Can a defenders arm play someone onside?

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Now that we have VAR to take a closer look at offside calls, referees are under more pressure to make the correct decisions. A close offside call usually causes some drama and it often appears a defenders arm is playing an attacker onside.

Can a defenders arm play someone onside? No. A defenders arm cannot play someone onside (this includes goalkeepers), nor can an attackers arm play himself offside. The hands and arms of all players are not considered when making an offside decision.

In the rest of this article, we’ll take a look at what the official rules state, an example of why it appears that an arm can affect an offside decision and we’ll also look at where the arm starts.

What does the official rule say?

When it comes to whether or not a defenders arm can play someone onside, the rules are quite clear. Where the rules clarify the specifics of an offside position it states:

The hands and arms of all players, including the goalkeepers, are not considered.—offside

This means a defenders arm can’t play someone onside, but it also means an attackers arm can be in an offside potition and as long as the rest of his body is in an onside position he is considered onside.

Why does VAR appear to show an arm playing someone offside?

Occasionally, when you see them checking VAR for an offside on TV, it appears as if an attackers arms is playing him offside, or a defenders arm is playing an attacker onside.

Usually, this is down to a very close call on another body part, but the outstretched arm looks like the obvious cultprit.

Check out the video below.

In the video above, VAR rules it to be offside and no goal is given. At first glance it seems like the arm of the Sheffield United attacker is playing him offside but this isn’t what VAR is looking at. If you look carefully, the toe of the Blades attacker is just infront of the knee of the Spurs defender and this is what’s playing him offside.

There’s no denying that this was a controversial decision and many think it’s unfair that this was ruled ofside, but the point is, in these situations the arm often stands out making it seem like that is what VAR is looking at when they are actually looking at the tip of their toe, kneecap or a trailing foot.

Where does the arm start?

There is an article on The FA website which includes a diagram to show which part of the arm counts as handball and which part of the arm does not count as handball. According to the article, the upper boundary of the arm is in line with the bottom of the armpit.

The diagram is specifically refering to determining handball offences but presumably the same definition is used for determining what counts as an arm for offside purposes since it isn’t stated otherwise.

Thanks for reading!

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