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An e-mail came in from one of our readers asking if we could explain why the offside rule is so complicated to understand.  You’re not alone on this one.

The offside rule is the one rule everybody seems to kind of understand.  However, taking the time to study this rule in detail  is very important because it can be the difference between a goal and no goal.

The official rule is published in the Laws of the Game written by IFAB (International Football Association Board) and published by FIFA (International Federation of Association Football — French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association).  The law states:

if a player is in an offside position when the ball is touched or played by a team mate, he/she may not become actively involved in the play. A player is in an offside position if he/she is closer to the opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender, but only if the player is on his opponent’s half of the field.

Differentiating a player who is “actively involved” and not, has caused much debate.  FIFA has been trying to re-interpret the rule to increase goal-scoring.  In any case, the rule currently explains that a player will be in an offside position if three factors are met:

1.  Player must be in the opposing teams half of the field;
2. Player must be in front of the ball; and
3. There must be fewer than 2 opposing players between the player and opposing goal line – the goalie counting as one of these players.

How do you know if you’re in an Offside Position

The Laws of the Game says that if any part of the players head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent (the last opponent typically being the goalkeeper), he/she is in an offside position. The arms are not included in this definition. Basically, any part of the attacking player mentioned above has to be past the part of the second-last defender closest to his goal line (excluding the arms) and past the part of the ball closest to the defenders’ goal line.

Still confused?  Don’t worry.  This has been a topic FIFA has had trouble defining for many years.  Watch this video below by St. John’s University coach Dr. Dave Masur as he visually breaks-down the offside:

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