When I wrote the first part of this sequel, U.S. Soccer’s president was Carlos Cordeiro, the governing body still did not have a CEO and I could go wherever I like in my free time. Now we have a new U.S. Soccer president, Cindy Parlow Cone, and a new CEO Will Wilson. Just minutes before I sat down to write this article; Williamson County – the Texas county where I live in – issued a “stay home” order. I have been voluntarily quarantining myself for the past 10 days anyway. Most of the sports activities around the globe, including the 2020 Olympic Games and Euro 2020, have either been postponed indefinitely in most cases or until 2021. I personally think that this pandemic will linger on with ups and downs until a proper vaccine or a medication is developed. So we will have less daily or current topics to write about. But every crisis opens up a window of opportunity. It will create a window of opportunity for the new presidency and administration of U.S. Soccer without any USMNT or USWNT games to worry about in the near future. Maybe I will talk about this issue next time.
There is also a window of opportunity for IFAB to reconsider some of the changes that they put in the backburner. For example, IFAB said – with reference to concussion-induced mandatory substitutions – “FIFA indicated a strong interest in having trials at the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Games football tournament in July 2020, with other competitions also being able to take part in the trials”. Well, those tournaments are postponed for at least a year now, so here is a window of opportunity for IFAB to develop a solution instead of to ignore or to procrastinate the problem.
Same is true for offside decisions with the use of the VAR system. Currently most VAR applications – the only exception I know is MLS citing inadequate camera angles – use software developed to determine whether a player is an offside position using the LETTER of the Law 11. Being in an offside position is an objective decision based on the letter of the Law. (It is true there is a subjective criteria when it comes interfering with an opponent which is a very subjective decision.) So is whether the whole of the ball passes over one of the boundary lines or whether a foul is committed by a defender is inside the penalty area or not. Nowadays, the movement of the goalkeeper during a penalty kick is also judged objectively. Well, with the inclusion of mistaken identity that is it, the rest of the domain of the VAR protocol is for subjective decisions.
In some leagues, the Goal Line Technology (GLT) is also being used alongside the VAR. So in those games where GLT is used a goal or no goal decision is reached with one centimeter only, no one object to that decision. Even in games when the GLT is not being utilized if there is a clear side view camera angle nobody objects to a decision based on one centimeter only.
So what is this fuss about offside decisions measured by a centimeter or so made by VAR using software? First of all goal/no goal decisions are once-in-a-blue-moon decisions. They are very rare and hence it is not in the epicenter of discussions. Also a goal/ o goal decision with the GLT takes a second to decide even without the GLT it takes at most 10-15 seconds to decide with the correct camera angle by VAR.
The offside decisions are far more often and because of the use of software where the VAR/AVAR has to find the exact location to draw the lines; one for the defender and one for the attacker with their part of the body except the hand/arm that is closest to the goal line. This is time consuming. If after the jubilation of a goal if you disallow a goal after two minutes of deliberation with VAR based on a couple of centimeters of offside, then that is a very difficult decision to sell.
So there are two solutions circulating around for making this kind of calls more marketable. One is to draw thicker lines so that the width lines will absorb offside calls based on a few centimeters. This doesn’t look like a complete and radical solution but rather a “band aid” solution. First of all, what width of a line would satisfy everyone? One centimeter, two centimeters, three centimeters… Well, I personally this is not a sane solution to the problem.
A “sane” solution should be
I have two recommendations. The first one is simple but difficult to implement. Get rid of the software. Well, that is easier said than done if you look at the potential business repercussions. When a goal scored, the VAR/AVAR will stop the frame when the ball is kicked last and see whether the decision made on the field is correct without drawing lines. If there is no obvious and clear error let the decision on the field stand. Since the ARs in games where VAR is used are instructed not to put the flag up on doubtful cases until the ball is out of play, this solution fulfills all the four requirements of the “sane” solution. Actually, that is what MLS does, so there is already a precedent.
The other one requires that the Law 11 to be changed. This change will definitely benefit attacking soccer/football but I am not sure as long as the lines drawn by the software is used it will be faster.
If you look at the history of the Laws of the Game (LOTG) originally the game was played like rugby – no forward passes were allowed. Then they decided that if there are more than three players or more between the ball and the goal line the player will not be offside.
Later on which is the basis of today’s Law 11, the number of players were reduced to 2. In the 1980’s Law 11 read as follows:
“A player in an offside position if he is nearer to his opponent’s goal line than the ball, unless ….there are at least two of his opponents nearer than their own goal-line than he is.” )I apologize for the sexist wording but that is how it was then.) So a player who was level with second last defender was considered to be in an offside position.
Later on IFAB decided to promote attacking soccer/football and allowed players to be onside when they are level with the second-last defender.
Today Law 11 says:
A player is in an offside position if:
• any part of the head, body or feet is in the opponents’ half (excluding the
halfway line) and
• any part of the head, body or feet is nearer to the opponents’ goal line than
both the ball and the second-last opponent
The hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers, are not
A player is not in an offside position if level with the:
• second-last opponent or
• last two opponents. “
This is the letter of the Law that dictates how VAR/AVAR draws those infamous lines one in red the other in blue. Based on those lines, a player could be onside or offside by a centimeter or even less. (For the purposes of clarity, I am avoiding the argument about frames per second, etc.)
How about if we rewrite the Law so that an attacking player is only in an offside position if the attacking player clears completely from being level with the second-last opponent. That is if the attacking player’s head, body or feet clearly clears the head, body or feet of the second-last defender then the player is an offside position. IFAB can easily phrase what I mean. This change coupled with no use of software like MLS does will check all the four boxes mentioned above.
We will see what happens in the months to come…
Ahmet Guvener (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former Secretary General and the Chief Soccer Officer of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Georgetown, TX.