When waving down an AR there is always the chance that the referee is making a mistaken assumption as to which player the AR is indicating. Most times it is clear what has happened. But in situations (usually near midfield) where there may be a lot of players who could become involved in play and/or who are blocking the referee’s peripheral vision, mistaken assumptions can be made. Here is a situation that leads to some questions.The attacking team kicked the ball in the air over midfield. When the ball was played, there was an attacker wide on the left side of the field and another in the middle, both just over midfield and in offside positions. As the ball passed over the head of the attacker in the center, angling towards the attacker on the left, the AR raised the flag. It was just a bit early since the wide player had not yet touched the ball, but it was clear he was definitely going to receive the ball. The referee, assuming that the AR was prematurely indicating the center attacker was participating in active play, waved the flag down. The AR lowered his flag and quickly returned to his proper position with the 2LD. The offside attacker wide on the left received the ball and play continued for 4 seconds until the ball was put out for a corner kick. Now, had the defending team cleared the ball, or if the ball had gone out for a goal kick or throw-in for the defending team, there would be no problem. But since the attacking team retained possession of the ball, they continue to gain an advantage from the miscommunication between the referee and the assistant.

Since the AR is the one that knows what has happened, what should he do about this situation? Should the AR “insist” that the attacker who eventually (1 second later) received the ball player is offside and refuse to lower the flag when waved down? Should he indicate to the referee immediately upon the next stoppage that he needs to speak to the referee and inform him of the facts (and if this is the correct action, would itÊmatter if it had taken much longer than 4 seconds before the next stoppage occurred)? Should the AR simply comply with the referee and take no action? Or is there another answer?

And if the referee were to have discovered the facts, what action can he take? Has the offside been canceled once the AR lowers his flag, thereby eliminating his options? Or can the referee (aware that he could make mistaken assumptions when lots of players are around at the point of attack) hold up the next restart, quickly speak with the assistant, discover that the attacker who received the ball was also offside, and restart the game with an indirect kick fat the point of the original offside infringement?

It could be argued that changing the decision could negatively impact the referee’s credibility and game control, but the alternative outcome could be much worse such as a goal scored off the corner kick. And if the referee is permitted to restart with the indirect kick for the offside, then what is the status of a foul or misconduct that may have occured in the intervening time between the offside infringement and the next stoppage of play? Would a subsequent foul have to be considered misconduct since, technically, play was stopped at the original time of the offside and the foul took place when play was stopped?

USSF answer (December 19, 2007):
If there has been no subsequent restart between the moment when the referee waved down the assistant referee’s flag and the next stoppage of play, in this case the corner kick, the AR may confer with the referee. If the referee accepts the information supplied by the AR, the ball is brought back to place where the player was adjudged to be offside — i. e., where the player was when his/her teammate played the ball — and the indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team.

To attract the referee’s attention at that next stoppage, the AR should give the signal for offside: flag raised above his/her head and, when the referee sees the signal, indicate position on the field of the offside; in this case, the far side of the field. If there is a need to confer, then the referee must come to the AR. To avoid such situations in the future, the referee should make eye contact with the assistant referees as often as possible and should wave off the AR’s flag only if the AR has shown him-/herself to be unreliable. Let us emphasize here that unless the referee has reason to believe that the AR’s judgment is unreliable, an AR’s flag for offside should not be waved down. The exception here is when the developing offside situation is in the far third of the field, in which case the referee needs to delay action long enough to make an independent judgment about involvement in active play as typically he would be in a better position to evaluate this than an AR who is 50-80 yards away.

We would like to remind all referees — yet again — that touching the ball is not required when there is an attacker in an offside position making an obvious play for the ball UNLESS there is also an onside position attacker also making an obvious play for the ball. According to your scenario, BOTH attackers (one in the middle and one on the far left) were in offside positions and so the AR should have signaled as soon as it became clear that EITHER ONE OF THEM was making an obvious play for the ball.

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