Is there an unwritten rule or understanding that if the play is so close that the AR is unable to determine with any confidence whether or not the player receiving the ball was or was not in an offside position that the AR should decide in favor of either the attacking team or defending team?

While watching some highlights from the 2002 World Cup I saw a few situations where Italian forwards were found to be in an offside position at the moment the ball was played forward to them within the attacking half, however, even when you look at these plays in super slow motion it’s difficult to determine whether or not the players are for sure in an offside position. In such situations, are ARs advised to go in favor of the defending team?

The only thing I was able to find that’s remotely close to this topic was within Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game section 11.7 where it states: “if an assistant referee is in any doubt as to whether a player is actively involved or not, the assistant referee is expected to decide in favor of the attacker; in other words, to refrain from signaling offside.”

But this has to do with whether or not the player in an offside position is actively involved. It doesn’t address what to do if the player is actively involved, but the AR is still unable to determine if this player is in an offside position or not because the play is so close and the action so fast.

In other words, as an AR are you only called to put up your flag to indicate offside if you’re 100% sure? Or if there’s any doubt, do you favor the defending team?

USSF answer (March 3, 2008):
When in doubt, leave the flag down. A less elegant, but equally valid way of saying what is in the Advice — and it is what we tell all referees who are acting as ARs. And your interpretation of offside seems somewhat skewed. If the AR cannot flag a player for offside who is not actively involved in play, then the AR has no decision to make other than to keep the flag down. Players are entitled to be in an offside position whenever their team is on the attack. They are punished only when they are in the offside position and become involved in play.

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