player performing the task at hand.
3. Did the player" benefit?" In considering all the "signs" described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player's (usually a defender) action. Did the defender's action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent? Did the offending player gain an unfair tactical advantage from contact with the hand/arm which enabled him to retain possession? In other words: Did the player benefit by putting his hand/arm in an "unnatural position?" The referee needs to be able to quickly calculate the result of the player's action to determine whether an offence has been committed.
After applying the aforementioned criteria, if the referee is still uncertain as to whether handling the ball has occurred, the referee should then incorporate the following two criteria as part of his decision making process:
4. Reaction Time The less time a defender has to react, the less likely there has been a handling offense. For example, a ball struck from a close distance, or a very fast moving ball, or a ball coming in from a direction which is outside the defender's view gives little or no time for the defender's reaction to be "deliberate." The referee must take into consideration whether the defender's reaction is purely instinctive, taken to protect sensitive areas of the body as the face. Distance is a factor in determining "reaction time." The further the ball, the more reaction time a play may have.
5. Hand/arm to ball Referees must be ready to judge whether the player moved his arm to the ball thereby initiating the contact. Additionally, the referee should evaluate whether the player deliberately readjusted his body position to block the ball thus intentionally playing the ball with his hand/arm.

So do you wonder why a guy with just 10 previous MLS matches under his belt in the heat of the moment might just be a bit confused? The rules as laid out by FIFA are simple and yes a bit vague at time, but when you take 13 words of a rule and turn them into a 500 plus word directive, it is easy to see why there are so few officials, and why what they do is so damn confusing to the fans. Do you really think an official in the run of play has time to think about the reaction time of the defender? Come one, this is why the games are being called poorly, we burden the few who would like to be officials with crap like this, and then they get beat up by the fans when a simple rule of 13 words is turned into something much more complicated, than what it needs to be.

If you think that Tony Beltran's contact with the ball was deliberate than make the call, if not then don't. But for the love of the game can we stop making things oh so much more complex than they need to be?