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Question Number: 31829

Law 11 - Offside 9/26/2017

RE: Rec College

Joe of Montreal, Canada asks...


This question pertains to Law 11 - Offside. According to the Law, the offense is triggered by a player in an offside position 'playing or touching the ball'.

Given that IFAB laws are worded very carefully (and not wastefully), this suggests that a player can 'play' the ball without 'touching' it.

Is this a correct corollary ? If so, what action could qualify as 'playing without or before touching' the ball?

Thank you

Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Joe,
Although I can see where the confusion might arise, when the Laws talk about ''interfering with play by playing or touching a ball passed or touched by a team-mate'' it does not mean that a player can play the ball without touching it, at least not as far as the Laws are concerned.

This is made clear in the Glossary section of the Laws of the Game document where we find the following definition:

Action by a player which makes contact with the ball''

I think that the use of the words 'playing or touching the ball' is merely a case of redundant phrasing. While it is true that the IFAB has stated that they want to avoid wasteful or repetitive wording, they are not necessarily perfect in this regard. There are still (to me) some redundant bits of wording - this probably being one of them.

You could leave out the playing part and just say 'touching' and the meaning would be the same. It may also be that the phrase was used originally to show that whether the player deliberately played the ball or was just passively touched by the ball, this would still trigger the offside offence.

Please note that ''interfering with play by playing or touching the ball'' is only one of the ways that an offside offence can be triggered, the others are ''interfering with an opponent'' and ''gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent.'' These carry their own additional sub-sections with definitions that require careful reading to fully understand all their ramifications.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Joe
My advice is not to look too deeply into this. Keep it simple
A player in an offside position is called offside when he interferes with play by touching / playing the ball or interferes with an opponent by
# by clearly obstructing the opponents line of vision
# challenging an opponent for the ball
# clearly attempting to play a ball which is close to him when this action impacts on an opponent
# making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball .
There are sufficient options in the four conditions to penalise the PIOP in an attempt to play the ball under interfering with an opponent.
So in the case where a PIOP tries to play the ball but fails the referee has to decide if that attempt interfered in the game. If it did not then play continues. If it did then it is offside.
An example might be that a player in an offside position tries to play a ball that is going out for a goal kick. He does not play it, does not interfere with an opponent so we go with a goal kick. A exact same situation where the raised boot misses the ball yet it impacts on the goalkeepers ability to save the ball who is beside the PIOP. That will be called offside
A touch of the ball can be inadvertent while not attempting to play the ball. I believe the touch part is to deal with that type of contact as distinct from a deliberate play. The wording probably is to try to limit the options for the wordsmith referees to find a way not to penalise a touch which is not a play.
For example a player is injured lying on the ground in front of goal in an offside position. The ball hits the player and goes into the goal. It is certain that the PIOP did not play the ball yet he did touch the ball which makes it offside.

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