A recent email from a league for which I referee contained the following: “A player in an offside position may be judged to have violated the offside law by three criteria, but two of these (interfering with play and gaining an advantage) REQUIRE that the player touch the ball. If the player does not touch the ball, the only way he can infringe the law is by interfering with an opponent.”
I don’t believe that this is correct. It is my understanding that if the ball is passed to a player in an offside position and there is really no chance that another attacking player who is onside would come onto the ball, then the offside should be called even before the offside player touches the ball. Please correct me if I am incorrect on this. I also believe that if the ball is passed to a player in an offside position but there is a chance that an onside attacker could get to the ball first, then the AR should wait to see who gets to the ball first–as long as the offside player doesn’t otherwise interfere with play.
Thanks for any guidance you can give here.
USSF answer (April 14, 2009):
We direct your attention to the Laws of the Game 2008/2009, Interpretations and Guidelines for Referees:
LAW 11 – OFFSIDE
In the context of Law 11 — Offside, the following definitions apply:
* “nearer to his 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 this definition
* “interfering with play” means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate
* “interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly 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 an opponent
* “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position
The current international interpretation is that the player in the offside position must touch the ball to be considered to have interfered with play.
So, you ask, what happens if that player simply follows the ball? In that case, he or she is likely to draw the attention of one of the opponents, who will move with him or her. Now the player in the offside position has interfered with an opponent and need not touch or play the ball to be considered offside.