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VAR won’t be tough on handballs, says Riley

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Referee (C) communicates with Video Assistant Referee (VAR) during a group F match between Sweden and South Korea at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, June 18, 2018. (Xinhua/Yang Lei)

LONDON (Reuters) – The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) will not be used to police a hard line on handballs when the technology is used in the Premier League for the first time next season, referees’ chief Mike Riley has said.

VAR made a controversy-filled debut in the women’s game at World Cup level, baffling players and coaches as well as frustrating fans.

Riley said several penalties awarded for handball at the tournament, as well as in last season’s Champions League, would not be given in the Premier League.

“There are still areas of interpretation around the way the new handball has been written — effectively what you consider to be an unnatural position of hands and arms,” he told The Times yesterday.

“In this country we have always said — and this is the players and managers saying it to us — that arms are part of the game and as long as you are not trying to extend your body to block a shot then there is more scope so that we don’t penalise.

“What we don’t want to create is a culture when defenders have to defend with their hands behind their back or where it is acceptable for attackers to try to drill the ball at their hand to win a penalty.”

The new law states that players “taking a risk” by having hands or arms above shoulder height or in an “unnatural position” and making the body “unnaturally bigger” should be penalised, even if the handball is not deliberate.

However, Riley said that Premier League officials would need to be convinced that the defender was deliberately attempting to create a bigger barrier for an opponent rather than extending their arms to balance.

He said that Premier League fans could expect a delay to the game only once in five matches and the referee would not go to the pitchside monitor unless the VAR’s view was radically different from what the on-field official expected to hear.

“There have been examples at the Women’s World Cup, really subjective decisions, where it has taken three or four minutes and you can avoid all that as long as the advice the VAR has given you is something that the referee expects,” Riley added.

“Where you have to be careful is to not use VAR to re-referee the game. You have to trust the people out there on the field of play as the players do.”

Following extensive trialling in a number of major football competitions, Video Assitant Referees were first written into the Laws of the Game by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) back in 2018.

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