Law 11

Offside

Offside is easily the most confusing rule in the game of soccer, and it is also the one that is adjusted most by FIFA, the sport’s governing body.  Offside calls for or against a team are easily the source of the greatest amount of criticism of referees by players, fans, and coaches as they are often involved in goal scoring situations.

In addition to the rule being confusing and controversial, actually making the call on the field is one of the most difficult officiating tasks in all of sport because the official has a split second to judge the passer’s moment of contact with the ball and the position of the attacking players in close proximity to the “offside line” while running down the side of the field.  It should be noted that the ball and the offside line are often not able to be kept in the official’s field of vision at the same time.

Being in an Offside Position and Being Offside

A player is in an offside position when:

  • He is nearer to his opponent’s goal line than the second-last opponent.

Note: The word “opponent” is used.  It is NOT specified that one of the opponents must be the goalkeeper, although this is almost always the last player.

Also note: “Nearer the opponents’ goal line” means that any part of a player’s head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.  The arms are not included in the definition.

A player is NOT in an offside position when:

  • He is in his own half of the field
  • He is level with the second-last opponent
  • He is level with the last two opponents

A player who is in an offside position is NOT committing an offence unless, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his teammates, he is, in the OPINION of the referee, involved in ACTIVE play by:

  • Interfering with play or
  • Interfering with an opponent or
  • Gaining an advantage by being in that position

Note: “Interfering with play” is defined as playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a team-mate.  “Interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to pay the ball by obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements, or making a gesture or movement which, in the OPINION of the referee, deceives or distracts the opponent.  “Gaining and advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball that rebounds off the goalpost or crossbar or playing a ball that REBOUNDS OFF AN OPPONENT having been in an offside position (prior to the ball rebounding).

If a ball is played intentionally by an opponent and is received by a player in an offside position, the player in an offside position is NOT penalized and play continues.

A player cannot be penalized for being in an offside position if he receives the ball DIRECTLY from:

  • A goal kick
  • A throw-in
  • A corner kick

Finally, when a player is in an offside position it is likely the assistant referee will NOT raise the flag until the player in question touches the ball.  If an offside offense occurs and the assistant referee signals the referee by raising his flag, it is often the case that the referee does not immediately see the flag.  The assistant referee will keep the flag raised until it is acknowledged by the center referee.  The referee may opt to NOT stop the game and award a free kick if the ball has clearly gone to and is in possession of the defending team.  Allowing play to continue in this case is another application of advantage.