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Question Number: 33668

Law 11 - Offside 9/23/2019

RE: Competitive Under 16

Eugene of San Jose, CA USA asks...

Regarding Law 11, what is the significance of the phrase 'gaining an advantage'? I see it causing confusion with referees and observers interpreting it as some kind of a loophole to call offside on players in the offside position before they get involved in the play.

I'm pretty sure that that's a misinterpretation, but I don't understand why that phrase is there at all. It seems the law would be clearer without it.

Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

If the interpretation to to find a loophole to call offside before a player interferes with play or an opponent then that is in error. That clause in Law 11 does not need to be used yet rather the phrase
** A player in an offside position (A) may be penalised before playing or touching the ball, if, in the opinion of the referee, no other team-mate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.**
In my opinion that wording has been misused since it was introduced and many early incorrect flags have been made over the years.
The *gaining an advantage* phrase is to deal with situations where the ball has rebounded / deflected to a player in an offside position who interferes with play or an opponent and in a way to show that the rebound / deflection does not reset offside for the PIOP.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Eugene,
As ref Wright says, in terms of Law 11, 'gaining an advantage' has a specific meaning and he gives the actual wording from the law that defines what it means. So any referee that has read Law 11 should not be confused by its meaning.

However I agree with you that the use of the phrase is unnecessary and it would remove a possible cause of confusion for people who have not read and fully understood the wording of the law, if it were removed.

This is equally true of the phrase, 'interfering with play' as used in law 11. Within the context of the law, this has a specific meaning (playing or touching the ball) which is at odds with its 'natural language' meaning in normal speech. Neither phrase is necessary. They could easily be removed and the law would be easier to understand (and less prone to misinterpretation) if these phrases were not used.

If you want to know how the phrase got to be there in the first place, you have to understand one important thing about the history of the offside law. That is that (despite what you may have heard) there was never a time in the history of the Laws, when it was an offence simply to be in an offside position.

Let's start at the beginning; the original Laws issued in 1863 did not say that a player who was simply in an offside position should be penalised, only that he ''may not touch the ball himself nor in anyway whatsoever prevent any other player from doing so.''

Throughout the history of the Laws, the game's governing authorities continued to stress that just being in an offside position is not an offence, as follows:

1903 (FA Council statement): ''It is not a breach of Law for a player simply to be in an off-side position, but only when in that position, he causes the play to be affected.''

1910 (another FA Council statement): ''Some Referees award a free kick when a player is simply in an off-side position. This must not be done.''

1920 (Laws of the Game document): ''Play should not be stopped and a player given off-side [...] because the player is in an off-side position. A breach of the Law is only committed when a player who is in an offside position interferes with an opponent or with the play.''

1956 (IFAB International Board Decision 1 to Law 11) stated that a player who was in an offside position was not to be penalised if it was clear to the referee ''that he is not interfering with play.''

1978 (Laws of the Game document): ''A player shall not be declared off-side by the Referee [...] merely because of his being in an off-side position.''

It was at the same time in 1978, that in an apparent attempt to clarify the specific circumstances when a player should be penalised, the following wording was introduced:

''A player shall only be declared off-side and penalised for being in an off-side position, if, at the moment the ball touches, or is played by, one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the Referee:
   (a) interfering with play or with an opponent, or
   (b) seeking to gain an advantage by being in that position.''

In 1995, the phrase ''seeking to gain'' was changed to ''gaining.'' This still didn't bring the clarity that the IFAB wanted so in 2003, they decided to narrow the confines of the offside law further by issuing a circular saying (in part) the following:

''How should we interpret "interfering with play"?
PLAYING OR TOUCHING a ball passed or touched by a team-mate.
How should we interpret "gaining an advantage by being in that position" ?
PLAYING A BALL that rebounds off a post or the crossbar having been in an offside position.
PLAYING A BALL that rebounds off an opponent having been in an offside position.''

This is the time when I think the IFAB should have dropped the two phrases. Their meanings were now so far away from a normal, dictionary-based definition that for me, it served no purpose to retain the former wording. The phrases could simply have been replaced with their definitions. Unfortunately they weren't, and confusion over them has persisted ever since.

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Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Eugene,
Before I commented on this I wanted to make TWO VERY important points,. Yet after I spent the time reading what I wrote, I agree with my colleagues the wording is confusing, unnecessary and is not required. My comments after this are really not on the subject you requested at all lol
(1) The flag is a signal by the AR, for the referee only! A raised flag is NEVER a reason for a player to stop playing !
(2 ) gaining an advantage is when a PIOP has the ability to play the ball unfairly due to their established position earlier & not ENOUGH has occurred to reset their restriction from play.
It is not the same as advantage applied to allow play continue.

Gaining advantage as it applies to offside is based on deflection or rebounds of the ball off inanimate objects , the match officials or an opposing player who has no time or space to deliberately make a play on the ball.
The exception of a deliberate save, generally but NOT exclusively applies to the keeper or a defender who actually saves a goal bound shot but may not fully control the ball itself.
The opposing PIOP CAN NOT play these loose balls as it DOES NOT reset their restrictions .

One of three things needs to occur so a PIOP can rejoin active play.
(1)A new teammate touch of the ball occurs where they are no longer in an offside position (further away from the opposing goal line than the 2nd last opponent & or the ball itself)
(2) The ball goes out of play
(3) the opposition regains solid ball possession & control or deliberately plays the ball that is NOT considered a save JUST a deliberate play that might not include control .

One thing that STILL bothers fans is an offside player located way in behind the 2nd last opponent gets to rejoin play and score if an onside player carries the ball past him and then passes for him to score on a two on one. He goes from being a PIOP to an onside player running onto a well timed legal ball behind the keeper, where he is NOT offside at all.

Claiming he had an advantage is in fact no longer true as once the ball was touched by the team mate who had the ball closer to the opposing goal line it reset the restriction as he was not offside positioned, he can chase the ball in behind the keeper as that is NOT where he was when his team mate last touched the ball. Yet if his teammate had shot the ball BEFORE he had passed him then the PIOP would be offside if he tried to play that rebound off the keeper and would be guilty of gaining an advantage .

To offset the gaining advantage argument as perhaps an unneeded explanation, there is still the ability for a referee to occasionally apply advantage to allow play to continue .
The LOTG do allow for a flag prior to physical contact. When the is an offside player IN pursuit of the ball and he is the ONLY player doing so! Personally I dislike it because the LOTG have reiterated that involvement occurs only on a touch or interference with an opponent is grounds for a stoppage . Now there might be a possible collision for interference if say a keeper was also running towards that ball, it has been time honored to raise the flag to SAVE time & for safety.
Some key points is this is seeing that during this single pursuit While in pursuit there must be no chance for an onside player to get to that ball!
Also if in pursuit of the ball that ball must have NO opportunity to exit the FOP. The slightest doubt we WAIT for a physical touch!
In the old days it was an INDFK from where the player was ORIGINALLY offside positioned. Now a days it from WHERE our PIOP becomes involved. So IF he chases the ball all the way into the corner and finally catches up to the ball there its an INDFK for the defenders as far back as they could be.

In cases where an early flag could be waved off because say the keeper got to the ball safely in his hands ahead of the PIOP and wanted to toss or punt it back to reverse the flow. That flag COULD have been for offside and it was a SAFETY flag to ensure there is no collision. The CR feels its beneficial for the keeper to punt it out or toss or continue play then stop, put it on the ground and hammer a free kick back out. This is the advantage aspect most think about when it comes to stopping play versus letting it continue on offside. The key point though, NO whistle must sound for the advantage of waving the flag off to occur!

Or the CR saw the ball was deliberately last touched/player by the defenders and there is no offside , so waving off the incorrect flag ( is not really advantage just doing what is right so play CAN continue. )


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Answer provided by Referee Jason Wright

Hi Eugene,
Law 11 defines 'gaining an advantage by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent when it has:

- rebounded or been deflected off the goalpost, crossbar, match official or an opponent

- been deliberately saved by any opponent'

I also see a lot of misunderstanding of this one by referees (both referees and spectators often incorrectly apply it, for instance, to attackers whose position may influence a defender's decision - something that is not an offside offence) - but it has a very, very specific definition in the laws.

Sometimes we need to forget about what a phrase or word would mean in general usage and just think of it in its specific context in the laws.

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