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Premier League set for fewer penalties with referees no longer applying controversial handball laws to the letter


PREMIER LEAGUE referees will no longer apply the controversial hardline handball laws which threatened to turn the season into a mockery.

Players, managers and fans – and the referees themselves – have united in their contempt and disgust at the directive which has brought six handball penalties already.

But in a move that will be widely welcomed, refs’ chief Mike Riley went to the game’s law-making body Ifab to get approval for a softening of the approach.

Instead of any handling offence outside the “natural silhouette” of the body being a potential spot-kick, Premier League refs will now be able to take the context of the incident into account.

That means a defending player’s proximity to the ball, and the amount of time they had to react to the ball, will be assessed.

In addition, if the player is adjudged to have been in a “natural” position, with his arms slightly away from his body or as part of a normal running action, it will not be routinely penalised.


But PL refs will STILL have to award a spot-kick for incidents like the controversial Newcastle equaliser at Spurs on Sunday.

At the weekend, a penalty was awarded against Eric Dier even though the defender was not looking at the ball as he challenged Andy Carroll.

That is because Law 12, which covers handball, states that it is an offence if the ball strikes any arm that is raised above the shoulder – with no wriggle room allowed.

The change, to take immediate effect, comes as a rare U-turn by Ifab.

The Swiss-based body, under pressure from Fifa, had ordered all leagues to adopt a strict reading of the laws this season with no leeway for interpretation.

But Riley’s pleas to Ifab, following a flood of complaints from every sector of the game, brought an unexpected change of stance.

Riley, who did not want to introduce this season’s measures but was told by Fifa he had no option, feels the new approach will bring much-needed clarity and be welcomed across English football.

SunSport understands that of the six handball penalties awarded so far this term, three would no longer be deemed as offences, although the other three would still be awarded.

From now on, refs are allowed to apply a degree of subjectivity and mitigation around handball claims.

If a player is deemed to be too close to the ball, or it is blasted in his direction and he is deemed to have not made himself bigger, it will no longer be an automatic spot kick.

To help that decision, VAR officials will view an incident at “real speed” on two or three occasions to determine the true nature of the incident, before looking at the point of contact.

That does not mean no penalties when players have their arms slightly away from the bodies, as it will remain a judgement call by the referee, but will bring fewer spot-kicks.

And in addition, players who have their arms slightly outstretched as part of a normal running action will have a chance of avoiding a spot kick if the ball strikes them.

However, it will again be up to the ref, whose initial decision will still be subject to video review.

Liverpool vs Leeds, Sep 12

Robin Koch deflects Mo Salah’s goalbound shot onto his right arm.

NEW VERDICT: Penalty – arm in unnatural position.

Man Utd vs Crystal Palace, Sep 13

Jordan Ayew’s weak shot hits Victor Lindelof’s arm before bouncing to David De Gea.

NEW VERDICT: No penalty – arm in a natural running position.

Southampton vs Tottenham, Sep 20

Harry Winks’ attempted interception pings ball against Matt Doherty’s outstretched arm.

NEW VERDICT: No penalty – deflection gave Doherty no time to react.

Brighton vs Man Utd, Sep 27

Neal Maupay deflects Harry Maguire’s last-gasp header with his right fist.

NEW VERDICT: Penalty – arm raised above the shoulder.

Crystal Palace vs Everton, Sep 27

Lucas Digne’s header into the box strikes Joel Ward’s left arm.

NEW VERDICT: No penalty – Ward had no time to react and his arm was in a natural stance.

Tottenham vs Newcastle, Sep 28

Last second drama as Eric Dier adjudged to have handled Andy Carroll header despite not looking at the ball.

NEW VERDICT: Penalty – Dier’s arm above his shoulder and not attempting to handle or seeing the ball is irrelevant.


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