Why do players get a yellow card for taking shirt off? Goal celebrations draw bookings by FIFA rule

Why do players get a yellow card for taking shirt off? Goal celebrations draw bookings by FIFA rule

Yellow cards in football are meant to keep players within the boundaries of the game's laws. Dangerous actions, unsportsmanlike behavior, or other misconduct can lead the official to book players for their wrongdoing, leaving them on a knife edge the rest of the match. Two yellow cards are enough to see a player sent off.

However, it can seem harsh when referees show a yellow card to players for taking their shirt off in celebration, as exuberance is a core emotion of scoring meaningful goals. It seems particularly strange when you consider that, for many years, such a punishment did not exist, meaning players could celebrate in this way as much as they liked.

Yet this is how the rules are now designed. So, why are they this way? The e360hubs brings you a brief overview of the football laws that stipulate a yellow card to be shown for a player taking off their shirt.

Why do players get a yellow card for taking their shirt off?

Players are not allowed to remove their shirts in celebration during play of a football match.

Officials are specifically mandated by the IFAB Laws of the Game to show a yellow card to any player who removes his or her shirt during a celebration.

The rule first took effect in 2004 and is specifically designed for a number of reasons. First, it's meant to curb time-wasting as much as possible, while it's also an act that could be considered unsportsmanlike.

FIFA rule regarding yellow card for taking shirt off

In the official laws of the game, FIFA rule 3 regarding fouls and misconduct states:

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 [worthy of a yellow card] offence but players should return as soon as possible.

A player must be cautioned, even if the goal is disallowed, for:
  • Climbing onto a perimeter fence and/or approaching the spectators in a manner which causes safety and/or security issues
  • 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

Players famously shown yellow card for taking shirt off

There have been a few famous instances of players being shown a yellow card for their overt celebration.

When Manchester United beat Liverpool in a thrilling FA Cup quarterfinal match on March 17, 2024, Amad Diallo removed his shirt in celebration after scoring the winning goal in the dying seconds of extra time. The substitute had earlier been booked for stopping Liverpool from taking a quick free-kick, so he received a second yellow seconds after his goal. United saw out the remaining minute or so with 10 men.

At the most recent 2022 men's World Cup, Vincent Aboubakar of Cameroon was shown a second yellow card, and thus sent off, for removing his shirt after scoring the late winning goal against Brazil in a famous 1-0 victory. While Cameroon eventually held out for the win, it forced the African nation to play the final few minutes a man down while Brazil searched for an equaliser.

Mario Balotelli has been the recipient of multiple celebration bookings, including when he scored against Manchester United and proceeded to lift his shirt over his head to reveal a message underneath that read "Why Always Me?" He also did the same for Italy against Germany in Euro 2012 with a viral goal celebration, when he removed his shirt and simply flexed.

The law is the same in the women's game, and there have been some famous examples there as well. Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty in the 1995 Women's World Cup final against China, and proceeded to take her top off, resulting in one of the most famous photographs in sports history.

In a similar moment at the 2022 Women's Euro, Chloe Kelly did the same after scoring the match-sealing goal in the final against Germany, and while she was booked in the aftermath, she won't have cared one bit. The match was over, and England had taken home the title.
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