The most controversial law in the game of football is that which deals with off-side. It is highly technical, radical and extremely difficult to implement but obviously interesting when properly applied in a match situation. Center referees and their assistants are usually encouraged to exhibit awareness in the application of this very sensitive and controversial law.
One unique thing about the off-side rule, is the fact that world governing body-FIFA usually changes the rules periodically and also confer on the assistant referee the power to rule a player who is in an off-side position of play. The center referee following the determination of his assistant can make the final decision to stop the game.
Thus the need for the assistant referees to be totally focused throughout the duration of the game cannot be compromised as a lack of concentration can prove very costly. A 100% surety and attempt to be in active play by an attacker directly implies the assistant referee will flag for off-side positional play. To flag for an off-side position of play, two conditions are involved:
Position and activity/position without activity
The fact that an opposing player is in the opponent half of the field does not necessarily constitute an off-side position of play. The active participation of the player is very important when making a call. The guilty player must have an intention to interfere with play before he is punished for off-side position of play.
The assistant referee must therefore ensure that before the flag is raised, he/she must be absolutely sure that the player is:
- involved in active play
- interfering with an opponent
- seeking to gain undue advantage by being in that position
FIFA laws of the game normally undergoes review periodically hence the need for referees and their assistant to familiarize themselves with the current additional rules. The controversy surrounding this rule made FIFA and some Football Association to sanction the use of a fifth referee who usually stands by the goal line during matches.
Exceptions to the rule
A player cannot be adjudged to be in an off-side position of play when he/she receives the ball directly from:
- a throw-in
- a goal kick
Physical and mental fitness is required among referees to ensure that one is not too far from the actual position of play. When a referee is not physically or mentally fit, the tendency to commit error in flagging becomes inevitable.
In conclusion, a player cannot be said to be in an off-side position of play if he/she is not interfering with play. This means that it is not an offense in itself to be in an off-side position. A call is made by the assistant referee when a player is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the 2nd but last opponent.