Keith Hackett column: Expect penalties galore at Euro 2020 after refs are briefed to punish pushing and holding inside the box

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At a recent gathering of the 18 referee and 22 VAR officials that will take part in Euro 2020, they were left in absolutely no doubt what is expected of them.

Roberto Rosetti, a former Italian international referee, headed up the UEFA Referees Committee meeting in Nyon, the first time since the outbreak of the COVID pandemic in spring 2020 that referees have been able to meet together in person, with all the necessary health precautions and protocols in place at UEFA’s headquarters.

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UEFA’s technical refereeing guidelines were discussed, and the officials learned that they would be operating the new 2021/22 Laws of the Game during the tournament.

In particular, the officials have been urged to act firmly to punish holding and pushing offences in the penalty area, and also to take strong action against reckless challenges and serious foul play which could endanger a player’s safety.

“It’s crucial in this respect that referees act not only to protect players, but also to protect the spirit and image of the game,” said Rosetti. “Everyone is on the same page as far as the uniform and consistent application of the laws are concerned in these areas.”

Former Premier League and FIFA referee Keith Hackett is a columnist for

Rosetti wants referees to “stay calm and in control” in handling players, especially in situations of mobbing and dissent.

He adds: “We have clear proof from this season’s UEFA club competition knockout stages that if referees are calm and focused, they can send the right message to players – we’re seeing that when referees relax, the players react in a very positive way.”

UEFA’s referee officers plan to visit all 24 teams ahead of the tournament to explain the various instructions and guidelines given to the match officials, and to emphasise what is expected in return of players, coaches and team officials.

Presentations to the teams on law changes and refereeing guidelines in the run-up to UEFA EURO 2016 were a crucial factor in the overall positive conduct of players and coaches at the tournament in France.

Interestingly, the new laws don’t officially come into effect until July 1, but the IFAB do allow for them to be introduced early in certain competitions, and UEFA have decided to take advantage of the same.

There will be a few changes, but the main one will be a further attempt to clarify and operate the new handball law which the IFAB reviewed and revised at its annual meeting in March.

‘It is 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. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, 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;


– scores in the opponents’ goal:

– directly from their hand/arm, even if accidental, including by the goalkeeper; or

– immediately after the ball has touched their hand/arm, even if accidental.”

Accidental handball that leads to a team-mate scoring a goal or having a goal-scoring opportunity will no longer be considered an offence.

Let battle commence!

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