What counts as a handball in soccer?
In soccer, or football in countries outside the United States, a player can control the ball using any part of his body except for the arms and hands. The only person who is exempt from this rule is the goalkeeper, who is allowed to handle the ball in the penalty area.
According to FIFA’s laws of the game, a foul can be called if a player other than the goalkeeper handles the ball deliberately.
A deliberate handball occurs when a player is very obviously moving his hands or arms to obstruct a ball’s movement, particularly when the ball is goal bound, i.e. a player tries to stop a goal or scores a goal with his hands/arms.
Check out two famous examples of a deliberate handball.
Luis Suarez, Uruguay vs Ghana, World Cup 2010
Luis Suarez of Uruguay handles the ball on the goal line, for which he is sent off, during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Quarter Final match between Uruguay and Ghana at the Soccer City stadium on July 2, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Diego Maradona, Argentina vs England, World Cup 1986
No foul was called for Maradona’s handball because the referee couldn’t get a clear view of the incident.
On the flip side, the FIFA laws allow for the occurrence of unintentional handballs. This happens when the player is question is clearly not trying to obstruct the movement of the ball to his arms/hands, i.e. there is absolutely nothing a player could have done to stop the ball from hitting his hand/arm
Whether a handball is deliberate or unintentional is very much up to the discretion of the referee and his assistants to call, however, and till this day, the handball offense is a very controversial aspect of football.