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Brian Fowlie: A new ball in Qatar won’t stop refs and VAR getting handballs wrong

Qatar’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium (Pic: Darko Bandic/AP/Shutterstock)
Qatar’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium (Pic: Darko Bandic/AP/Shutterstock)

It won’t surprise anyone that a new design of ball will be used for the World Cup Finals in Qatar.

The Adidas Al Rihla is white, with a design that uses the colours of the Qatari flag.

We’re told that “Speedshell technology” will increase the ball’s speed of flight.

So you should start counting down the days until a goalkeeper complains about it moving oddly in the air, and strikers begin blaming the equipment for failing to hit the target.

Many players of the past – amateur or professional– would have loved to play with such a light, smooth ball.

Some veterans will still have the scars from a lace being responsible for a cut to the forehead.

Others will wince when they recall meeting a Mitre Mouldmaster on winter mornings.

Those brick-hard footballs had a dimpled finish that stung like crazy wherever it smacked you on the body.

In fact, they really should have been used as an early version of VAR.

If a Mouldmaster hit you on the arm, it was pretty obvious. The imprint was there for several days.

Thankfully, the pain of being hit by a ball that felt like it was made of concrete was rarely compounded by a second punishment.

That’s all changed.

You might have clearly been hit on the hand by a cannonball shot back in the day, but it didn’t always lead to a penalty kick and a booking.

Now it does, and isn’t that ridiculous?

I’d love to know who it was at the International Football Association Board (IFAB) who thought it would be a good idea to award a spot-kick every time the ball hits a hand inside the penalty box.

The first few weeks of VAR being used in Scotland have shown what a farce this rule change is.

Last weekend, Celtic full-back Alexandro Bernabei was jumping with his back to the play when a header from Dundee United’s Steven Fletcher struck his arm.

A penalty was awarded – but only after VAR official Nick Walsh told referee David Dickinson to have another look on a monitor.

It seems unfair to be penalising any player for handball when it’s clearly not deliberate.

But it didn’t stop there.

Bernabei was booked and his manager decided to replace him at half-time. A defender on an early yellow card is always in danger of picking up a second and going for an early bath.

Referees are only supposed to rule it’s handball if: “An arm extended away from the body makes that body bigger, in an unnatural position”.

Everyone moves their arms when they jump, and the Celtic player’s arm movement could only have been deliberate if he had eyes in the back of his head.

The week before that, I saw St Mirren’s Richard Tait cautioned after the match referee took another look at a handball following VAR’s intervention.

He was facing the play this time, but was turning his back and trying to make himself a smaller target.

The law may well say that a penalty was the correct decision – but the law is an ass.

Football authorities are constantly asking fans to uphold fair play.

What’s fair about being booked if a point-blank shot happens to smack off your arm in the blink of an eye?

If a player is unlucky enough for it to happen a few times, he’ll get an early suspension.

That’s not right.

The great irony in all of this is that IFAB changed another rule at the start of this season.

A goal won’t be chalked off if a player accidentally handballs in the build-up to a team-mate scoring.

It won’t stand, however, if a player commits an accidental handball immediately before hitting the net.

Who comes up with this stuff?

Video technology isn’t going away. It’s here and, whether you like it or not, football will be using it.

But there has to be more common sense in the way rules are framed and put into operation.

Look out for many disputes about handball between now and the end of the season.

It could really cost a team, sending them down or out of a cup.

That will feel like the blast of a Mouldmaster where it really hurts!