Is Soccer A Contact Sport?

Soccer Is arguably the most popular sport in the world. It is the only sport alone that can paralyze entire countries and cities for one single game. It is incredible how people around the globe live this beautiful game as if it was a religion. Even for an ardent soccer fan like me, it’s pretty hard to explain why many people are so passionate about soccer.

However, while its status as the world’s most popular sport is unquestionable, there is a serious debate on whether soccer should be classified as a contact or non-contact sport.

Is soccer a contact sport? Soccer is regarded as a contact sport. With twenty outfield players running and competing for the ball, the chances are always high that either intentional or unintentional physical or bodily contact would occur. 

Definition Of a Contact Sport

Before we go into why exactly soccer is regarded as a contact sport, we will have to go through the definition of what a contact sport actually is.

This is a type of sport where contact between players will happen, the contact is not a part of the game, and the players are highly discouraged against making heavy contact. Basketball and soccer are typical examples of these types of sports. Contact will occur and can either be intentional or unintentional but not on every play and it’s not an actual part of the rules.

In sports, contact between players is often classified by different degrees ranging from contact, non-contact, and collision or full-contact. In full-contact sports, collisions are a literal part of the game and eliminating them would literally remove a significant portion of what makes the sport what it is.

In non-contact sports, players do not come into contact with other players. Swimming is a great example. If you run into another player then something might have gone seriously wrong.

Why Soccer Is a Contact Sport

It involves the use of the body to shield the ball: In soccer, shielding is an essential dribbling technique that players use to keep possession of the ball in tight spaces. Shielding typically occurs when a player in possession of the ball positions himself/herself between an opponent and the ball in a bid to create a physical barrier using their body. The opposing player will attempt to win back the ball and in doing so, will come into contact with the player shielding it.

Contact through slide-tackling is almost inevitable: In soccer, slide-tackle refers to an attempt to win back the possession of the ball by sliding on the ground toward the opposing player having the ball. Though a slide tackle is legal provided it is safely executed, the physical contact that results from it can result in serious injuries and this is what makes soccer a contact sport. We have all watched or perhaps witnessed a few soccer players break their legs out there on the pitch, and these instances would not occur if soccer wasn’t a contact sport.

Shoulder to Shoulder Is Allowed

Shoulder barge is very much allowed. Every soccer fan out there knows that pushing is illegal. However, fair charging through shoulder push is legal. A barge refers to a considerably stronger force. It is often executed primarily to remove a player out of their position. 

In soccer, a shoulder barge is used to describe a scenario when the player, who’s trying to win the ball, uses her/his body to physically remove an opponent from his position so that he wins the ball. This is a common practice in soccer and always results in players coming together hence the contact.

Reasons Against Soccer as a Contact Sport

Contact between players is not mandatory: As we previously mentioned, a contact sport is one which emphasizes on physical contact between players and removing this contact aspect would seriously impair the game. For instance, it would be impossible for a sport such as American football, rugby to be played without contact. However, this does not necessarily apply to soccer, as the game could potentially be played without players making contact with each other and it would just be fine.

 It only allows for a minimal amount of legal contact: Unlike in full-contact sports such as American football and rugby; where frequent, deliberate and permissible violent physical contact is a common part of the game, soccer-only allows for a relatively smaller amount of contact.

The rules of the Game as stipulated by FIFA, the world’s governing body of soccer, clearly specify what types of contact are allowed and which ones are punishable. It is quite common and normal to see a soccer player going down from even one of slightest contact challenges in search of a free-kick, which then allows him to attempt to score a goal from the awarded free-kick.

What Do The Rules Say About Contact In Soccer?

Fair Contact: In soccer, a fair contact challenge is described as being side-by-side as the players challenge for the ball. Typically, fair charging involves a tussle for physical space by players within a considerable playing distance of the ball. It does not involve the use of either elbows or arms. Shoulder-to-shoulder challenges usually occur when two players push each other physically with the primary aim of winning the ball.

It is also imperative to note that “making oneself big” or simply shielding the ball away from the opponent is another legitimate technique of shoulder-to-shoulder challenge. However, the player shielding the ball is not allowed to use his arms or any other part of the body other than for balance purposes. 

Also, they should not either push or hold the opponent seeking the ball. If the player is simply using his arms or any other part of the body to maintain balance while shielding the ball, then the opponent who initiates contact with him is guilty of breaching the fair charging rules. Equally, the player having the ball should not initiate any form of contact and if he/she does, the player should be punished by the referee accordingly for having initiated an illegal charge. 

In general, it is considered an offense for a player to charge an opponent in; a reckless, careless manner and using a force deemed excessive by the referee. 

Tackles

Tackling is another aspect of the game that usually results in contact between players. However, tackling is arguably the easiest way to regain ball possession and perhaps this is why players, especially defenders, love tackling. So, what do the rules say about tackling in soccer? 

Slide tackles: A slide tackle challenge can be fair or unfair, however, the chances of a tackle being unfair are always greater. According to the FIFA rules, a tackle can be reckless, careless or dangerous. A tackle is only deemed fair if the defender or the player making the tackle first made contact with the ball rather than with the opponent. This only implies that for a player to make a fair tackle, the ball must be within touching distance. 

Offenses: Any player who charges, kicks or attempts to kick, pushes, jumps, strikes or attempts to strike an opponent commits an offense and is punishable accordingly. It also extends to a player who improperly challenges, tackles trips or attempts to trip an opponent. The referee will give a free-kick to the opposing team if a player commits any of these offenses in a manner perceived by the referee to be reckless, careless or using excessive force. 

The referee will use his power based on judgment to determine the degree of the penalties to be applied. The penalties could include awarding a direct-free kick, a yellow card or both. In serious cases, the referee may issue a red card which means subsequent sending-off of the player in addition to the free-kick. 

Accidental contact: It is also important to mention there are some contact situations that do not fall under either fair or unfair challenge. They are purely accidental and do not result in any player being punished and include:

  • Two players vying for a high ball using their heads and one ends up heading his opponent.
  •  A player running at high speed while solely concentrating on the ball and ends up hitting an opponent.
  •  Two football players equidistant from each other, both trying to win a 50-50 challenge collide.
  •  Two players of the same team bundling into each other.
  •  A player lands awkwardly on the ground after legs get entangled.
  •  A player hitting on the goal post
  •  A player getting hit by the ball when there is little time to react.

Final Thoughts

Soccer is a tough game which involves a lot of physical tussles which can sometimes lead to severe injuries. Over the last decade or so, FIFA, the world’s governing body for soccer has made tremendous improvements regarding how the game should be played. Unlike a few years back when hard-tackling, pushing and the use of excessive force was a common part of the game, today’s soccer rules are non-contact oriented and tailored toward enhancing the overall safety of the game.

Connor Smith

I'm Connor, the guy behind SoccerPrime. I'm a former NCAA Div 1 college player that retired early at 21 due to injuries - which lead me into a new career as a soccer coach.

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