Opinion: Mats Hummels handball? Clearly unclear | Sports | German football and major international sports news | DW | 04.12.2021

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Opinion: Mats Hummels handball? Clearly unclear

After a top game between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern, the discussion afterwards revolved around a penalty and VAR. The referees themselves are to blame, says DW's Andreas Sten-Ziemons.

German referee Felix Zwayer looking at a monitor pitchside

German referee Felix Zwayer drew criticism for a controversial penalty decision

It's always a shame when, after a football game, people talk not about goals or saves, but mainly about a referee's decision.

For much of Saturday's top game between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich, all that mattered was what was happening on the pitch. It was a racy and high-scoring match— by no means mistake-free — fast-paced, intense and, above all, exciting. For the first time in a long time, the two sides were going toe-to-toe.

That's how you want it to be! The next day, there may also have been discussion about the injury-related substitution of Julian Brandt. Or about the flock of pigeons that were in the stadium throughout the game and fluttered away from the back-and-forth action.

But then came the 77th minute, the appearance of referee Felix Zwayer and his video assistant, or VAR. A handball by Dortmund's defensive veteran, Mats Hummels, was supposedly a penalty. And after everything in the game had basically been clearly comprehensible, it now became complicated.

Hummels, sandwiched between attacker Thomas Müller and his teammate Jude Bellingham. had bent forward during a Bayern corner to clear the ball with his head. He didn't see anything because Bellingham held his arm right in front of his eyes. Blindly falling forward, Hummels got the ball at his elbow and cleared the scene that way. But was that really a deliberate handball?

No clear answer

DW's Andreas Sten-Ziemons

DW's Andreas Sten-Ziemons

According to the rule, there are two criteria that determine whether a defender's handball is punishable. Either a player brings his hand or arm to the ball with an intentional movement or if the player, through his body position, has the intention to stop the ball.

It is then necessary to assess: what is the player's intention? Does his body posture result from a natural movement? Does the player intend to stop the ball with his arm by increasing his size?

All these questions cannot be answered clearly in the Hummels case. Therefore, what would have been so difficult about saying: clear evidence of the player's intention cannot be established.

Consequently, in case of doubt for the accused, there is no penalty kick. After all, Zwayer had also made a similar decision earlier and thus had not made a clear and obvious wrong decision.

However, and this is also stipulated in the rules, this must be the case for the VAR to be allowed to intervene at all. The question also remains as to why the video referee intervenes in the case of Hummels, but not before when Lucas Hernandez runs into Marco Reus' heels and brings him down in the penalty area.

The bottom line is that everyone could have lived well with a 2-2 finish, including Bayern, Dortmund fans and neutral supporters. But as it is, after a great football game, there is a sour aftertaste and the impression that the VAR, who is supposed to make the sport fairer and more comprehensible, has once again failed in this task.

This opinion piece was translated from German.