Commentary

The saga continues

When I wrote the two parts of “The Mountain and the Mouse,” I expected the new LOTG (2020-21) to come through soon. It just came out as a circular by IFAB to National Associations summarizing the changes to the LOTG. IFAB in its website says: “The Laws of the Game 2020/21 come into force on 1 June 2020 but, mindful of the current suspension of football throughout the world, if a suspended competition restarts it has the option to continue using the 2019/20 Laws of the Game, even if the restart is after 1 June 2020.”

In these pandemic days, there are no games to comment on, no developments in the transfer window to gossip about, no bad call to criticize and hence not too many topics for us to write about. So I will talk about the Mouse that the Mountain (IFAB) gave birth to, namely the new official LOTG 2020-21. 

One of the most debated concepts in the recent years was the radical change in the interpretation of handling the ball: From “intentional handling” to “deliberate handling” to now the handball offense. It is obvious that the guardians of the LOTG wants the contact between the ball and the hand to be penalized unless a very few conditions are met. In the past the contact between the hand and the ball was only penalized if the contact was “deliberate” which meant that the referee had to do some mind reading of the player. If you look carefully at the LOTG or my earlier articles on handling concepts like “the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)” or “the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement” have either disappeared in the current versions of the LOTG or have been watered down. Instead of answering questions like what is meant by “unnaturally bigger” or “what is naturally bigger” IFAB chose to address two other points regarding handling in the new LOTG (2020-21). To be fair to IFAB, they removed the word “usually” from the interpretation of the handball offense which created nothing but further ambiguity. 

Here are two changes to the LOTG regarding the handball offense:

Handball: 

  • Accidental handball by an attacking player should only be penalised if it ‘immediately’ results in a goal or an obvious opportunity for the player and/or their team to score a goal (i.e. following the handball, the ball travels only a short distance and/or there are very few passes) 
  • For the purposes of determining handball offences, the ‘arm’ stops at the bottom of the armpit”

The first one clarifies the case of an “accidental” handball offense occurring NOT just before a goal is scored. The whole reason why the new interpretation of the handball offense for a goal to be scored or assisted by an “accidental” handball offense was that the football does not expect for a goal to be scored or assisted by a hand in any way or fashion. This new change tell us that – using the terminology of the VAR protocol – if there is an “accidental” handball in the buildup of a goal then the goal should be allowed unless the “accidental” handball occurred just immediately prior to the a goal scored. I believe this interpretation was inserted thinking about the VAR protocol and not necessarily the grassroots game.

The second definition is rather vague. The illustration that IFAB provides at least in my opinion is not an illustration of where the "arm’ stops at the bottom of the armpit.". It shows a very short sleeve of a short sleeved shirt more like what the Australian Rules Football players wear. It yet creates another problem: What happens when there is contact between the ball and both the pink and green areas. Sometimes in order to make something clearer -instead of leaving it to the judgment of the referee- you open up a can of worms. I do not think this definition was a problematic part of the current interpretation of the handball offence, so why does IFAB poke the bee hive with questions like above is a question I cannot answer. 


The LOTG (2020-21) make changes to Law 1, 2, 4, 10, 11, 12, 14 and the VAR protocol. Football expected changes in interpretation of the handball offense, the concussion protocol and the offside rule as manifested by the problems created using the VAR protocol. The Mountain delivered the above handball offencs interpretation changes and left the rest to the coming year(s). At least IFAB says in its circular to the National Associations: “The members agreed that the fundamental philosophy of offside is underpinned by a desire to encourage attacking football and the scoring of goals. It was further agreed, therefore, that Law 11 – Offside should be analysed and reviewed with a view to potentially proposing changes reflecting this philosophy.” We will wait and see.

Regarding the other changes in the LOTG (2020-21) there are three changes that I find interesting to relay to the readers: 

  1. “If a goalkeeper is penalised and a kick is retaken, the goalkeeper is warned for the first offence (in the game or in KFPM) and cautioned (YC) for any subsequent offence(s).” In conjunction with this change, IFAB decided that cautions will not be carried into the KFPM. This change was also triggered by the use of VAR technology. In games using VAR and its related technology, illegal goalkeeper moves during a penalty kick are asked to be detected like an objective decision and not as a clear and obvious error observed by the human eye. This increased the number of retakes and the caution that automatically comes with it created problems like sending goalkeepers off during PKs and/or KFPM.
  2. ”If the referee allows a ‘quick’ free kick or plays advantage for an offence which ‘interfered with or stopped a promising attack’, the YC is not issued” This seemed redundant if you were going to apply advantage for a promising attack, you should not later on turn around caution the player for ‘stopping a potential attack’ since the promising attack did take place.
  3. ”If the goalkeeper is penalised for ‘illegally’ playing the ball a second time at a restart (i.e. before it has touched another player), the appropriate disciplinary sanction is applied, even if the second touch was with the hand/arm.”

The hypothetical question was always asked without a good reply: ‘What happens if a goalkeeper takes a free kick and the wind blows the ball directly back towards the goal and the goalkeeper prevents the ball going into the net by playing with his hands?’ Especially with the recent Law change (2019-20) that makes the ball in play the moment it is played without having to leave the penalty area, this question became more feasible. The new Law says that the goalkeeper should be sent off for DOGSO and the game restarted with an indirect free kick.

These were the major changes for the 2020-21 season. 

Here is another Turkish saying: “Too many words cannot be without a lie and too much money without a sin.” What it is saying if you say too much then it is possible that you will say something which is not true. Some years we have massive and radical changes in the LOTG. The 2016-17 edition of the LOTG was one of those years, the 2017-18 edition had fewer Law changes mostly to clarify or correct what was said a year before. The 2019-20 edition had a lot of changes to the LOTG, so this year we have less changes and some to clarify and correct the Law changes of the year before. 

Ahmet Guvener (ahmet@ahmetguvener.com) is the former Secretary General and the Chief Soccer Officer of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, TX.

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