FIFA Soccer Rules for a Hand Ball

2009 MLS Conference Semifinals - Game One - Los Angeles Galaxy v Chivas USA

A hand ball is a colloquial term referring to the ban on deliberately handling the ball -- with the hand or arm -- imposed by FIFA, the international governing body of soccer. FIFA's rules are followed by U.S. Soccer, meaning that the hand ball rule applies to youth league, school and university play and Major League Soccer.


The first attempt to codify the rules of soccer was made by undergraduate students at Cambridge University in the 1840s -- who at the time allowed the ball to be caught. The Football Association was established in 1863, and it eliminated playing the ball with hands. The International Football Association Board was established in 1886, forming the Laws of the Game, which forbid handling of the ball except by the goalkeeper. FIFA was formed in 1904 and joined the IFAB in 1913. In 1912, goalkeepers were banned from handling the ball outside of the penalty box. More recently, FIFA banned the goalkeepers from handling a ball that is passed or thrown to them by a teammate.


A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player deliberately handles the ball. A direct free kick means that the player can score directly from the kick -- as opposed to an indirect free kick, which must subsequently touch a teammate for a goal to be scored. If the hand ball takes place inside the offending team's penalty area, a penalty kick is awarded. If, in the view of the referee, a player denies the opposing team a goal -- or obvious opportunity to score a goal -- he will be shown a red card and sent off.

Referee Interpretation

Simply touching the ball with an arm or hand does not necessarily result in a hand ball. United States Soccer referee, Victor Matheson, notes that he ball must be intentionally touched by the player's arm or hand. If a ball bounces up and hits a player's hand unintentionally, it is not a hand ball. The USSF advises referees to use the rule of thumb that "it is handling if the player plays the ball, but not handling if the ball plays the player."


The biggest exception to the hand ball rule, is that a goalkeeper can handle the ball inside his own penalty area. Outside of the penalty area, the regular rules apply. Additionally, he cannot handle the ball if it is passed to him by a teammate by foot or via a throw in. Players are allowed -- and in fact required -- to handle the ball during a throw in. A referee may also allow play to continue if the non-offending player has an advantage allowing a potential goal to be scored.