Offside rule

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a football referee held offside flag

The offside rule is one of the oldest football rules, but is still a much discussed rule. This is because it is difficult for the referee or assistant referee to watch the ball, the player playing the ball and also the attacker who is seeking to receive the ball at the same time.

Offside is an offence committed by the team which has the ball and is punished with an indirect free kick. It is a common misconception that the ball must be played forward for an offside offence to be committed. This is incorrect however, as an offside offence is related to the position of the ball and the player receiving it rather than the direction it is played. If the player is in front of the ball when it is played and has not got at least two defending players closer to the defending goal line than they are, she or he is in an offside position.

But there are some exceptions:

  • A player cannot be in an offside position if in their own half of the field.
  • From , a throw-in it is not possible to be offside.
  • If the ball is played by a member of the opposing team, an attacker cannot be offside.
  • A player who is behind the other teams' goal line, but not in the goal, is not in an offside position. However it is an offence to leave or re-enter the field of play without permission.
  • If the player is behind the ball when it is played, he or she cannot be offside.
  • An attacker who is exactly in line with the 2nd last defender is not considered to be offside.
  • If a player does not 'interfere with play', then it is not an offside offence even if that player is in an offside position. Generally a player who is 'interfering with play' is one who plays the ball, attempts to play the ball, or interferes with another player's play.