Soccer Unsporting Behavior

Soccer Unsporting Behavior

Unsporting behavior includes any action that is prohibited in the rules of soccer for endangering players or the integrity of the game. This behavior takes place in soccer just as it does in practically all other sports. What that behavior is and how exactly it takes place may differ; however, its occurrence is unquestionable. To combat the presence of unsportsmanlike conduct in the game, referees must be prepared to punish and discourage such actions.


Unsporting behavior can have many forms in the game of soccer. Most times, it is defined as actions against an opponent that are excessively forceful or reckless. These actions may bring harm to players or result in unfair advantages for one player or team. Unsportsmanlike conduct does not progress the game and usually adds a level of hostility. It is wholly unnecessary, goes against the spirit of the game, and explains why committing these actions are punishable offenses.

A few examples of such behavior might include handling the ball to deny an obvious goal, attempting to deceive the referee by acting injured, or acting as if one has been fouled. Of course, any behavior considered violent or derisive is also likely to be called unsporting behavior. Players simply cannot punch, kick, strike, bite, or spit on other players or team officials and expect to get away with it.

Referees are responsible for stopping this sort of behavior when it occurs for a few reasons. One is that it can be dangerous. If there are no consequences for violent behavior, there is nothing to stop it from recurring. Athletes could get hurt, which is never a good thing. Unsportsmanlike conduct also changes the game, making it less fair. If the game is less fair, it’s also less fun, meaning it isn’t as enjoyable for participants or spectators. Finally, unsporting behavior disrupts the natural flow of the game. Denying goals, feigning injury, and provoking opponents do nothing but hinder the progress of play, further lengthening what is already a long game.


The result of unsporting behavior being called doesn’t change across leagues or levels of play. This offense almost always ends in a referee assessing a yellow card to the offending player. The yellow card serves as a cautionable offense, and a second yellow card within the same game will result in ejection. If the offense is severe enough, it may warrant a red card. In the event that a referee assigns a red card to someone, that person must immediately leave the field of play and is not allowed to return for the remainder of the game. The referee may also award a free kick or penalty kick to the non-offending team in certain situations.

Referee Signal

Soccer Unsporting Behavior Referee Signal

When a player or team official (because team officials can also be called for unsporting behavior) has committed an offense deemed unsportsmanlike, the referee will typically issue a yellow card. If the offense is deemed especially egregious or is a player's second cautionable offense, the referee will issue a red card. When issuing a card, the referee will hold the card above their head while either gesturing towards or looking at the offending player.


  • If a player changes places with the goalkeeper without the referee’s permission.
  • Verbally distracting an opponent during play or the restart of play.
  • Attempting to deceive the referee by faking an injury or foul.
  • Tripping or striking an opponent (or attempting to trip or strike one).

Similar Misconducts to Unsporting Behavior

  • Delaying the restart of play
  • Dissent
  • Entering or reentering the field of play without permission


What is unsporting behavior in soccer?

In soccer, unsporting behavior is anything that the referee deems to be careless, reckless, or blatantly goes against the rules. Actions that needlessly endanger other players or disrespect the rules of the game and its officials can all be considered unsportsmanlike. This also includes deceptive tactics (both those aimed at the opposing team and at referees) as well as interference that stops a promising attack. Of course, penalty kicks can also be awarded for interference with an attack, but in the event that this doesn’t happen, such actions are usually a cautionable offense.

What are the consequences of being called for unsporting behavior in soccer?

The consequences can vary, but usually, unsporting behavior results in a caution for the player who committed the offense. This means that the player or team official guilty of unsportsmanlike conduct will receive a yellow card. The referee pulls a yellow card as a warning; however, this warning can quickly become more than that. All it takes is one more yellow card for the referee to pull a red card. Red cards are an automatic ejection from the game.

What are some examples of unsporting behavior in soccer?

There are examples of unsporting behavior listed in the sport’s official rules, but referees have a degree of control when it comes to determining what counts and what doesn’t. In general, most would consider biting, spitting on, or striking an opponent or match official to be unsportsmanlike. Handling the ball to interfere with what appears to be a promising attack or attempting to deceive referees are other ways to be called for unsporting behavior.