David, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:
The recent interpretations about the location of restarts for offside infractions seem to need clarification. Sure, if multiple attackers are running onto a through ball, we must wait until we know who reaches the ball first, an onside attacker or an offside attacker. The restart would be at the point that the offside player touches the ball or becomes involved in play or interferes with an opponent.
However, in the case of a through ball pass by an attacker to 30 yards from the half-way line with a lone attacker running onto it, and perhaps. a defender in pursuit, ARs have previously flagged the attacker as offside as soon as the offside attacker indicated that s/he was going for this ball. This is still the case we have seen recently in professional games, world-cup games, and college games. Some referees, and instructors, are taking the position that ARs must still wait until the attacker touches the ball before raising the flag, even if this causes an unnecessary long run by the attacker and defender.
It would seem that as soon as an offside attacker runs toward the ball, especially with a defender in pursuit, that s/he has become involved in play, or interfered with the opponent, and the offside infraction should be flagged and the restart would be at that point, not another 20 yards closer to the goal line when a touch might eventually take place. It’s this latter scenario that needs clarification for the majority of referees for youth games.
An outstanding (if rather long) question that is not easily answered. Remember, the Laws of the Game were never intended to be exhaustive regarding every possible permutation of what happens on a soccer field. Thank goodness for that! So, here goes.
For ease of reference, we have divided your original single paragraph scenario into three sections.
Everything you say in the first section is correct and, as you state, is now the current Law regarding the restart location for an offside offense. There is one correction, however, which might be thought minor but actually isn’t — Law 11 (Offside) states that the offense consists of becoming involved in active play, not just “play.” The second section is a factual description of the difficulty some referees have had in understanding this change, applying it correctly, or reacting to offside offense scenarios that are rather uncommon in youth play but are more likely seen in highly competitive levels of play. The third section lays out a concrete scenario for discussion. It is the more speculative last part of section 2 and all of section 3 that we will focus on.
Remember when we said that the Laws of the Game don’t cover everything? One of the reasons for this is that the International Board (IFAB) assumes we will incorporate into the current Law various earlier statements they have made on Law topics. In other words, have there been any prior decisions or interpretations that are relevant here that have not been specifically overridden? There are.
The two scenarios below assume that Player A is in an offside position (i.e., the ball was last touched/played by a teammate of Player A and Player A meets all relevant offside position requirements).
In scenario 1, Player A runs toward the ball and the AR/Referee judges that, though no contact with the ball or interference with an opponent has occurred as yet, the movement of both Player A and the last defender is such that a collision, with resulting injury, is likely. In this case, call an offside violation with the restart location being the position of Player A when this judgment occurs. Given the speed at which this sort of play develops, the decision needs to be made quickly in order to forestall the collision.
In scenario 2, Player A runs toward the ball and the AR/Referee judges that there is no other attacker who is not in an offside position with a realistic opportunity to reach the ball before Player A, In this case, call an offside violation with the restart location being where Player A was when the AR/Referee made this decision. It is important to remember that the intent of this scenario is withhold judgment until it is clear that only Player A’s pursuit of the ball is clear and likely to continue. After all, Player A should be given at least some brief opportunity to recognize (or hear teammates shout about) his situation and cease his potentially illegal pursuit.
Scenario 3 below has become a subject of strenuous debate and no official interpretation has yet been announced which resolves the issue (same assumption as above regarding Player A being in an offside position).
Player A is several yards away from the ball (at the edges of what would be considered “playing distance”) with an opponent (either the original “last defender” or some other defender who has moved into a competitive distance as the play has developed) also in a position to challenge for the ball when Player A makes a sliding tackle toward the ball, This would be an obvious offside offense if contact with the ball (or with the defender) is made, but some referees argue that the mere attempt to “slide tackle the ball” itself constitutes an offside offense even if no actual, discernable contact with the ball is made. They base this response on the argument that this is a form of interference with an opponent even though the similarity with any of the stated examples of “interfering with an opponent” are tenuous and, at best, arguable. We express no opinion as to the correct solution, only note that there is a difference of opinion that has not yet been resolved.
The above scenario has become one of those situations where the ultimate question – so far answerable only on an individual referee basis and only in an actual (as opposed to theoretical) game situation – is “what would soccer want?”