Soccer, also known as Association Football, or simply as ‘football’ in most English speaking countries, is one of the oldest sports, with origins reaching back to Ancient China and Greece.
The game is played by two opposing teams of eleven players each on a rectangular field (also called a pitch) with goals on both ends. The object of the game is to move a ball down the field and score by getting it into the opposing team’s goal. Played in more than 200 countries by millions of people, soccer is the world’s most popular sport.
History of the Sport
While it is difficult to pinpoint precisely when the earliest forms of soccer were played,
records trace the history of soccer back more than 2,000 years ago to ancient China. Greece, Rome, and parts of Central America also claim to have started the sport, but it was England that transformed soccer into the game we know today.
The modern history of the game spans more than 100 years. It began in 1863 in England, when rugby football and association football branched off on their different courses and The Football Association (FA) was formed in England - becoming the sport's first governing body. The English are credited with recording the first uniform rules for the sport, including forbidding tripping opponents and touching the ball with one’s hands.
With the increasing popularity of the sport, the need for a single body to oversee association football became apparent at the beginning of the 20th century. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in Paris on May 21, 1904. The founding members were the national associations of Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. Today, FIFA recognizes 211 national associations and their associated men's national teams as well as 129 women's national teams.
Although FIFA does not control the rules of football (that being the responsibility of the International Football Association Board), FIFA is responsible for the organization of soccer's major international tournaments, notably the World Cup which first took place in 1930 and the Women's World Cup which began in 1991.
As the sport developed, more rules were created. For example, the penalty kick was introduced in 1891. Red and yellow cards were introduced during the 1970 World Cup finals. More recent major changes include goalkeepers being banned from handling deliberate back passes in 1992 and tackles from behind becoming red-card penalties in 1998. For more information on the rules for play, see Laws of the Game.
The major international competition in soccer is the World Cup, organized by FIFA. This competition takes place every four years. Approximately 190–200 national teams compete in qualifying tournaments for a place in the finals. The finals tournament involves 32 national teams competing over a four-week period. The most recent FIFA World Cup was held in Brazil in 2014.
There has been a soccer tournament at every Summer Olympic Games since 1900, except at the 1932 games in Los Angeles. There were disagreements about the definition of an amateur, and at the time soccer was not a popular sport in the United States. Originally, the event was for amateurs only. However, since the 1984 Summer Olympics, professional players have been permitted.
The Olympic men's tournament is played at the U-23 (under age 23) level. The Olympics do however allow three over-age players per team in the final competition . A women's tournament was added in 1996. In contrast to the men's event, there are no age restrictions for play in the women's Olympic tournament.