Football leagues have been accorded the free will to decided whether to put into practice the new handball law when the halted 2019/20 season restarts.

New football laws become compulsory on 1 June for the start of a new season. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, things have changed. For this reason, the competitions will get the chance of whether to implement the laws for the rest of the 2019/20 season.

The International Football Association Board (Ifab) on Tuesday wrote to the four British football associations. The purpose was to confirm the approved changes to the laws of the game for the 2020/21 campaign.

This included the use of the “T-shirt line” to differentiate between the arm and the shoulder for handball decisions.

In an official communication, Ifab reported, “competitions which have been suspended because of COVID-19 have the option of completing the competition using the laws of the Game 2019/20 or adopting the Laws of the Game 2020/21.”

“Friendly/practice/warm-up matches in preparation for the restart of the competition are permitted to use the version of the Laws that will be used when the competition restarts.”

The member associations will now pass this guidance on to the competitions. In other words, the competitions/leagues will decide on their own on which rules to use at the point football resumes.

The handball rule

The change to the handball rule was the most significant alteration to the laws of the game. As usual, this change of rule came from the ifab’s annual general meeting held in February.

Patrick Nelson, Irish FA chief executive explained the importance of the change saying, “the shoulder itself doesn’t really have an opportunity to make the body bigger whereas the arms do.”

“The T-shirt line or armpit-where the sleeve on a T-shirt ends will become a key marker on the player’s body for match officials. Anything below that being handball.”

Before Premier League suspension, the match between Burnley and Bournemouth highlighted confusion with the current distinction between the arm and shoulder. The VAR had made two contentious handball decisions.