Changing Offside to keep fans Onside (Soccerex 2021)

The first day of the 2021 Soccerex conference featured a panel discussion on offside. Participants were Howard Webb (General Manager of the Professional Referee Organisation and former referee), Ben Grossman (co-club owner of Minnesota United FC) and Jeff Agoos (MLS Vice President).

Contrary to the title, the discussion was less about changing the offside rule than about the influence of VAR on offside decisions. Howard Webb emphasised that the VAR helps to minimise the gross misjudgements towards zero.

“Makes referees more comfortable”

Webb added that it also takes the psychological pressure off referees. They have to make decisions within seconds and of course they are not always 100% convinced of their decision. The VAR helps them not to have to spend the rest of the game thinking about whether a decision in the game might not have been right and whether a shitstorm is waiting for them after the game.

Ben Grossman brought in the perspective as a club owner. For him, the main question is whether the fans enjoy themselves and like going to the stadium. His conclusion: pro VAR. Although there are more interruptions, the results are much fairer.

The chat was also much more about the VAR, partly also discussions about concrete decisions in the Premier League, which were then also taken up in the panel.

Towards the end, Jeff Agoos stressed the great importance of education, of communicating the VAR decisions: “Education” is very important, he said, because if you don’t explain why and when it was decided that way, then these questions are answered by narratives of outrage. Narratives that then spread quickly. That is how legends are ultimately created.

ESPN journalist Dale Johnson made similar comments on Twitter recently:

You can watch the panel online on YouTube: