Deliberate play guidelines for offside

Deliberate play guidelines for offside have been clarified by IFAB and FIFA. These football bodies want to give more clarity how referees, players and fans can distinguish “deliberate play” and “deflection”. This story has a few clips and also refers you to a full presentation at the IFAB website.

The laws now basically say when you’re in an offside position:

  • after a deflection you’re still offside
  • after deliberate play you’re onside

But the question is: what is the difference between these two? Because people in football thought a player should not be onside when an opponent moves to the ball and touches it. Most referees applied the law in a way where movement to a ball led to a deliberate play.

What is deliberate play then?

Because of this misunderstanding, IFAB and FIFA want to explain the terms a little futher. Doe the Laws of the Game need to adapted? “No change to Law 11 is necessary”, says IFAB in a statement. They define it as stated below.

“Deliberate play is when a player has control of the ball with the possibility of:

  • passing the ball to a team-mate; or
  • gaining possession of the ball; or
  • clearing the ball (e.g. by kicking or heading it).

If the pass, attempt to gain possession or clearance by the player in control of the ball is inaccurate or unsuccessful, this does not negate the fact that the player ‘deliberately played’ the ball.”

Criteria you can use as a referee

The following criteria should be used, as appropriate, as indicators that a player was in control of the ball and, as a result, ‘deliberately played’ the ball:

  • The ball travelled from distance and the player had a clear view of it
  • The ball was not moving quickly
  • The direction of the ball was not unexpected
  • The player had time to coordinate their body movement, i.e. it was not a case of instinctive stretching or jumping, or a movement that achieved limited contact/control
  • A ball moving on the ground is easier to play than a ball in the air

Examples not deliberate play

IFAB verdict on the situation in Belgium – Russia:

“Not deliberate play as the defender instinctively reacted to a ball whose direction was unexpected because of the presence and movement of the team-mate in front of him.”

Clip starts automatically at right moment. If not, scroll to 2:03.

Another clip at the 2019 club world cup. You can watch it on the FIFA youtube channel.

IFAB’s verdict: offside.

“Not deliberate play as the defender had no control of the ball and, as a result, no possibility of clearing by kicking.

The ball came from a short distance and moved quickly, and defender had no time to coordinate his body movement. He simply stretched out his leg with the aim of deflecting the trajectory of the ball.”


  • Curtis Mwesa

    It is a good document simply because it tried to explain the two difficult concepts concerning law 11 (Offside). Now i have an idea on deliberate play and deflection i.e not deliberate play. Thanks!

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