VAR: Football’s offside rule explained


Since football’s inception in the 12th century, no argument is prevalent in fan circles than the offside rule.

Fans, analysts and even players have sometimes clashed over the rule – which has come under the spotlight after the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).

What is offside?

In football, a player is in an offside position if he/she is past the opponents last line of defense once the ball is released. In short, they are offside if nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.

Where did the offside rule come from?

The offside rule, according to Sideline Soccer originated in 1863.

Back then a player was considered offside unless three players of the opposing side were in front of him, including the goalkeeper.

In 1925, the rule was changed and a player was deemed offside unless two players of the opposing team were in front of him including the goalkeeper.

Changes to the rule were further made in 1990, as a player was considered onside if he/she was level with the second-to-last player of the opposing team, including the goalkeeper.

As per the current rules according to FIFA, a player is offside when?

He/she is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.

He/she receives and plays the ball having been in an offside position when played by a team-mate. This is called ‘interfering with play’.

Players are NOT in an offside position if:

They are in their own half of the field of play.

No part of the attacking player (head, body, or feet) is closer to the opponent’s goal than the final defender (not including the goalkeeper).

He is receiving the ball from a throw-in.

Sanctions for an offside offence:

In instances of an offside, the defending team is normally awarded a free-kick towards the opposing side.


Critics say that VAR is doing more harm than good to football as it has failed to tackle the basic errors it was meant for. In the middle of these many controversies lies the offside rule. ?

VAR, since its inception, has more than once become the subject of criticism, especially when the dreaded offside rule is concerned.

Goals have been given and ruled out using VAR, with measurements that cascade down to millimeters being used to determine whether a person is offside or not.

Such is the case in the English Premier League.

Teams have struggled to understand why some of their goals have been ruled out for offside.

A popular example is during a match between Tottenham and Leicester City in September last year.

Tottenham’s Heung Min Son’s contribution to goal twenty minutes after the restart was ruled for offside.

Serge Aurier, after Son’s efforts, put the ball in the back of the net, only for VAR to rule Son was offside.

It’s not Son being offside that caused the controversy, it was the manner in which he was deemed offside. From the naked eye, it is quite impossible to tell the South Korean was ahead of the defender or not, even though the VAR system used lines to try ascertain his offside.

This was perhaps one of VAR’s narrowest decisions ever and has consequently brought more debates regarding the whole system.

Has VAR helped referees with the offside rule?

Hugely NO! – The manner in which decisions are arrived at using the VAR have caused more worry and confusion than providing solutions. The offside rule, no matter how clear it is in the FIFA rule book, has always been the center of discussion once VAR is involved.

In 2018 during the Madrid Derby at the Santiago Bernabeau there was a possible handball from Casemiro that neither reviewed by VAR nor punished by the on-field referee Martinez Munuera. Atletico Madrid had to request a public clarification on the application criteria.

“What do you want me to say… There are four of the VAR upstairs, four down… they can make mistakes as everyone is wrong,” said Atletico coach Diego Simeone.

Partly YES:

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, VAR was judged as more effective, simply because the on field referees were allowed to use the on-pitch monitors for better judgement. Not so many controversial decisions regarding VAR were seen in the World Cup due to this.

In summary, the offside rule still stands. VAR is here to stay. However, streamlining of decision-making should be top priority if the look and feel of a game of football is to be maintained.


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