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Tiny Offsides Complaints at EURO'24 Are Pointless

Another attempt to adjust the rules is based on the argument of "unfairness."

It started again. At Euro 2024, tiny offsides are being raised once more. After the Round of 16 match between Germany and Denmark (2:0), Denmark’s coach Kasper Hjulmand came to the post-match interview with a phone in hand, showing just one picture. It was, of course, about the tiny offside by Thomas Delaney that led to Denmark's goal being disallowed. The coach then went to the press conference, where journalists from various media outlets gathered and showed them the same image everyone had seen during the match broadcast. The coach's outrage was that goals should not be disallowed due to such tiny offsides.
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It's surprising how popular this belief is among football fans. So it’s the perfect time to refresh why an offside, even by 1 cm, is still an offside. Just the same as a five-meter offside.

First of all, there are rules. Changing them during the tournament is impossible because it’s unsportsmanlike and leads to chaos. The referees had no chance to count Denmark’s goal. Otherwise, they would have been suspended for a long time and likely never trusted with matches of this level again. Although the broader question is different. The discussion is about why the rule cannot be changed for future tournaments.
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There are several answers here. Let's start with the main one. No matter what allowance is permitted, microscopic offsides will not disappear. Suppose a 10 cm offside is allowed. Then another coach will wave his phone around, complaining about an 11 cm offside. In his view, this will also be unfair. It is impossible to find a distance at which microscopic offsides will disappear. For the same reason, Wenger's offside proposal looks like a utopia. The French coach suggested determining offside positions only when there is a gap between the players (if the body projections overlap, then there is no offside).

There is also an exciting nuance regarding the work of referees. Offsides are generally hard to determine because they require simultaneously considering two points on the field — the moment of the pass and the offside line play. Imagine how difficult it would be for referees if the criteria were further complicated to 10 cm or a body part. It would be practically impossible to decipher. It's definitely more complex than any body part (excluding the arm).

And here, one should not point to the presence of VAR. Video replays are rarely used. Even considering all the reasons for intervention, it averages less than one per game. Approximately 95% of offsides are determined by the referees themselves. So, as long as we haven’t entirely abandoned assistant referees, talking about innovations is also problematic from the referees' perspective.

The Danish coach noted that his player did not gain an advantage from this tiny offside. And that is indeed true — he did not. But that doesn’t matter. It is impossible to calculate the exact moment when an advantage appears. You don’t know how fast the forward, defender and goalkeeper will run. Football is not about always considering whether a player gained an advantage. If you lift your foot off the ground while throwing in a ball, no one cares if it gives you an advantage. It is still a rule violation. If the ball hits a forward's hand — it is the same. You might have even complicated your situation, but it doesn’t matter.

The same goes for offsides. It is only possible to sometimes calculate where the advantage limit is, so this approach was abandoned in this matter. The main thing is that there is a clear line. This is not a minus of the rules but a plus. Delaney's tiny offside is just as little as Lukaku's — the interpretation is the same. Problems start with blurred rules. For example, we don’t understand why a penalty is awarded and what is permissible. The more precise the boundary line, the less room for manipulation. Yes, you can doubt at which fraction of a second the pass was made, but now they even put chips inside the ball. It’s practically impossible to determine the past moment more accurately.
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Finally, here is an example from another sport called short track. There, a medal’s fate can be decided by even 0.001 seconds. Real millimeters. The short track had to implement cosmic-level timing detail. And there, hardly anyone will say that losing by a thousandth of a second is somehow unfair. Frustrating — undoubtedly, but it’s strange to argue about injustice.

Published by Patrick Jane