Can you explain the off-side rule? There seem to be controversies about referee’s calls in just about every game.


The off-side rule in soccer has changed many times during the life of soccer. The intent has been to simplify the rule while at the same time keeping the game moving and increasing scoring chances. For example, when in doubt, the referee should favor the attacker. We have the full official FIFA rule further down in this article for you to read. But here are some comments:

  1. The key nowadays is to determine if the player in an off-side position was “actively” involved in the play. Active means receiving the ball, or, interfering with play. For example, a pass into the penalty box to a player who is not in an off-side position when receiving the ball can still be called off-side if another player, who is in an offside position, interfered with the play (blocked goalkeeper’s access to ball for example). This is a very subjective area and referees may have different views of what is “active involvement” at the moment.
  2. Teams use the “active” condition tactically. A player may be in an offside position and the ball is played to a player making a run from a non-off-side position. The runner receiving the ball is not offside. Teams therefore purposely place a player in a non-active off-side position to distract defenders and goalkeepers. Another player from a non-off-side position makes a run into space and is often missed by defenders.
  3. At the speed of the professional game and with finely practiced timing of runs, millimeters can make the difference. If the assistant referee is also moving and not at the perfect angle to the play, calls can be missed. Even video replays require many views to see if the right call was made.
  4. Sometimes an obvious off-side is missed by the referee. That has nothing to do with the rule, it’s just human error.


Offside Position

It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position.

A player is in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent

A player is not in an offside position if:

  • he is in his own half of the field of play or
  • he is level with the second-last opponent or
  • he is level with the last two opponents


A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play or
  • interfering with an opponent or
  • gaining an advantage by being in that position

No Offence

There is no offside offense if a player receives the ball directly from:

  • a goal kick
  • a throw-in
  • a corner kick

Infringements and Sanctions

In the event of an offside offense, the referee awards an indirect free kick to the opposing team to be taken from the place where the infringement occurred