Moving the goalposts
Moving the goalposts (or shifting the goalposts) is a metaphor, derived from association football or other games, that means to change the criterion (goal) of a process or competition while still in progress, in such a way that the new goal offers one side an intentional advantage or disadvantage.
This phrase is originally British in origin and derives from sports that use goalposts, such as association football. The figurative use alludes to the perceived unfairness in changing the goal one is trying to achieve after the process one is engaged in (e.g. a game of football) has already started.
Moving the goalposts, similar to "shifting sands" and also known as raising the bar, is an informal fallacy in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded. That is, after an attempt has been made to score a goal, the goalposts are moved to exclude the attempt. The problem with changing the rules of the game is that the meaning of the end result is changed, too.
Some include this metaphor as description of the tactics of harassment. In such cases, a re-defining of another's goals may in reality be intentionally devised so as to assure that an athlete, for example, will ultimately never be able to finally achieve the ever shifting goals.
Moving the goalposts may also refer to feature creep, in which the completion of a product like software is not acknowledged because an evolving list of required features changes over time, which in extreme cases may even require rewriting the entire program. Thus, the goal of "completing" the product for a client may never occur.
The term is often used in business to imply bad faith on the part of those setting goals for others to meet, by arbitrarily making additional demands just as the initial ones are about to be met. Accusations of this form of abuse tend to occur when there are unstated assumptions that are obvious to one party but not to another.
In 2009, Danish football goalkeeper Kim Christensen was caught on camera literally moving the goalposts in order to gain advantage over the opposing team. Christensen's moving the goalposts was discovered by a referee about 20 minutes into the game, but Christensen did not suffer a suspension or any fines for his actions.
In other football codes, moving the goalposts constitutes a professional foul (in rugby) or unfair act (in American football); in each case, the officials are granted carte blanche to assess whatever penalty they see fit, including awarding the score for any attempt at a goal missed or invalidating any goal scored as a result of the moved goalposts.
Moving goalposts is fairly common in ice hockey, where physical contact with the posts is common. If the goalposts are knocked off their moorings in the course of play, play is stopped until the goal is put back in place. If the goalposts are deliberately moved in an attempt to stop an opponent from scoring, the opponent may be granted a penalty shot; if it is the goaltender himself that does so, the goaltender can be ejected from the game (a rule imposed at most levels of the game in 2014 after David Leggio deliberately moved the goalposts to give himself a better chance of stopping a penalty shot than the two-person breakaway he would have faced).
- "Moving the goalposts". Phrases.org.uk. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- Clark, Jef et al. (2005). "Moving the goalposts," Humbug! The Skeptic’s Field Guide to Spotting Fallacies in Thinking, p. 101.
- Hobbs, Jeremy. "Moving the Goal Posts," The New York Times, November 21, 2011; retrieved 2013-2-19.
- Royal College of Psychiatrists, "On Bullying and Harassment" retrieved 2012-2-19.
- Field, Tim. (1995). Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace Bullying, p. 60.
- Dhiren Mahiban (November 6, 2014). Report: AHL changes rule following Leggio incident. ProHockeyTalk.com. Retrieved November 7, 2014.
- "Video:AHL goalie Leggio intentionally dislodges net". CBS Sports. 2014-11-02. Retrieved 2014-11-02.
- The dictionary definition of move the goal posts at Wiktionary