What is a Green Card in Soccer?

A lot of people view green cards as the golden ticket of entry into the United States of America. 

Which is fair enough, because a green card is in fact a permanent residency card that grants successful applicants access into the country.

However, green cards aren’t just limited to the confines of immigration policy.

This is because green cards are also present within soccer, as referees have been known to employ their use within matches.

Now, you’re bound to have doubts about this and it’s easy to see why.

After all, throughout the sport’s illustrious history we’ve grown accustomed to only seeing red and yellow cards!

So, what exactly is a green card in soccer then?

Let’s cut right to the chase.

A green card in soccer is used to promote fair play, with it occasionally handed out to players who act in a sportsmanlike manner. However, the green card can also be applied as a cautionary measure to discipline players who dissent against or lack respect for match officials.

What this ultimately means is that the card has no defined use, as different soccer leagues have their own interpretation of how it should be utilized.

To be quite frank, green cards aren’t officially considered as part of the game.

As per the world football governing body’s own set of guidelines, only yellow and red cards are used by referees as a way of handing out disciplinary action during matches.

Here’s a good quote which sums this up:

“A player or team official who commits a caution able or sending-off offence, either on or off the field of play is disciplined according to the offence.

The yellow card communicates a caution and the red card communicates a sending-off.”

Source – International Football Association Board (IFAB) Law 12

At this point you’re probably wondering…

“If the article has explained when a green card is used in soccer, yet there’s no single mention of this card type in the official rules, does it actually exist?”

And you’d be right to ask the aforementioned question!

Well, buckle up because this post will now clear up the mystery.


What is the purpose of a green card in soccer?

You could give a strong argument that green cards have a peripheral role within soccer.

This is because of the fact that their use within the game has only been documented on two separate occasions.

More on that in a minute.

Green cards have generally been used as symbolic gestures in the past, and not as some form of specific response to a dangerous or irresponsible player action that could cause injury during a game.

Read on to find out more about their purpose within the sport.


1. Fair play

green card use in soccer - promoting fair play

Green cards were a scheme used to promote fair play, as well as aspects that involve having the correct attitude and approach towards the beautiful game.

Soccer has a well documented history of being quick to punish people for negatively perceived  on-field actions.

But quite astonishingly, there hasn’t been much fanfare when players perform extraordinary acts on the pitch.

So, the green card was devised as a special way to reward players for taking on those kind initiatives during competitive matches.

Unfortunately, uptake of the green card in soccer hit an almost immediate standstill, as it never received levels of popularity that went beyond local soccer leagues or experimental fixtures.


2. Discipline

green card use in soccer - cautioning indiscipline

Green cards have also been used – one one occasion – as a way of disciplining players who failed to respect the referee.

In essence, the green card functioned in a similar way that a normal yellow card would, in the sense that the offending player was cautioned because of a failure to show courtesy to the match officiator.

However, there was an additional twist.

You know how a referee hands out a yellow card to a player and they simply carry on participating in the game?

Well, the green card didn’t allow for that.

When it was dished out, the offender had to exit the field of play with immediate effect and sit out the rest of the game.

Teams who had substitutions on hand could send in a replacement player, but if those substitutions had already been exhausted then they’d have to simply play with a man less.

So, in this case, the green card acted like a sort of hybrid between a red and yellow card.

Players were cautioned and had to leave the field of play straight away, although they were free to step back in for the next fixture after their “temporary suspension” was fully served.


When has a green card been used during a soccer game?

The article has confirmed that green cards have been used to promote fair play and discipline players as well.

But it hasn’t given mention to specific real-life instances when these events have taken place.

So, this is the time to dive into that!

Let’s now take a look at when the green card has been put to use in soccer.


Exhibit 1 – Serie B, 2016

Italy’s second division announced plans to change the game’s image by introducing a green card to promote fair play.

The reputation of Serie B had been marred in years past because of things like match fixing allegations and fan violence, so this sort of initiative was put in place to steer the perception of the league towards a more positive light.

Green cards weren’t handed out during matches however, as it was up to the discretion of the referee and his or her assistants to decide who should be awarded with a green card once a match concluded.

Some of the ways in which a player could pick up a green card was if:

  • They admitted to a handball offense; or
  • Gave away a corner kick due to an inaccurate call by the referee

The league association also committed to rewarding players who had collected the most green cards at the end of the soccer season.

Following this announcement, the first ever green card was issued on October 4th 2016.

A Vicenza Calcio player called Cristian Galano picked it up for admitting to the referee Marco Mainardi –  that a corner that he had won for his team was wrongfully (incorrectly) awarded.

What then happened was that the decision was overturned by Mr. Mainardi, with a goal kick then given to the opposing team – Virtus Enella.

Here’s a clip that shows this interesting sequence of play:

You can see from this footage that a physical card wasn’t actually awarded.

And this is because its implementation in Serie B was purely a symbolic one, only meant to recognize extraordinary actions.


Exhibit 2 – CONIFA World Cup, 2018

The second case of a green card being awarded happened at the CONIFA World Cup in 2018.

For those of you reading this, you probably have no idea what this competition is about.

Well to begin with, the CONIFA acronym stands for the Confederation of Independent Football Associations.

It’s a tournament that involves soccer teams which aren’t officially affiliated with FIFA – soccer’s very own world governing body.

So, on the second day of this tournament, a fixture between two teams called Padania and Tuvalu took place.

During the final half, the referee Raymond Mashamba physically handed out a green card to a Tuvalu midfielder as a way of disciplining an action that the player had committed.

From the clip above, you can see a small banner alluding to the fact that the player had to leave the field of play and be substituted off for a replacement.

The player in question was cautioned with the card because of dissent and a lack of respect towards the referee.

And according to other reports, the center official also handed out another green card to a Padania player within the same match!

Ultimately, you can see that the motive for the green card here didn’t at all relate to fair play, as was the case with the Serie B example.


Closing thoughts

From the information that’s been detailed in this article, it should now be clear to you that there is no universal rule for when and how a green card should be used in soccer.

Green cards are like two opposite sides of a coin, because they can be used to reward fair and sportsmanlike play, as well as caution undisciplined players who lack respect towards match officials.

Some of the game’s biggest institutions like FIFA and UEFA don’t recognise the green card nor do they allow referees to use it within their competitions.

But who knows?

Maybe the bigwigs will reconsider and decide to implement it within soccer in the near future!

If this article has left you thoroughly entertained, then you should definitely check out our related posts on the card used for temporary suspensions or the card used to promote fair play in soccer.

Samuel Waihenya
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