The offside rule in soccer, explained

As Ted Lasso told Trent Crimm when the British journalist asked the American coach if he could explain the offside rule on the second episode of the Apple TV show: “It’s not easy to explain, but you know it when you see it.” Well, we’ll try to explain the offside rule better than Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s attempt to define obscenity, the phrase Lasso was referring to.

In fact, Law 11 of the official rulebook of international football is very simple:

But there are exceptions, footnotes, and sometimes you just don’t know when you see it.

And why is that not offside?

Now it starts to get a bit more complicated, because in order to be an offside player, he has to meet certain conditions. For example, he must be in his opponent’s half of the field, be in front of the ball when passed and try to play the ball.

Let’s see how these look on a football field.

If an offside offense occurs, the referee awards a free kick to the other team at the spot where the offside player was at the time the ball was played.

And there are certain scenarios in which players cannot be called offside: a goal kick, a throw-in, a corner or if the player receives the ball from an opponent who deliberately plays the ball.

Inch matter

In most cases, when offside is called, a player’s entire body is offside. But if it is close, it can reach parts of the body. What if an attacker’s hand is closer to the goal line than a defender’s foot? Is this offside? Let’s see.


The parts of the body that may be offside are the same ones that can touch the ball, so everything except the arms counts.

The parts of the body that may be offside are the same ones that can touch the ball, so everything except the arms counts.

So back to our question: No, if the forward’s hand or arm is closer to the goal than the defender’s foot, there is no offside. But sometimes it can be very hard to tell, even in slow motion replay.


In this case the offside line is the defender’s leg. At the moment of passage, the attacker’s hand it is the only part of his body in front of the defender’s foot. So is not offside.

In this case the offside line is the defender’s leg. At the moment of passage, the attacker’s hand it is the only part of his body in front of the defender’s foot. So is not offside.

In this case the offside line is the defender’s leg. At the moment of passage, the attacker’s hand it is the only part of his body in front of the defender’s foot. So is not offside.


But take a closer look at this next game:

You see how the attacker’s left leg is it in front of the defender’s feet? It’s not that easy to catch this offside. That’s why the referee has some help, from humans and machines.

But take a closer look at this next game:

You see how the attacker’s left leg is it in front of the defender’s feet? It’s not that easy to catch this offside. That’s why the referee has some help, from humans and machines.

The referees

The head referee is the one who moves around the field. Normally, it is impossible for him to tell if a player was in an offside position. He therefore needs help from two assistant referees who move along the sides of the pitch, one in each half. Assistant referees try to stay even with the forwards so they are in a good position to see if someone is offside.

The assistant referees communicate with the head referee by moving their flags in different ways for a foul, a corner, a goal kick and, of course, an offside.


The assistant referee indicates offside by moving the flag in two steps.

And then lowering it depending on where

the offside player is:

On the near side

of the field

In the middle

of the field

Aside

of the field

The assistant referee indicates offside by moving the flag in two steps.

And then lowering it depending on where

the offside player is:

On the near side

of the field

In the middle

of the field

On the far side

of the field

But as we saw in the first game of this World Cup, sometimes the human eye cannot tell whether a player is in a legal position or not. To help correct the mistakes, FIFA, the sport’s international governing body, introduced video assistant referees (VAR) at the 2018 World Cup, following trials in some less important competitions. A VAR watches video during each game from a control room in the stadium and alerts the on-field referee via his headset that a foul may have been committed. The referee can then either change a call, let the call stand, or stop the game and watch the video replay. Offside, however, is only ruled if there is a goal.

[What to know about video review at the World Cup]

Additionally, FIFA announced this summer that this will be the first World Cup to use semi-automatic offside technology as part of its video control system. The new technology uses 12 cameras mounted under the pitch roof to track the ball and each player 50 times per second to assist the referees. The ball also has a sensor that sends data to the video operator 500 times a second and alerts the VAR if a player takes the ball in an offside position. The VAR will then manually review that call — with the help of an automatically generated offside line — before making a recommendation to the referee.

So don’t worry if you don’t catch every offside. Even in a major event like the World Cup – with referees, dozens of cameras and multiple reviews – there will still be doubts. Perhaps obscenity indeed is easier to understand when you see it.

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