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Is Soccer A Sport? Some Interesting Facts

Is Soccer A Sport? Some Interesting Facts

Soccer is regarded as the most popular sport in the world because of the millions of followers and fans that it attracts.

You may have heard people call soccer a sport, but is it really a sport, a religion, or something else?

Key Takeaways

  • There are four key criteria for defining a sport and soccer ticks all the boxes
  • Every sport has a set of rules and regulations guiding how it is played
  • Soccer is not only a sport but one of the sports with the most variants

The nature of the game and the amount of joy it brings to the faces of millions of fans and players often make people wonder if soccer is a sport or simply a hobby or activity.

Over the years, different researchers have tried to come up with criteria for categorizing any game as a sport. There are often subtle differences between the laid down criteria by different researchers.

While some researchers have limited the number of criteria to four, Japanese researcher Toshio Nakamura expanded the criteria to eight. Interestingly, soccer ticks the boxes for all the criteria that have ever emerged for defining what a sport should be.

So, the simple answer to that question is YES! Soccer is a sport. If that is the answer you were looking for you can take a leave now. However, if you want to know the different criteria that have been used to determine if soccer is a sport, continue reading.

Is soccer a sport?

According to Wikipedia, sports games challenge the players tactically and physically as well as test their accuracy and precision.

Furthermore, most sports games will attempt to mold the athlete to acquire traits that will help them to become successful in the sport such as strength, speed, acceleration, and so on.

For the participating players, soccer requires physical and mental fitness and challenges the players through numerous aerobic activities like walking, jumping, sprinting, and running.

Peter Crough try to fight for the ball on the pitch

Do these alone make soccer a sport? Certainly not!

If you classify soccer as a sport based on the physical activities involved, you would as well classify going to the gym as a sport because all forms of physical training happen there.

Likewise, if you base your judgment of a sport on tactical or mental abilities, you may be tempted to categorize a video game as a sport because it is more mental than physical. However, it doesn’t make sense logically to call a video game a sport.

Perhaps, it was the need to eliminate this confusion on what a sport should be that made researchers come up with the following characteristics to define a sport.

  • All sports must have a goal
  • Every sport must have rules
  • There should be some form of restrictions in every sport
  • The rules must be universally accepted by the players

The above characteristics can clearly be found in every sport. However, some researchers have expanded on that criteria to include the following;

  • Physical training
  • Mental training
  • Pleasure
  • Competition

While some of the latter criteria still hold true for what a sport should be, they may not all be applicable to all types of sports. This makes their inclusion as a criterion for defining what a sport should be questionable.

For example, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) classifies chess as a sport.

However, chess rarely requires any form of physical training—except you consider moving the chess pieces on the born as physical training. Chess requires more mental training than physical training.

two people play chess

So, how does soccer tick the boxes for each of the highlighted criteria? We will merge some of the criteria to create a more acceptable list of criteria for categorizing soccer as a sport.

All sports must have a goal

There is no disputing the fact that any game considered a sport must have a goal. When ‘goal’ is mentioned here, the emphasis is not on winning. Rather, it is about using a set of skills to score points.

For example, in soccer, the goal is for the players to get the ball into the net. In basketball, the goal is throwing the ball through the ring. In badminton, it is getting the shuttle to land on the opponent’s court.

a girl is going to kick a soccer ball into the goal

As you can clearly see, every sport has a unique goal and a game cannot be considered a sport if it lacks a defined goal. Without a goal, the game will be an endless activity that only serves the purpose of recreation.

Every sport must have rules

The rules of every sport provide a context on how the goal would be achieved. The rules should be descriptive and definitive.

Descriptive rules talk about the equipment and setup of the game. Definitive rules, on the other hand, provide guidance on how to play the game including what is permitted and restricted from the game.

In soccer, the descriptive rules are contained in Law 4 of the Laws of the Game. This law encompasses details of the compulsory equipment that must be worn by the soccer players

There is also an extensive law broken down into 17 different sections that provide a framework for how the game should be played. All the rules also help to differentiate soccer from all other sports.

Unlike other sports, soccer is unique in the sense that it has other variations like futsal, beach soccer, and street soccer. The definitive and descriptive framework also helps to clearly demarcate the different variants of the game.

There should be some form of restrictions in every sport

To keep the game organized and ensure fair play, every sport has a set of restrictions that also guide how it is played and how the goals are achieved. For example, in soccer, players are not allowed to use their hands.

The match official will blow the whistle to indicate a foul if any player touches the ball with his or her hand. This particular restriction differentiates soccer from handball.

a referee blows a whistle and gives red card for a foul

While some of the restrictions that are found in some sports may seem irrational, they help to make the sport challenging and fun.

Any game that lacks any form of restriction is merely a recreational activity and not a sport.

The rules must be universally accepted by the players

Every rule in a sport must be binding on all the players of that sport. Imagine if some soccer players were restricted to the use of their feet while others on the same pitch could use their hands.

The game will end up becoming chaotic and lacking fair play. Instead of the pleasure that sports are supposed to elicit, such a condition will only lead to bitterness and protest.

Sports should include physical and/or mental training

Instead of considering them separately, we have merged the two because while some sports like soccer require the two, others like chess require just one of them.

A game cannot be considered a sport if neither of the two is required.

The simple reason is that the players of any sport need either physical or mental training or both to acquire the skills that they need to reach their goals.

For example, soccer players invest up to 30 hours a week practicing different drills and getting familiar with their coach’s tactics.

a soccer player practices dribbling cone drills

Without such training, soccer players cannot hone their skills and abilities and the game of soccer will end up becoming uninteresting.

Therefore, physical or mental training adds structure to the goal of each sport.

Sports should be pleasurable

Sports should be fun to play and watch. Every sport comes with physical and/or mental challenges which take their toll on the players.

Therefore, if that element of pleasure is taken away from it, it becomes torture.

For example, soccer players put their bodies on the line, and give or take hard tackles during an attempt to win the ball, or stop the opponents from scoring.

However, soccer players do this willingly and happily because it adds fun to the game. Without the fun, soccer players will see the same activities as suffering.

Fans also enjoy the tricks pulled off by soccer players which explains why the game has over a billion fans around the world.

Every sport should be competitive

It doesn’t make sense to call a game a sport if you have to play it all by yourself.

It is the competitive nature of sports that helps to add excitement to them. Competition adds fulfillment to the goal.

Lukaku try to escape from the opponents

Soccer is one of the most competitive games in the world.

Every country has a domestic league and every continent has a joint tournament—then there is the World Cup and the Olympics.

There are just so many soccer competitions going on around the world that even the die-hard fan will find it hard to keep up with all of them.

It is not surprising that most fans will limit their support to one or two teams to make it easier for them to keep up.


Whether you stick with the four criteria or the extended eight criteria for defining what a sport should be, soccer fulfills all the requirements.

Soccer is not just a sport but one of the best that has become a uniting force in the world.

For example, during big tournaments like the World Cup, people from different parts of the world converge in the host country. During those times, religion or ethnicity doesn’t matter anymore.

Everyone has one focus in mind which is cheering their country or favorite team to victory.

When designing a sport, it is important to keep the listed criteria in mind and make sure that your game fulfills all of them.