The relevant rule is:
“The ball is out of play when it has wholly passed over the goal line or touchline on the ground or in the air.“
Clearly, the ball in the Japan-Spain game was no longer physically in contact with the end line:
However, the ball was fractionally also overhanging the outermost edge of the end line, in the air, as indicated for convenience by the light spot on the ball.
(This overhang / oversail aspect is interesting. Consider, in passing, the analogous position of a player who deliberately leaves the field of play during the game (this is a yellow card offence). If any player stepped outside the playing area (both feet outside), would any referee deem that player still to be in the playing area merely because he kept his head leaned over the playing area? Good luck with that one.)
(The ball, being 3 dimensional, is capable of being partly on the ground and partly in the air at the same time; and, being a sphere, is capable also of simultaneously not touching the white line on the ground while overhanging it in the air.)
In this case, the argument (for holding that the ball had not gone out of play) is that, while the ball had passed over the line on the ground, it had not fully done so in the air.
Ergo, case closed, the ball was not fully out.
But there is an ambiguity in the wording.
The rule is phrased as either / or.
The rule does not state that:
“The ball is out of play when it has wholly passed over the goal line or touchline on the ground AND in the air.“
The question then is – does a ball, rolling on the ground, “pass over” the line as soon as: (i) it ceases to touch the line – or (ii) when it ALSO ceases to overhang the line?
If (ii), then we must read into the rule some words which are not present, namely:
“The ball is out of play when it has wholly passed over the goal line or touchline on the ground or in the air, [and, when it passes over the goal line or touchline on the ground, no part of the ball which is in the air must overhang the goal line or touchline]”
There would have been no ambiguity had the rule merely said:
“The ball is out of play when it has wholly passed over the goal line or touchline.”
In that shortened version, all of the ball must have passed over, in all circumstances, full stop – including not physically touching and not overhanging. No ambiguity.
But the rule does not say that.
The rule as written is an either / or rule.
That is, the rule states that the ball can be out in either of 2 different ways.
The ball is out if EITHER it passes over on the ground OR in the air.
The “or” is disjunctive. If we are to give words their ordinary, everyday meaning, “or” is always disjunctive. And, in that premise, the first way that the ball is allowed to be out, “on the ground”, specifically excludes the operation of the second limb of the rule, namely, “in the air”.
Accordingly, according to the way the rule is written, the ball can be out “on the ground” without needing to be out “in the air”.
If the ball must be both over the line on the ground and in the air when it crosses on the ground and crosses in the air, then the last 7 words of the rule are redundant / tautologous, and add nothing.
And that cannot be right.
In construing drafting, there is always a presumption against meaninglessness, or redundancy. We only conclude that the wording of a rule (or a contract, or a statute) is gibberish (and therefore should be ignored) if we can attribute no meaning or utility whatsoever to it.
Otherwise, we enter a dark world where lawyers and administrators, subjectively and unilaterally, can decide to ignore any words in laws or in contracts that they don’t like.
But it is not difficult to ascribe meaning to the last 7 words of the rule.
They simply draw a distinction between passing over on the ground, and passing over in the air. We do not need to grasp for obscure or forced meanings.
And, since we must afford semantic heft to the last 7 words, it follows that there must be a difference between passing over on the ground and passing over in the air.
For if there is no difference at all between the two physical states of “on the ground” or “in the air”, then the distinction would not need to have been made in the first place.
And the only difference can be is that a ball passes over on the ground once it no longer touches, and it passes over in the air when it does not overhang.
Otherwise, there is no difference.
Accordingly, the ball in the Japan-Spain game fulfilled one limb of the definition and was out. The subsequent goal should not have stood.
Everyone will say – oh for f***’s sake, you’re reading too much into it.
Either we follow the rules of football, or we don’t.
And, in following the rules, we must take care to follow what the rules say, and work out precisely what they mean; and not to rely on second-hand interpretations.
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