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UEFA's summer gathering for Europe's top male and female referees has primed match officials for their assignments in the coming season. This year special attention was also given at the course to the leading assistant referees as they will be ruling on new stipulations on offside which have been introduced to the Laws of the Game.
In the spring football's lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), approved a clarification of the wording of Law 11 (Offside, Interpretation of the Laws of the Game). The IFAB agreed that the wording in force was not precise enough, regarding "interfering with an opponent/gaining an advantage". Consequently, European assistant referees received intensive training at the UEFA summer course in Nyon to familiarise themselves with the new provisions.
In the 2013/14 Laws of the Game, Law 11 stipulates that, "A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
– interfering with play or
– interfering with an opponent or
– gaining an advantage by being in that position."
In the context of Law 11 on offside, the following definitions (changes in bold) now apply to the above:
• "interfering with an opponent" means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent's line of vision or challenging an opponent for the ball
• "gaining an advantage by being in that position" means playing a ball
i. that rebounds or is deflected to him off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent having been in an offside position
ii. that rebounds, is deflected or is played to him from a deliberate save by an opponent having been in an offside position
In addition, from this season: "A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage."
UEFA's chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina was on hand in Nyon to ensure that the training sessions featuring the assistant referees were carried out in line with the new provisions, and explained the amendments to UEFA.com.
"Last March, IFAB changed the instruction and guidelines of Law 11 concerning what is meant as interfering with an opponent, and what is meant as gaining an advantage from being in an offside position," he said.
"This course [was] very focused on offside, as it's important to have the assistant referees attuned to the new interpretation and to the new text of Law 11. Offside is such an important thing that it deserves to be carefully dealt with.
"The main things to be considered now with offsides, in assessing the position of a player as interfering with an opponent, [involve] clearly obstructing the line of vision of an opponent and challenging the opponent for the ball. So these are the two criteria to be assessed in order to deem a player who is in an offside position as punishable.
"Gaining an advantage from being in an offside position ... now the assistant referees and the referees should consider the nature of the play of the defender, because if the defender made a deliberate play, the outcome of the play doesn't matter – with the exception of a 'save' – and so being in an offside position and gaining an advantage from being in an offside position is not an offence any more."
Do these changes give referees different things to think about in match situations? "Certainly it's more important now to assess the intention of the player," Collina reflected. "It means the referee and the assistant referees must be very careful in assessing if the player deliberately played the ball or not."
With the offside law becoming increasingly important each year, UEFA has wisely decided to place even greater focus on the men with the flags. "We did something different before EURO 2012, involving specialists in coaching the assistant referees, and the outcome was very positive," Collina explained.
"We had a very successful EURO 2012, with very good decisions taken by assistant referees. We want to continue with this. We decided to involve three former top assistant referees in the preparation of UEFA assistant referees, and 46 of them [attended] this [UEFA] course.
"We are also implementing new tools to give the assistant referees support in their daily preparation. As it would be very difficult for them to be able to train on offside situations away from a match – they would need players to create the offside situations that occur during a match – UEFA has provided them with a web application that enables them to train by simulating the offside situations they could find in matches. The feedback we are receiving from the assistant referees is very positive."
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