Schutzhand made in Germany

Bronze sculpture Schutzhand by Ursula Stock, 1983Artist: Ursula Stock, photographer: Heinz Rall. Schutzhand, sculpture by Ursula Stock, bronze, 26 x 20 x 27 cm, 1983. CC SA 4.0 (Wikimedia) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ursula_Stock,_79.jpg.

Schutzhand in German, beschermen in Dutch. Not everywhere in world exist the myth about the reflex of holding your hands in front of your face to protect yourself when something suddenly comes at you. However, this reaction is inconvenient when playing football, because you risk an intentional or deliberate handball. It is better to turn your face away or duck.

I tell you more about the myth from the German perspective and would be glad if you let me know if this myth in your country exists and what name is has.

Yet the myth about the Schutzhand has been around for about 100 years. Exactly where this myth first arose is no longer discernible.

The myth of the Schutzhand in Germany

In Germany there has been a term for this reflex since 1931: The “Schutzhand”, protective hand literally in English. As late as 1929 and 1930 this reflex was still only paraphrased in the Deutsche Schiedsrichter-Zeitung (German Arbitrator’s Newspaper): The rules do not know any “reflex actions” or “reflex movements”, was to be read. However, according to this article, in Germany the protective hand in front of the male genitales were not penalised, but considered as unintentional handball. 1Cf. for 1929: NN: From “green table” [= armchair decisions] (“Vom gruenen Tisch”). In: German Arbitrator’s Newspaper Volume 11 (July 1st 1929), p. 5 and for 1930 NN: From football practice. In: German Arbitrator’s Newspaper Volume 12 (January 15th 1930), p. 3 and NN: Quer durch die Regelfragen. Betrachtung zu aktuellen Fällen („Across the rule questions. Consideration of current cases“). In: German Arbitrator’s Newspaper Volume 12 (May 1st 1930), p. 3-4, here p. 3.

The coach of the men’s national team of Germany in 1931, Otto Nerz, wrote in the DFB’s refereeing journal about the Schutzhand. Nerz obviously did not used this term before that time.

Never Schutzhand or sometimes?

However, in the period between the two world wars, people are as insecure about the subject of protective hand as they are today: Are there exceptions? The protection of the genitales, as already written above? Or at least, when the referee is absolutely sure that there is no intention, as Nerz wrote in 1931?

The Laws of the Game are clear

There has never been an exception for these cases in the Laws of the Game. A protective hand was never allowed and is still not allowed today. Although the Laws of the Game changed somewhat in the 20th century. At first handball had to be wilfully, then intentionally until 1995 and since then deliberately, in order to be punished. In addition, in recent months the handball law has been clarified and supplemented to the effect that no handball is permitted immediately before a goal is scored.

The myth of the Schutzhand is alive

But although the Laws of the Game are so clear, the myth remains. Maybe because it is an all too familiar reflex action and many people can’t even imagine that it could be punished. In any case, the discussions about handball and the protective hand have not changed in the last 100 years.

Nerz wrote as the final sentence in his article: “The ‘Schutzhand’ will probably be discussed for a long time.” He certainly didn’t know how much he was going to be right.

Further information

Otto Nerz’ article about the Schutzhand in the original wording (German) is published here. Source of the article: Nerz, Otto: Zur Praxis des internationalen Schiedsrichters. ‚Schutzhand‘ Made in Germany („On the practice of international arbitration. ‚Schutzhand‘ Made in Germany“). In: DFB referee newspaper, Volume 13 (November, 1st 1931). Page 233-235, cited p. 233-234.