Moving the goalposts (or shifting the goalposts) is an expression meaning changing the target of a process or competition by one side in order to gain advantage.
This phrase is a straightforward derivation from sports that use goalposts, such as 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 has already started. The phrase came into wide use in the UK during the 1980s. The first known attested use is in 1987.
As logical fallacy
Moving the goalposts, also known as raising the bar, is an informal logically fallacious argument in which evidence presented in response to a specific claim is dismissed and some other (often greater) evidence is demanded. In other words, after an attempt has been made to score a goal, the goalposts are moved to exclude the attempt. This attempts to leave the impression that an argument had a fair hearing while actually reaching a preordained conclusion.
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. 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. For example- "The killing all the fleas on a cat is very easy.", without the usually unstated condition that "The cat still remain alive and in good health.".
- Rayner C, Hoel H, Cooper CL Workplace Bullying: What we know, who is to blame and what can we do? (2001)
- Peyton PR Dignity at Work: Eliminate Bullying and Create a Positive Working Environment (2003)
- Humbug! The skeptic’s field guide to spotting fallacies in thinking – textbook on fallacies. "Moving the goalposts" (p92).