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Question Number: 30681

Law 11 - Offside 8/22/2016

RE: Youth to adult, comp and rec.

Barry Stewart of Chilliwack, BC Canada asks...

This question is a follow up to question 30680

Re: being offside when coming back to a ball that was passed backward.

I would like to see it clarified in the the Laws, allowing the square or backward pass to be exempt from offside calls.

Rugby and North American (gridiron) football recognize the lateral or backward pass as being 'onside.' Ice hockey, similar. Why? Because the players involved are obviously not trying to gain a positional advantage via the pass. As well, in soccer, anyone coming back to receive a backward pass is going to be facing 180º away from a scoring chance.

Thankfully this situation is a rare occurrence. It still should be exempted, though.

Your thoughts?

Answer provided by Referee James Sowa


Let me give you a scenario where the player coming back most certainly gained an advantage from being in an offside position. I had a game last week where an attacking player was standing on the post on a cross in to the box. The ball passed over his head to an onside player who headed backwards. The player on the post backpedaled and headed the ball into the goal. This player was very clearly guilty of being offside and most certainly gained an advantage from being in that position. In fact, I would wager that the vast majority of 'lateral' or backpasses occur in an attempt to feed someone on the other side of the goal, in an attempt to circumvent the goalkeeper. Personally, as an AR, it would be something additional to worry about for which there is nothing currently wrong. Just my opinion though.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Barry, I am not cognizant of either ice hockey or American football rules so I can't speak to those sports but I am not aware of any mention of backwards or lateral passes in relation to offside in the Laws of either Rugby Union or League (and a quick check reveals nothing nothing either). Both codes do have a provision that a player can put themselves onside (subject to certain conditions) by moving backwards behind the last person on their side to play the ball but that's not quite the same thing.

In any event, these are quite different sports to Association Football and as Ref Sowa illustrated in his reply, it is eminently possible for a footballer moving onto a backwards pass to both be trying to get into a more advantageous position and even for them to actually set themselves up with a goal scoring chance. This is also true of square passes.

Given these considerations, I'm sorry but just can't agree with your suggestion that backwards or square passes should be exempted from the offside law.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

Hi Barry,
once offside position is established as a restrictive element the fact the op can return up the field even to re-entre his own half cannot save him from involvement should he be the next player to get to the ball. The fact the OP is interfering with play the ball direction or redirection is not a concern. We do not judge the thoughts just the action of the restricted players. On a direct physical touch of the ball by a teammate if a player is caught in an offside position he cannot play the ball unless his opponents have deliberately played that ball prior. Deliberate Saves or deflections or rebounds off the opponents again DO NOT alter the restricted status no matter the ball's direction Cheers

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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Barry,
In my view, saying that 'the ball must go forwards' for an offside infringement to occur would make the law more complicated because the referee then needs to make another decision - and this wouldn't always be an easy decision to make either. Then what if the ball has spin or curve? What if it changes direction from a divot? What about defender deflections, or if the deflection is so close to the initial kick that you can't tell if it was initially forwards or level?

The issue of a backwards pass causing an offside infringement doesn't come up all that often - but making direction relevant would then mean this extra decision does come up more often. So in solving one potential problem (and really, the only problem is a lack of understanding of the laws from players and spectators), you would raise more problems.

And by giving the referee an extra decision to make in part of the decision making process of determining offside infringement, you're introducing more things for players and spectators to misunderstand and increasing referee abuse.

Also, the player running back to receive the ball still has a positional advantage - if he didn't have that benefit, then how was he able to retrieve the ball?

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Barry
There can be a fine line in the situation where the PIOP comes back from an offside position and benefits from that due to being unseen or unmarked. In some of these situations the kick / touch can be backwards so the PIOP and his team has benefitted. I can think of a cross that goes backwards in the penalty area and the PIOP who was ahead of the ball in an offside position runs back to play the ball.
I think that the position of the player is still be best *measure* and that it should be kept simple with no exceptions. ARs can focus on one consideration which is offside position rather than having to factor in ball direction as well

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