- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

SAO PAULO (AP) - Brazil football officials and first-division teams have met to try to clarify a controversial change in the way referees have been giving handball decisions, hoping to ease criticism from clubs, coaches and the media.

The number of penalty kicks awarded has increased significantly since a new recommendation from the Brazilian confederation prompted referees to be more rigorous when giving handball, especially inside the penalty area.

The change created confusion and drew complaints from virtually all parties involved. Referees considered going on strike because of the “lack of respect” for officials.

In the meeting on Thursday that lasted nearly two hours in Rio de Janeiro, the confederation said it has not changed international football laws but warned players they could be penalized for handball even if the contact was not deliberate.

“The law hasn’t changed,” said Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda, a former FIFA official used as an instructor by the confederation. “There was some miscommunication, some people didn’t quite understand the recommendations.”

The confederation insists it did not tell referees to give a free kick every time the ball touches a hand or arm, but said players should not put themselves at risk of blocking a shot with their hands when inside the area.

“Players need to show the referees that they are trying to avoid hand contact,” said Larrionda, who refereed in two World Cups.

He was the official who didn’t see Frank Lampard’s shot cross the goal-line in England’s 4-1 loss to Germany in the second round of the 2010 tournament.

There have been disputed handball decisions in nearly every round since the new recommendations were introduced in Brazil a few weeks ago.

Referees started blowing for handball almost every time the ball touched a player’s hand inside the penalty area, apparently regardless of intention to block shots or crosses. Some referees are being more rigorous than others, prompting even more confusion and complaints.

Referees, saying that they are only following the confederation’s advice, last week threatened to halt the Brazilian league unless football officials and the nation’s sports tribunal took serious actions against those “not respecting” the officials.

When told about the way referees have been officiating in Brazil, FIFA head of refereeing Massimo Busacca recently told Brazilian media that they didn’t appear to be following FIFA’s recommendations. He said it’s always up to the referees to try to decide whether players are intentionally using their hands or arms to handle the ball.

Referees officiating in the league this weekend, as well as retired referees, participated in Thursday’s meeting to speak to the players, who have also been demanding more consistency in the calls. Members of the media also participated.

The confederation used nearly 30 videos - including from the World Cup, the Confederations Cup, and the Copa Libertadores - to try to clarify how handballs are being applied.

The confederation did not say whether the meeting came in response to the referees’ threat to go on strike.

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