How to Fix Offsides in Soccer

Soccer has relied on human judgment to decide whether or not a player is offside for as long as we can remember, but is this system efficient in this day and age? In soccer, where each and every goal is so important, offsides has incorrectly been called on many occasions and has changed the outcomes of various extremely important games at both the domestic and international level. While a very high percentage of offside calls are called correctly, it seems like almost every time it is incorrectly called, it completely changes the game. Recently FIFA has implemented new rules and procedures to the game that I believe to have benefited the game without stopping play. The first change is goal-line technology which will vibrate the referee’s watch if the ball crosses the goal-line. This system has helped referee make crucial calls from potentially problematic angles. The second change has been the vanishing spray used for free kicks, which in my opinion has successful stopped players in the wall from creeping forward toward the ball. Yes, it has added a few seconds during each free kick, but it has helped monitor the wall to allow players to have a fair chance of taking free kicks.

Soccer already added goal-line technology. Using technology to correct offsides mistakes could be next.

Soccer already added goal-line technology. Using technology to correct offsides mistakes could be next.

A new system that I believe would not only help correctly call offsides, but also make the game more exciting would be the implementation of a tracking system to call offsides. While I am not sure if the technology I am proposing is yet possible or would be cost effective enough to use, this is an idea I firmly believe would benefit soccer in the future. The first part of the system would be to create something that would be able to accurately track player’s physical position on the pitch with wireless technology. There are currently systems being developed, like this one, that have would be able to track each player’s position; however, it may not be accurate enough yet to make each call correctly. The second part of the system would be to give each player a bracelet to wear while playing the game. What exactly would this bracelet do? The bracelet would have a chip inside that would be communicate with the wireless system to further improve the accuracy. It would be important to make the bracelet of soft and safe material so that it doesn’t injure players. I debated whether it would better to place the bracelet on a player’s ankle or wrist. This is where the new rule could make the game more interesting. By placing the bracelets on a player’s wrist, the forwards and defenders would have a cat and mouse type game of strategically holding their arm back or forward to stay onside or draw a player offside. The purpose of the offsides rule is to keep players from cherry picking around the goal. Therefore, even if a player was just an arm-length in front of the defender he would not be cherry picking and it would make the game more exciting.  If the bracelet were to be placed on the ankle, it would track offsides in a more traditional sense as it would be harder to stick out your leg when in a full sprint. The placement of the bracelet is something worth debating and should be tested at lower divisions of soccer before making a decision.

6 responses

  1. Bad offside calls are a plague on the game. More could be done on the human-factor side already (getting linesmen to understand that they have to be very very sure before they raise that flag…). But the technical solution – tracking – is surely the way forward.

    Keeping track of players’ positions however, is the easy bit… the problem is that a player is currently defined as offside if he is past the last defender (strictly, the second-from-last-opposing-player) WHEN THE BALL IS PASSED to him (i know, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but for the sake of argument) i.e. at the instant when the ball is kicked or headed.

    So the tracking system needs to be able to measure every time the ball is kicked/headed (i.e. given sudden impetus) forward, and correlate that with the data on the players’ positions at that very instant. Quite a big ask. There’s a risk of creating a lot of false positives.

    However, the system could be used as an aid for linesmen : they could one day be equipped with smart glasses that show them at all times which players are *potentially* offside – it would still be down to them to judge whether they were offside at the moment the ball was impelled forward, and whether they were actually involved in the action.

    The other solution is to stop applying the offside rule during play, but to use the current technology to validate EVERY goal. To begin with, lots of goals would be disallowed, because players would be allowed to get into offside positions without any flags going up: but they’d soon wise up and be more careful. And after all, what does it matter if a player is offside so long as it doesn’t result in a goal? Or am i missing something?

    • Yeah the idea I have was to still keep the linesmen, but to have the technology for them to correct their calls. Its a good point that the system would have a difficult time differentiating when the ball is kicked, so a way to fix that would be to have the linesmen carry a small buzzer in his hand that he would press every time a ball is passed forward into a potentially offside position. Yes, there would still be some human error, but it would be a lot easier to just judge when a ball is kicked than to judge if a player is offsides.

      To the point about allowing play to continue even if a player is offsides and then verify the goal, this would significant slow down the flow of the game as player would have nothing to lose by trying to be offsides.

  2. Starting with the fact that offsides serves the same purpose in soccer as it does in ice hockey – preventing cherry picking – the solution to the offsides problem in soccer should be fairly obvious: stop trying to decide where this player is relative to that player and establish a line – a blue line if you will. No offensive player may pass the ball from his team’s side of the line to a team-mate who is over the line. Offsides in soccer is almost impossible to call with any consistency and fairness because the line is a floating concept that is easily made confusing by the forward and backwards movements of players, and by the fact that an official must determine the moment at which the pass is made and the location of the recipient at that very moment. All things considered, it’s surprising that offsides calls are correct as often as they are. Adopting this approach would also eliminate any notion of offsides once a team is in the attacking zone; if you bring the ball into the zone legally and you keep the ball there then players can move forward and backward without penalty so long as the ball does not leave the zone.

    • While a blue line is a successful way of judging offsides in hockey, it would work out terribly in soccer. Here’s why. How often in soccer is the furthest player up the field leading the attack. A blue line would completely kill the counter attack as it would be extremely difficult to advance the ball past the line by only allowing the player will the ball to cross the line first. This would create a lot of turnovers and the majority of the game would be played in the center of the field, where neither team is a threat to score. There would be no flow to the game and less goals would be scored. Even if you allow other players to cross the line before the ball has crossed, then it would allow players to cherry pick because they could hang out by the goal and just wait for the ball to cross the line and then be eligible to receive the ball. Also how do you judge where to place the line on the field. 30 yds out? 40? or at the 18? There is no good distance to place the line. Finally, even with a line it would still be difficult for the referee to judge if the player is offside or onside on close calls so it still presents the same problem that soccer currently faces.

  3. Agree with Maicon over the blue line. This wouldn’t work in football, where forward passing is still a key component of the game in any area of the pitch. Imposing this would be prohibitive on play as we know it.

    The offside rule isn’t too bad and serves it’s purpose in preventing cherry-picking (or goal-hanging). In my opinion, the difficulty lies in its interpretation, which evolves season after season. Given its original purpose, I’d push for more overall leniency regarding the rule: ie. if any part of your torso is in line with any part of your opponents torso at the time of the ball contact, you’re on-side. Linesmen should be able to use their judgement to constitute whether a receiving player is ‘active’ or not – another ever-evolving concept. Put simply, this needs to just be if the receiving player has any obvious influence on the game (e.g. He’s blocking the goalkeeper’s view, he causes a defender to try to mark him, he actually touches the ball, etc.). Note that some of these calls will always be subjective, thus the need for decisions from officials.

    This debate has been running for years and the rules adapted slightly season upon season. The current set up really is pretty good, and the number of blatant incorrect calls is minimal, while those leading to goals even less. If technology can come in to improve the calls without interfering the flow of the game, then great. But it’s not the ‘big problem that needs fixing’ that people claim it to be.

  4. I would propose the concept of gps. Ball is filled with a gas tracer, and players are required to wear a light men’s bra containing a tracer chip in each. With a programmed system and device, I am sure whenever an offside is detected, the system will notify the viewers. This will not bring any delay, and at the instant, referee is able to make the decision and linesmen are no longer afraid of making mistakes. It is just a suggestion.

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