David Elleray says offside law is going backwards with VAR
By Bryan Swanson, Sky Sports News' Chief Reporter
Last Updated: 02/03/20 5:27pm
Former Premier League referee David Elleray believes the offside law is 'going backwards' following the implementation of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) around the world.
Football lawmakers IFAB (International Football Association Board) are reviewing the law over the next 12 months after VAR's introduction in 35 countries, including England.
Officials are expected to make formal changes at their annual general meeting next year.
"Offside has evolved," Elleray, IFAB technical director, told Sky Sports News. "The journey of offside has to be, steadily, give more and more benefit to the attacker.
"If you speak to any assistant referee, they are instructed, with offside, if in doubt, you keep the flag down. So, the attacker gets the benefit of the doubt.
"The greater use of technology, through VAR, means that technology has taken that doubt away so, in fact, we have started going backwards a little bit.
"The purpose of offside was to stop attackers getting an unfair advantage. A lot of football is saying 'well, three centimetres just in front is not a major advantage', while others are saying you're either offside or you're not.
"So, what we're saying is have we got the law right now, particularly given the greater accuracy of judgement to say should we be looking at it slightly differently to make sure that we continue to encourage attacking football and the opportunity to score a goal."
VAR lessons learned in Premier League
Elleray says "many lessons have been learned" by the Premier League during their implementation of VAR this season.
"I think most people would say that it hasn't been a howling success [in English football]," Elleray told Sky Sports News, following an annual general meeting of the International Football Association Board [IFAB] in Belfast.
"But many lessons have been learned and those lessons will be put into place next year.
"I think we've been aware, over the last four years or so, of VAR that any competition that has started using it, it hasn't always gone well at the beginning. They've adjusted, they've modified."
The former referee says he would be "astonished" if the Premier League maintained its policy of using pitchside monitors sparingly next season and believes VAR can be "too forensic" in the decision-making process.
"I think English football's use of pitchside monitors has been different from most other competitions in the world," he said.
"It rarely works when one group is doing something very differently from the rest of the world so I would anticipate some changes in the future.
"It's impossible for any major changes to take place during this season because, clearly, the integrity of the competition means that the way matches are being controlled so far couldn't change. But I would anticipate a change next season.
"The benefit of the pitchside monitors is very much that the referee remains at the centre of the decision-making process. The referee's authority is maintained and, also, the referee on the field feels the atmosphere, understands what goes on.
"Whereas somebody away in a van can be in a slightly more, almost, antiseptic, hermetically sealed environment where, perhaps, they can be too forensic."
FA want more goals
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke has welcomed IFAB's review of the offside law.
"We want to encourage attacking football, attacking goals," Clarke told Sky Sports News. "We don't want an outcome from the use of VAR that we're losing more goals than we're scoring, which is where we are at the minute. We've agreed to look at the rules of the game to say, 'does the offside rule need to change?'. The fundamental issue is the rules, not the technology."
"The offside law has worked very well until technology has effectively removed the benefit of the doubt,", explained Elleray. "The benefit of the doubt meant that the attackers were more favoured than defenders. Defenders, I'm sure, will disagree with me, but attackers will now say they have lost that benefit.
"Therefore, we need to say, 'is the law doing what it should do?', which is to prevent attackers getting an unfair benefit by their position relative to the defenders."
IFAB reviewing in-game audio to fans
Lawmakers will review whether to allow any communication between the referee and VAR to be heard by supporters during a game.
Sky Sports News revealed in December that IFAB may allow competitions to broadcast a direct audio link involving match officials to fans.
The present laws of the game prevent in-game communication to be relayed during a match, but competitions can release audio after the final whistle.
"We're going to review how much we should publicise, and open up, any discussion between the referee and the VAR," explained Elleray.
"There are positives and negatives to all these things. We have to understand that referees and VARs are under huge pressure, particularly at key moments when they're reviewing.
"It could generate more upset than not. Competitions can, post-match, release video and audio of the conversations so people understand the process. So, the debate now is 'does the game benefit from that being done live or not?'
"Supporters want to understand what is going on and then understand why the final decision has been made. Whether you do that by letting them hear the conversation or whether, actually, we give more information about how the review process is taking place."
FA chairman Clarke will also support IFAB's review over the matter, saying more transparency will help avoid putting referees in an invidious and under-pressure situation.