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Challenging the legality of an accidental handball

All Barça fans lived last nights game in agony after a handball of Ansu Fati being cancelled and subsequently not being awarded a penalty for a handball of the opponent.

As a sports lawyer I’m aware of the laws of the game and back in 2021 the IFAB updated and clarified their laws on handballs, now consisting of the following provisions:

According to law 12 of the IFAB's Laws of the game, It is considered a handball offence 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; which is the case when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of 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

Here the IFAB does confirm that it’s up to the referee to decide when this is the case and thus they have a high level of discretion in handball situations.

It also clearly states that an accidental handball that leads to a team-mate scoring a goal or having a goal-scoring opportunity will no longer be considered an offence.

Now is there something that can be done from a legal point of view to remedy this situation? In principle no, one of the defining principles of sports law is the immunity enjoyed by officials for their ‘field of play decisions’, known as lex ludica. This principle applies irrespective of whether the on-field decision is later identified as having been incorrect.

However, jurisprudence confirms that a formal complaint can be lodged to the event organizer in case a field of play decision is alleged to be tainted by fraud, bad faith, bias, arbitrariness, or corruption.

Since this same VAR denied the Catalans another clear-cut penalty for a foul on Ousmane Dembele during the last UCL clash against Bayern Munich and yesterday’s arbitrary decision may have determined FC Barcelona’s faith in the Champions League tournament, this is what FC Barcelona plans on doing according to Spanish news outlets.

To be continued...

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