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Soccer

The Handball Rule Is Dogshit

The big screen inside the stadium shows that a VAR review has decided to disallow a goal scored by Josh Maja of Fulham (not pictured) during the Premier League match between Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage on March 04, 2021 in London, England.
Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth - Pool/Getty Images

If you tuned into Tuesday’s Fulham-Tottenham match expecting something in the way of entertainment and excitement, the drab 1–0 result probably left you disappointed. If, however, you watched to see a perfect encapsulation of why soccer’s handball rule is the most nonsensical, unjust law on the books today, you 1) are a deeply strange person, and 2) must be absolutely elated by the awful ruling out of Josh Maja’s equalizer.

Because NBC Sports, which is almost as shitty as the handball rule, is mediocre at best at providing timely highlights of key game moments, and because it’s especially bad at this when the matches are hidden behind its stupid paywalled streaming service, I can’t find good video of Maja’s disallowed goal itself. Luckily, the “handball” that ruled the goal out after a VAR review was so egregiously, self-evidently terrible that the following video should suffice to demonstrate the point:

Yes, that is Mario Lemina’s arm practically glued to his side, altering absolutely nothing about the close-range clearance that would’ve always bounced off his body regardless of his arm placement, which the referee decided was a big enough infraction to disallow Maja’s subsequent strike. Seriously, why on Earth should this be penalized?

It’s important to direct ire at the right target, and the primary villain here is the handball rule itself. According to it, any contact, intentional or inadvertent, of a hand or arm that immediately leads to the handler’s team scoring is an illegal play. It is a strict liability determination, and so when the video referee saw the replay showing the contact with Maja’s arm, the ref had to disallow the goal.

(A secondary but contributory villain is VAR. This is the kind of thing that wasn’t and probably wouldn’t be noticed in real time, and a big reason why the current handball rule is so strict and interpretation-free is because of VAR’s existence and the problems its imaginary objectivity creates in situations it was designed to solve.)

Obviously, this is moronic. Obviously, Lemina did nothing wrong or worthy of being punished for, and it is deeply dumb to strip the game of cool things of colossal importance like goals just because a slowed-down replay showed that the deflection that led to the goal came off a totally sensibly placed arm rather than a hip. The handball rule sucks, VAR sucks, NBC Sports sucks, and this game sucked, too. Till next time!

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