Yellow cards in football are meant to keep players within the boundaries of the game’s laws.
Dangerous actions, unsportsmanlike behaviour, 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 Sporting News brings you a brief overview of the football laws that stipulate a yellow card to be shown for a player taking off their shirt.
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Players are not allowed to remove their shirts in celebration during the course of 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.
In the official laws of the game, FIFA rule 3 regarding fouls and misconduct states:
There have been a few famous instances of players being shown a yellow card for their overt celebration.
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.