A football player taking their shirt off while celebrating goal was not a strange thing to see in football games before. As a matter of fact, it was quite common phenomenon. This is often looked at as something quite expected, especially when celebrating a goal late in the game, which was in most cases the winning goal. In addition, prestigious competitions like UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup are characterized by important, high stake football matches, and playing at these tournaments is a dream come true to many footballers. This is why it is expected to see enormous joy when they score a goal playing there. However, is it really that simple? 

Unfortunately for them, FIFA is not too keen on triumph celebrations consisting of taking the shirt off. Due to numerous reasons, the Football Association decided to sanction this kind of behaviour by showing footballers a yellow card for taking their shirt offThis way of celebration was denounced as part of general football rules, and it is included into Laws of the Game. 

Does FIFA Regulate Getting a Yellow Card for Taking a Shirt Off During a Game?

FIFA’s Law 12 regulates the rule of removing jerseys during goal celebrations. It is stated that players who remove their shirt as a way of celebration, will automatically receive a yellow card. The rule started to be implemented from July 1st, 2004 and was approved by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), at the 118th Annual Meeting of IFAB in London. 

IFAB, being responsible for the Laws of the Game, added a detail to the section regarding “Fouls and Misconduct”. It is stated; “A player who removes his jersey after scoring a goal will be cautioned for unsporting behaviour.” 

FIFA’s Law 12

Players can celebrate when a goal is scored, but the celebration must not be excessive; choreographed celebrations are not encouraged and must not cause excessive time-wasting. 

 Leaving the field of play to celebrate a goal is not a cautionable offence but players should return as soon as possible. 

 A player must be cautioned for: 

  • climbing onto a perimeter fence and/or approaching the spectators in a manner which causes safety and/or security issues 
  • gesturing or acting in a provocative, derisory or inflammatory way 
  • covering the head or face with a mask or other similar item 
  • removing the shirt or covering the head with the shirt 

Unsporting Behaviour

Unsporting behaviour is considered if the player removes his jersey, or to be more precise, if he pulls the jersey over his head, or even if his head is covered by the jersey. This will make him qualified for sanctioning. 

Under the section “Additional Instructions for Referees and Assistant Referees”, the Laws of the Game clearly state that “removing one’s shirt after scoring is unnecessary and players should avoid such excessive displays of joy.” It is considered bad behaviour and bad sportsmanship. Football has always been a game with huge dedication to fairness and fair play. When having these values, this kind of behaviour is not something that is acceptable. 

Why Did FIFA Decide to Penalize Taking a Shirt Off? 

There are several possible reasons why the Football Association decided to coup with this issue and give footballers yellow cards for taking their shirt off. 

  1. Time wasting. It is general opinion that players use this kind of celebration to waste time after scoring a goal. The referee must wait for the player to put his shirt back on, which can take up to 2, 3 minutes sometimes, especially as players pretend to have problems with it. Players should stay focused on the game and not waste time getting dressed properly.
  2. Many players use this way of celebration to show the messages written on the shirt underneath. Sometimes, these messages have political connotations, which FIFA does not view favourably. Political messages may spark some tension between teams or cause riots at the stands. This is huge risk according to FIFA, especially when it comes to national team games.
  3. Clubs’ sponsors did not like it. During the game broadcast, TV camera zooms on the player that scored a goal. It is the highly expected event, and if he takes his shirt off, sponsors do not get their shiny moment. There is a lot of money involved in sponsorship deals, and they want all the media attention they can get. 

Is Taking a Shirt Off Characterized as Unsportsmanlike Behaviour?

 

One reason why FIFA forbidcelebrations like this is cultural differences between the countries from around the world. When Rule 12 of the Law of the Game was stated, it was introduced with the words regarding Islamic countries, stating that in these countries “taking off a jersey is an insult to the one who has to look.” 

FIFA tried their best to standardize players’ behaviour and ensure they do not insult or hurt the feelings of any football fan out there. This is not only when it comes to cultural differences. Often, undershirts contain some religious messages from time to time. Those kinds of messages may insult certain ethnic or religious groups. With banning this kind of celebration, FIFA wishes to stop the use of football games as a mean to make religious and political statements. This way, they will neutralize the risk of spreading inappropriate messages at football events and potentially offensive content, and the game remains the main focus. Thus, sometimes referees must give footballers yellow card for taking their shirt off during the game. 

Is Taking Your Jersey Off Banned in Women’s Football Too?

Yes, it is the same case. Just as in men’s football, women’s football games follow the same rules. As the same regulations are stated, there are also the same sanctions. Women can be punished for taking off their jersey, because it is still considered as “exaggerated goal celebration.” There are no exceptions regarding honouring Laws of the Game, no matter who plays football, men or women. All the footballers get yellow card for taking their shirt off. 

Famous Cases of Getting a Yellow Card for Taking The Shirt Off 

Sometimes, celebrating with taking your jersey off can cost you more than just getting a yellow card. The rules are clear and FIFA did not leave any room for different interpretations. This is not something that will be tolerated and the referee will sanction it and referees have clear instructions to give footballers yellow card for taking their shirt off. The cost is greater if you already have a yellow card and this happened to some players. 

  • James Vaughan’s 95th Minute “Winner”

The interesting situation occurred during the game between Huddersfield and Norwich 2015. James Vaughan scored a goal in the 95th minute of the match. He took the shirt off in a joyous manner, as it was a goal for the win and 2-1 win. The referee showed him the yellow card according to the rules, and it turned out to be his second yellow card for the game, meaning he was out for the rest of the game. Unfortunately for his team, despite the odds, Norwich scored a second goal and this resulted in a late game equalizer. 

  • Dani Osvaldo Paying Homage to The Great Batistuta

Dani Osvaldo, while playing at Fiorentina in 2008, scored a goal that cost him a second yellow card at the game. After scoring a late winning goal against Juventus, he took his shirt off and re-enacted famous Gabriel Batistuta’s machine gun celebration. Although it was nice thing from him to do, that did not save him from being booked for the second time at this game. 

 

  • Steve Brown’s Ill-Timed Reveal

Steve Brown played for Wycombe Wanderers when he picked up second yellow card at the game against Leicester City. What is interesting here is that Brown got his yellow card after celebrating a goal his teammate scored. He used the goal celebration to take his jersey off to unveil the name of his son Maxwell, who was ill at that moment. Referee Steve Bennett did not think about the circumstances and automatically showed him a second yellow card and a way to the locker room. 

  • Other Cases

There was also a case of getting a second yellow card without even celebrating a goal scored. Dnipro’s Samuel Inkoom was about to be substituted at the 61st minute of the game against Karpaty in 2011. While he ran towards the touchline for substitution, he took his shirt off. Apparently, he thought the game ended for him and there is no reason to keep the jersey on. Unfortunately, the referee did not share that opinion. He immediately showed the player yellow card for taking shirt off, his second at the game. 

 

Should FIFA Question Their Decision to Sanction Footballers for Taking Their Shirt Off? 

The yellow card rule for taking the shirt off has its roots in FIFA’s desire to create an equal and tolerant atmosphere during football games. With players and fans coming from all over the world, as football is the most watched and played sport, it is clear why it was important for the Football Association to set some ground rules of behaviour, which ensure that no one is insulted because of someone’s behaviour at the game. The attitude of FIFA is that there is no room for any kind of political or religious messages at the games, as well as for excessive celebration. Referees must keep those standards and give footballers a yellow card for taking their shirt off. 

The “Justice for George Floyd” Message

Some recent events sparked again a discussion about this rule of giving footballers a yellow card for taking their shirt off. Borussia Dortmund player Jadon Sancho scored a goal against Paderborn this year, which he used as an opportunity to send the message written underneath his jersey. The message was “Justice for George Floyd” as a display of solidarity with the man who died due to police brutality in the USA.

This case started riots in the USA and a movement “Black Lives Matter” all over the globe. Nevertheless, the referee showed Sancho a yellow card for his behaviour, and that opened once again a public discussion on this issue. Especially because Jadon did not take his jersey off and offended someone by displaying his body. In addition, the message displayed was not offensive in any way. Thus, it raises the question, should every shirt removal be punished, no matter the context?

It gets even more confusing, as his teammate Achraf Hakimi displayed the same message when he scored the fourth goal at this very match, but did not get the yellow card. If referees must show footballers a yellow card for taking their shirt off every time, what happened in this case? The irony is that before every football game since then, players kneel before a match as a sign of solidarity to this case. The message sent is clear, and it is actually the same message Sancho showed. So, how is that very different? 

Conclusion

It is clear that FIFA must make their rules a little bit flexible and understandable. These kinds of cases point to the flaws behind the system and that the work is far from finished. FIFA must continue to question the implementation of the rule of giving footballers yellow card for taking their shirt off every time that happens, as there are really some exceptions when this kind of punishment is not acceptable to players and fans.