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The principal types of football played today are:

 American football

Association football, or Soccer

 Canadian football

Australian football

Gaelic football

 Rugby football

Touch football
 is an informal variation of the game, with any number of players and using any kind of field. Instead of being tackled, the ball carrier is stopped by being touched.


Played on a rectangular field by two opposing teams with an inflated leather ball that is roughly oval in shape. The object of the game is to score points by carrying the ball across the opponent's goal line or by kicking the ball through the opponent's goal posts. Football is considered a full-contact sport, meaning that play involves bodily contact by way of checking, blocking, grabbing, and tackling. Because of the rough physical nature of the game, playing football can cause injuries.

American football is a distinct type of football that developed in the United States in the 19th century. It developed from soccer (association football) and rugby football. American football differs slightly in rules and field size from a style of football played mostly in Canada, called Canadian football.

Played by professionals and amateurs (generally male high school and college students), football is one of the most popular American sports, attracting thousands of participants and millions of spectators annually. The sport's premier event is the championship game of the National Football League (NFL), which is called the Super Bowl. Held each January, the game is attended by more than 60,000 fans and watched by more than 130 million television viewers in the United States.

Football can be played on a variety of surfaces, including grass, dirt, and artificial turf. An NFL-regulation playing field measures 120 yd (110 m) long and 53 yd 1 ft (48.8 m) wide. At both ends of the 100-yd main body of the playing field, white lines called goal lines mark off the entrances to the end zones, which are 10 yd (9 m) deep. Each team defends one end zone. To score, a team must carry, pass, or kick the ball into the opponent's end zone. Lines parallel to the end zones cross the main body of the field at 5-yd (4.5-m) intervals. These lines give the field a resemblance to a large gridiron. Sets of lines called the sidelines run along both sides of the field. In addition, two sets of short lines, called hash marks, run down the field at 1 yd (.9 m) intervals. The hash marks are 53 ft 4 in (16.3 m) from each sideline in college and high school football, and 70 ft 9 in (21.6 m) from each sideline in the NFL. After each play, the officials place the ball either between the hash marks or on the hash mark closest to the end of the previous play. The next play begins from that spot.

Situated in the middle of the rear line of each end zone are goalposts, consisting of a 10-ft (3-m) vertical pole topped by a horizontal crossbar. Two vertical posts extend up from the crossbar, 18 ft 6 in (5.6 m) apart. Kickers score extra points (worth one point) and field goals (worth three points) by kicking the ball above the crossbar and between the posts.

Football is played by two opposing teams, each fielding 11 players. Each team tries to move the ball down the field to score in the end zone defended by its opponents. During a football game the teams are designated as the offensive team (the team in possession of the ball) and the defensive team (the team defending a goal line against the offensive team). Another group of players, called special teams, enter the game when possession of the ball changes, or when a field goal or extra point is attempted. At the professional level, players usually specialize at one position. At colleges and high schools, players sometimes play both offense and defense, or play on special teams in addition to their regular position.

The 11 players of the offensive team work together to move the ball downfield toward their opponent's end zone. They are divided into two groups: seven linemen, who play on the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line designating the position of the ball) and a backfield of four players, called backs, who stand in various positions behind the linemen. The lineman who is positioned in the middle of the line is called the center. On his left is the left guard and on his right is the right guard. On the left of the left guard is the left tackle, and on the right of the right guard is the right tackle. On the ends of the line are the tight end and the split end.

The center begins each play by hiking the ball, or passing it between his legs from a crouched position to the player standing directly behind him. (This action is also referred to as the snap.) After the ball is hiked on a running play, the center, guards, and tackles block defenders to create an open path for the ball carrier. On passing plays the linemen protect the quarterback and give him time to throw. Tight ends and split ends can block opponents, but they may also catch the ball during a passing play.

The back who usually stands directly behind the center and receives the snap is known as the quarterback. The quarterback directs the play of the offensive team by calling out each play. The quarterback may hand off the ball, pass it, or run with it downfield.

In a balanced backfield formation, or T-formation, the fullback stands behind the quarterback, and the left and right halfbacks stand to either side of the fullback. When the quarterback hands the ball off to one of these backs, that player rushes, or runs with the ball. Backs also block when the quarterback throws a pass. Many passes go to wide receivers, players who replace backs or ends and line up on the line of scrimmage but wide of the rest of the formation. They run down the field in planned pass routes to catch balls thrown by the quarterback.

The defensive players work together to prevent the offense from scoring. A row of linemen called the defensive line position themselves at the line of scrimmage; a row of linebackers position themselves about 5 yd (4.6 m) behind the defensive line; and a collection of defensive backs, called the secondary, stand on the end of the defensive line and behind the linebackers.

The defensive line can use any number of players, but most teams use three or four linemen. Defensive linemen principally are responsible for stopping the opposition's rushing attack and, in passing situations, putting pressure on the quarterback. Depending on the situation, linebackers stop runners, pressure the quarterback, or cover the opposition's receivers. Teams usually employ three or four linebackers. The secondary is composed of cornerbacks and safeties. These players cover receivers, tackle rushers who break down the field, and pressure the quarterback. The secondary commonly consists of two cornerbacks who defend the wide receivers and two safeties who guard the area behind the linebackers.

Each team has players who enter the game during special plays such as kickoffs, field goals, punts, and returns. The kicker kicks off at the beginning of a game or half, and after his team has scored. The kicker also scores points for the offensive team by kicking the ball through the goalpost uprights; these scores are called field goals. When the offensive team must surrender the ball to the opponents, a punter comes in to kick the ball downfield as far as possible toward the opponent's end zone. One player on the return team catches the kickoff or punt and runs upfield while the other return team players block for him. The return team tries to give the offense good starting field position.

A team of officials supervises play in a regulation game. Professional and major college football programs use seven officials: a referee, an umpire, a linesman, a field judge, a back judge, a line judge, and a side judge. The officials carry whistles and yellow penalty flags. They blow the whistles or throw the flags to indicate that an infraction of the rules has occurred.

The referee is in charge of the game at all levels of play. The referee supervises the other officials, decides on all matters not under other officials' specific jurisdiction, and enforces penalties. The referee indicates when the ball is dead or out of play, and when it may again be put into play. The referee uses hand signals to indicate these specific decisions and penalties. The referee also makes all final decisions regarding instant replay, when a questionable call is reviewed on videotape.

The umpire makes decisions on questions concerning the players' equipment, their conduct, and their positioning. The principal duty of the linesman is to mark the position of the ball at the end of each play. The linesman has assistants who measure distances gained or lost, using a device consisting of two vertical markers connected by a chain or cord 10 yd (9 m) long. The linesman must also watch for violations of the rule requiring players to remain in certain positions before the ball is put into play. The field judge times the game, using a stopwatch for this purpose. In some cases, the stadium scoreboard has a clock that is considered official.

A football is an extended spheroid with a circumference of 28.5 in (72.4 cm) around the long axis and 21.25 in (54 cm) around the short axis. It weighs between 14 and 15 oz (397 and 425 g). Most balls are tan-colored and have a white ring around each end. These rings help receivers and other players see the ball and its rotation during passing plays. The football also has eight stitches that protrude from one side. They help quarterbacks and other players grip the ball when throwing a pass or running with the ball.

Each football player wears a uniform that includes a numbered jersey. Beneath the jersey and pants each player also wears a set of gear collectively known as pads. The pads protect the player from bodily contact that may occur during the game. Most pads are made of lightweight foam and hard plastic shells that cover the thighs, hips, shoulders, and knees. On grass fields players wear spiked shoes, called cleats, which provide traction. On Astroturf, players usually wear shoes specially designed to grip the playing field and absorb the shock of the hard surface.

Every player wears a helmet to protect the face, head, and ears. The helmet consists of a durable plastic shell and a set of foam pads that cushion the head. A plastic strap attaches to each side of the helmet below the ears and runs underneath the player's chin. This strap keeps the helmet in place when the player is hit. The helmet also has holes near each ear to allow the player to hear. On the front of each helmet is a plastic-coated piece of metal called a facemask, which protects the player but also allows him to see. Lineman and linebackers usually have larger and more extensive facemasks because they do the majority of blocking and tackling. Backs and secondary players usually have more open facemasks that provide a wider field of vision. It is illegal during any point of the game to grab an opponent's facemask.

A regulation football game is divided into four quarters, each consisting of 15 minutes of playing time. The first two periods constitute the first half of a game; the second two make up the second half. Between the halves, a rest period, usually lasting about 15 minutes, is permitted. The teams change halves of the field at the end of each quarter. The clocks stop at the end of each quarter and at certain other times, when particular events occur or when designated by the officials.

At the beginning of each game, the referee tosses a coin in the presence of the two team captains to determine which team kicks off and which receives the kickoff. At the start of the second half, the team that kicked off in the first half receives the kickoff.

During an NFL regulation game the kickoff is made from the kicking team's 30-yard line. (During a college game the ball is kicked from the 35-yard line.) The kicking team lines up at or behind the ball, while the opponents spread out over their territory in a formation calculated to help them to catch the ball and run it back effectively. If the kick stays within the boundaries of the field, any player on the receiving team may catch the ball, or pick it up on a bounce, and run with it. As the player runs, the player may be tackled by any opponent and stopped; this is known as being downed. The player carrying the ball is considered downed when one knee touches the ground. Tacklers use their hands and arms to stop opponents and throw them to the ground. After the ball carrier is stopped, the referee blows a whistle to stop play and places the ball on the spot where the runner was downed. Play also stops when the ball carrier runs out of bounds.

Offensive plays in football are run from a set formation known as a scrimmage. Before a scrimmage begins, the team on offense usually gathers in a circle, called a huddle, and discusses the play it will use. A coach either signals the play choice to the team from the sidelines, sends a play in with a player, or the team's quarterback chooses from among the dozens of preset plays that the team has prepared. The defensive team also forms a huddle and discusses its next attempt to slow the offense. Each play is designated by code numbers or words, called signals. After the teams come out of their respective huddles, they line up opposite each other on the line of scrimmage. If the quarterback analyzes the defensive alignment and decides that the chosen play should be changed, the quarterback can call an audible and shout the coded directions for a new play. The defense can adjust its formation at this point as well.

Play begins when the center crouches over the ball and, on a spoken signal, hikes it to the quarterback. Based upon the chosen play, the quarterback can pass the ball, hand it off to a teammate, or run with it. During the scrimmage, the players on the offensive team may block the defenders using their bodies, but they are constrained by specific rules regarding the use of their hands or arms. The player running with the ball, however, is allowed to use an arm to push off potential tacklers.

Perhaps the most exciting offensive play is the forward pass, in which the ball is thrown downfield. The quarterback nearly always throws the ball, and backs, ends, and wide receivers may catch it. A forward pass may be made only during scrimmage, and then only from behind the line of scrimmage. A lateral pass (throwing the ball backwards or on a line parallel to the line of scrimmage) may be made anywhere on the field to anyone anytime the ball is in play.

The defending team tries to keep the offense from advancing the ball, or to stop the offense for a loss by tackling the ball carrier before the ball carrier reaches the line of scrimmage. The offense must advance the ball at least 10 yards in four tries, called downs. After each play, the teams huddle and then line up again and a new scrimmage takes place. If the team on offense fails to travel 10 yards in four downs, it must surrender the ball to its opponent after the fourth down.

A team will often punt on fourth down if it has not gained at least 10 yards in its previous three tries. In punting, the punter receives the snap, drops the ball, and kicks it before it touches the ground. By punting, a team can send the ball away from its own end zone before surrendering possession of it, thus weakening the opponent's field position.

The defense can also gain possession of the ball by recovering a fumble or making an interception. A fumble occurs when a player in possession of the ball drops it before being tackled and downed. Other players can then fall on top of or pick up the loose ball. An interception occurs when one of the defensive players catches a ball thrown by the offensive team. The defensive player who gains a fumble or interception may run with the ball toward the opponent's end zone until being tackled and downed or forced out of bounds.

The object of the game is to score more points than the opposing team. A team scores a touchdown when one of its players carries the ball into the opposing team's end zone or catches a pass in the end zone. A touchdown is worth six points. After a team has scored a touchdown, it tries for an extra-point conversion. This is an opportunity to score an additional one or two points. In college football the offensive team lines up at the opponent's three-yard line and runs, passes, or kicks the ball. A running or passing conversion in which the ball crosses the goal line counts for two points. A kick, in which one player receives the snap and holds the ball upright on the ground for a teammate to kick between the goalposts and over the crossbar, counts for one point. In professional football, the offensive team lines up two yards from the goal line during an extra-point conversion. Just as in the college game, one or two points may be scored depending on the conversion method used.

On offense, teams may also attempt to score by kicking a field goal, which counts for three points. For a successful field goal, the ball must be kicked between the goalposts and over the crossbar. Teams usually try for a field goal when they have the ball on the fourth down and are within about 35 yards of the end zone. After each field goal and extra-point conversion, the scoring team must kick off to its opponents.

Two points are awarded to the defensive team for making a safety. A safety occurs when a play ends and the offensive team has possession of the ball behind its own goal line. When the offensive team suffers a safety, it must punt the ball to the opponents to restart play. In certain situations, such as after receiving a kickoff, the offensive team is permitted to down the ball behind its line intentionally. This play, called a touchback, does not count in the scoring. Instead the ball is moved to the receiving team's 20-yard line, where the offensive team puts the ball back in play.

In college football, a game that ends in a tie is decided by a tiebreaker played in an overtime period. One team begins an offensive series on the opponent's 25-yard line. The team's possession ends when it scores, turns the ball over, or fails to convert a fourth-down play. The other team then receives the same chance to score. The team that is leading at the end of the overtime period wins the game. Additional overtime periods can be played if the teams fail to break the tie. In case of a tie in an exhibition or regular-season professional game, the teams play an overtime period, known as sudden death, in which the first team to score is declared the winner. If neither team has scored at the end of this 15-minute overtime period, then the tie is allowed to stand. In professional playoff games no ties are allowed, and the teams play until one scores.



Soccer, game played by two teams on a rectangular field, in which players attempt to knock a round ball through the opponents' goal, using any part of the body except the hands. Generally, players use their feet and heads as they kick, dribble, and pass the ball toward the goal. One player on each team guards the goal. This player, the goalkeeper, is the only player allowed to touch the ball with the hands while it is in play.

Soccer is a free-flowing game that has relatively few rules and requires little equipment. All that is needed to play is an area of open space and a ball. Much of the world's soccer is played informally, without field markings or real goals. In many places, the game is played barefoot using rolled-up rags or newspapers as a ball. Soccer is the world's most popular sport, played by people of all ages in about 200 countries. The sport has millions of fans throughout the world.

Only in the United States is the game referred to as soccer. Outside the United States the sport is commonly called football, or futbol in Spanish-speaking countries, where the game is particularly popular. The official name of the sport is association football. The word soccer is a slang corruption of the abbreviation assoc.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the worldwide governing body of soccer. FIFA governs all levels of soccer, including professional play, Olympic competitions, and youth leagues. The organization also governs the sport's premier event, the World Cup, an international competition held every four years pitting national teams from 32 countries against one another.

FIFA's rules state that a soccer field must be rectangular. It must be between 90 and 120 m (100 and 130 yd) long and between 45 and 90 m (50 and 100 yd) wide. The rectangular goals at each end of the field are 7.32 m (24 ft) wide and 2.44 m (8 ft) high. The goals are generally made of metal or plastic. A nylon mesh net attached to the goal traps the ball when a team scores.

Several field markings define the area of play. These include the penalty areas, sidelines, end lines, and corner kick quarter-circles. The two penalty areas are the most important field markings. They lie at each end of the field directly in front of the goals. The areas are 40.32 m (44 yd) wide and extend 16.5 m (18 yd) in front of the goal. Goalkeepers can use their hands within this area, but if they venture beyond the boundaries of the penalty area, they must follow the general rules applying to all players. If a player commits a major foul inside the penalty area, the other team is awarded a penalty kick. (Fouls and penalty kicks are discussed in greater detail in the Play section of this article.)

Sidelines and end lines define the area of play, meaning that any space outside these lines is considered out of play. If a team kicks the ball out of bounds over a sideline, the opposing team puts it back in play by a throw-in. To make a throw-in, a player outside the sideline throws the ball to a teammate who is in play. The player must always use two hands and bring the ball from behind the head while standing in the spot where the ball left the field of play. Failure to do so results in a change of possession, and the other team is awarded the throw-in.

When a ball passes beyond an end line, one of two things happens, depending on which team last touched the ball. When the defending team touches the ball last, a corner kick is awarded to the attacking team. A corner kick is a free kick taken from one of the quarter-circle areas at each corner of the field. If the attacking team kicks the ball past the end line, the defense takes possession of the ball. The defense is allowed to kick the ball up the field from one of the corners of the goal area, a smaller rectangular area within the penalty area. These kicks are called goal kicks.

In a regulation soccer game, each team fields 11 players. There are four main positions-goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, and attacker. One player from each team plays the position of goalkeeper, but the distribution of other players among the other positions can vary.

Generally, teams play with three or four defenders, who are also known as fullbacks. Fullbacks are the last line of defense between the goalkeeper and the opposing team. Their primary job is to thwart an opposing attack by winning control of the ball. Fullbacks then initiate their own team's attack, moving the ball in the other direction, upfield, and passing it ahead.

Three or four players called midfielders, or halfbacks, act as a link between defense and offense. Midfield is the most demanding position, as halfbacks must master skills necessary both to defend and attack. Halfbacks are also constantly moving, running from one end of the field to the other.

Attackers, or forwards, are primarily responsible for scoring goals. Teams generally play with two, three, or four forwards. Forwards must handle the ball well and be excellent passers, and they also must be exceptionally quick.

Teams align their players in strategic formations that are described numerically. In the early days of soccer, the most common formation featured two fullbacks, three midfielders, and five forwards (2-3-5). As the game has developed, teams have put more emphasis on defense. In the modern game, most teams use the 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders, two forwards). Other variations include the 3-5-2, 4-3-3, or 5-3-2. Regardless of the official formation a team uses, any player may be called upon to attack or defend at any time during a game.

In youth, high school, and college games, substitutes may enter the game as often as desired. In the professional game, however, a limited number of substitutes are permitted per contest, usually two or three. A replaced player may not reenter the game. Because of these restrictions, stamina is even more important in professional games than it is at other levels. During a professional game players may run 11 to 13 km (7 to 8 mi) in a grueling series of stops, starts, sprints, and quick changes of direction.

Informal soccer games can be of any length, but most regulation games last 90 minutes and are divided into two 45-minute halves. (Official youth games may be shorter.) There is a 10-minute break between the halves, called halftime. Before each game the referee tosses a coin to determine which team will kick off. The team that wins the toss chooses to begin the game either by kicking off the ball or by defending. The kickoff is taken at the center point of the field, and all players must be positioned on their own side of the field before play can begin. The team kicking off must kick the ball forward before any other team member can touch it, but once it moves forward, the ball can be kicked in any direction. Once play begins, the movement of the ball and the players is constant. The team in possession of the ball-the attacking team-tries to advance the ball by dribbling or passing (see the Skills section). The defending team tries to take possession by intercepting passes or by taking the ball away from opponents while they are dribbling. Changes of possession occur frequently.

During a game, the ball remains in play as long as it stays within the end lines and the sidelines. If the ball leaves the field it is returned to play by throw-in, goal kick, or corner kick, depending on where the ball left play and who knocked it out of play. The only time that play stops is when a player commits a foul, a player is injured, or a goal is scored.

The referee calls fouls on players who commit one of ten major infractions: intentionally kicking, tripping, or jumping at an opponent; violently charging, striking, holding, pushing, or spitting at an opponent; tackling an opponent without the ball; or touching the ball with the hands. If a player commits any of these fouls, the opposing team is awarded a free kick. If a player commits any of these offenses inside his own penalty area, the opposing team is awarded a penalty kick.

Players take penalty kicks from a spot 11 m (12 yd) from the goal, and only the goalkeeper may attempt to block the kick. Because there is no defender, the shooter has a decided advantage over the goalkeeper in a penalty kick and almost always scores. A penalty kick is one of soccer's most exciting plays, but because it so often results in a goal, a referee's decision to award one is usually controversial.

When a major infraction occurs outside the penalty area, free kicks are taken at the spot of the infraction. Players from the defending team must remain at least 9 m (10 yd) away from the ball until the kick is taken. These fouls are broken into two categories: direct kicks and indirect kicks. A direct free kick is awarded for major infractions, such as pulling an opponent to the ground by grabbing the jersey. The ball may be kicked directly into the goal from the spot of the foul. An indirect free kick is awarded for lesser infractions, such as obstructing an opponent while pursuing the ball. The ball must touch one other person (a teammate, opponent, or goalie) before a goal can be scored.

Another major rule in soccer, in addition to the prohibitions against striking the opponent and touching the ball with the hands, is offsides. An attacking player is offsides if, when receiving a forward pass from a teammate, there are not at least two opponents (usually one defender and the goalkeeper) ahead of the receiver-that is, between the attacking player and the opponents' goal line. A player cannot be ruled offside when receiving the ball from a throw-in or if the player is in his or her own half of the field. The referee or the referee's assistants determine offsides infractions and signal them by waving their flags and pointing to the spot where the infraction occurred. An indirect free kick from the point of infraction is then awarded to the defending team.

In most youth, amateur, and professional leagues, games tied at the end of regulation play are recorded as ties (or draws, as they are known in many parts of the world). Ties can be broken with an overtime period, which usually consists of 30 extra minutes of play. The first team to score wins the game. If neither team scores during overtime, teams can use a penalty-kick tiebreaker to determine the winner. In a tiebreaker, five players from each team alternate penalty shots (one by one) against the opposing goalkeeper. The team that scores the most goals is the winner. If the teams remain tied after five shots, both teams continue to alternate single penalty shots until one team misses and the other scores. Tiebreakers are common in tournament play.

In 1996 a new professional league known as Major League Soccer (MLS) began play in the United States. Beginning with ten teams, MLS added two more franchises in 1998 and is divided into three four-team divisions-Western, Central, and Eastern. The MLS regular season runs from April to September, followed by an eight-team playoff. The top two teams to emerge square off in the championship match, called the MLS Cup. The majority of MLS players are American, but the league also attracts stars from many South and Central American countries, as well as from Africa and Europe.

The most famous competition in soccer is the World Cup, which is regarded as the world championship of the sport and is considered the most popular spectator event in the world. A worldwide television audience of 1.7 billion, or nearly one-third of the world's population, witnessed the 1998 World Cup championship game between France and Brazil won by France, 3-0. By comparison, about 800 million people watched the Super Bowl of American football that same year.

Preliminary matches for the World Cup begin about two years before the finals. Regional elimination tournaments narrow the field of competition. Once a field of 32 countries has been established, those teams meet in the World Cup tournament. Historically, a single nation hosts the tournament, with matches taking place throughout the country in different cities. The host country's national team is always given an automatic berth in the field of 32 entries.

Brazil, with four titles, has more World Cup championships than any other country. Italy and Germany have won three titles each. (All three of Germany's titles were won by West Germany before the country reunified in 1990.) Uruguay and Argentina have each won twice, and France and England have each captured the cup once. Although Europe and South America are the only continents to have produced World Cup champions, national teams on other continents are gaining strength, especially in Africa, where Nigeria, Cameroon, and Ghana are among the countries that have produced talented players and teams.

Olympic soccer, which debuted at the 1900 Games in Paris, France, is the second most important international competition. After pre-Olympic regional tournaments, 16 teams compete during the Summer Games. Olympic guidelines require that players must be younger than 23 years old, although in some years nations have been allowed to use as many as three players older than 23.

International competitions based on the World Cup and Olympic tournaments are also held for women, although these competitions were established much later than those for men. Some of the world's strongest female squads are the United States, Norway, and China. The United States won the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991 and won the gold medal when women's soccer debuted at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. The United States won a dramatic penalty-kick tiebreaker over China to capture the 1999 Women's World Cup, an event hosted by the United States that broke attendance records for women's sports.

Evidence from many ancient societies-Chinese, Greek, Maya, and Egyptian-reveals that kicking games were a part of those cultures. The modern game of soccer began in the 19th century in England, when a variety of football games developed, all of which involved both handling and kicking the ball. The first laws of the modern game were supposedly drafted in 1862 by J. C. Thring of the Uppingham School. At a meeting of the London Football Association (FA) in 1863, the game was split into rugby football (the parent sport of American football), which permitted handling and carrying the ball, and association football, or soccer, which banned the use of the hands.

At first soccer was played mostly in private schools and universities, but before long people of the working classes picked up the sport. The FA Cup, a tournament first organized in 1871, sparked the rapid spread of soccer in England. (The tournament, which is still played, climaxes with the annual Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in London.) An 1872 game in Glasgow, Scotland, between an English all-star team and its Scottish counterpart marked the beginning of international play. In 1885 the FA recognized the legitimacy of professional players and regular league play started in England in 1888.

Soccer's global spread began in the late 1800s, when British traders, sailors, and soldiers carried the sport all over the world. Germans, Italians, and Austrians were eager converts in Europe, while Argentines, Uruguayans, and Brazilians took quickly to the sport in South America. FIFA was formed in 1904. By 1930 professional leagues were operating in many countries, and that year FIFA organized the first World Cup in Uruguay.

One nation that long resisted soccer was the United States. Soccer was played in the United States, mostly among immigrants, but it was not until the 1970s that a national professional league gained some popularity. The North American Soccer League (NASL), founded in 1968, earned a devoted following thanks in part to the import of players such as Brazilian star Pelé, and by 1980 the league had 24 teams. But the league was not financially sound, and in 1984 it went out of business. However, the NASL left a legacy of growing American involvement in the sport at the youth level. By the 1990s soccer was the fastest-growing college and high school sport in the United States.

The growing number of players in the United States attracted sponsorship for the sport, and faith in its future was recognized by FIFA when it granted the USSF the right to organize the 1994 World Cup. The event proved to be a great success, attracting nearly 3.6 million attendees over the course of its 52 games. This strong show of support led to the formation of Major League Soccer, which brought top-level soccer back to the United States two years later.

A new U.S. women's professional league, the Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA), is scheduled to begin play in April 2001. The league, which will have eight teams, was created to showcase many of the top female players in the world.

In 2002 two countries will share World Cup hosting duties for the first time, as Japan and South Korea will split the matches in the first World Cup to be held in Asia. Germany was selected to host the 2006 World Cup, and China will host the 2003 Women's World Cup.



Form of football developed in the mid-19th century from rugby football and modified by American football early in the 20th century. Canadian football and American football are similar in most respects, but there are some significant differences in rules.

Canadian football is played by teams of 12 players on a field marked the same as an American football gridiron but 10 yd (9 m) longer and 11.5 yd (10.5 m) wider. A deadline is marked off 20 yd (18 m) behind each goal line, and the space between these lines is the goal area. At the start of each play, the defensive line players must be at least 1 yd (91 cm) behind the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line designating the position of the ball). Offensive line players are the only players not allowed to be in motion before the ball is snapped. Only three downs (attempts to move the ball 10 yd in order to be awarded a new set of downs) are allowed.

Scoring in Canadian football is the same as in the American game, except for a variation of the single point, also called the rouge or single. A single is scored when the ball enters the goal area after a punt or a missed field goal and is recovered by a defensive player who is downed in the goal area. A single is also scored when the ball enters the goal area after a punt or missed field goal and then goes out of bounds, or on a kickoff when the ball is touched by a member of the opposing team and then enters the goal area.

The first Canadian football teams played under the auspices of the Canadian Rugby Football Union (CRFU), founded in 1884. In 1909 the governor-general of Canada, Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey, donated a trophy to be awarded to the team winning the Senior Amateur Football Championship of Canada. Both the trophy and the championship game have become known as the Grey Cup. Since 1954 it has been awarded only to professional teams.

In 1956 the Canadian Football Council was formed. Two years later it was renamed the Canadian Football League (CFL), with Western and Eastern conferences (renamed divisions in 1981). The CFL, among its other regulations, sets a limit on the number of U.S.-born players on Canadian teams. In 1993 the league admitted its first U.S. franchise, adding the Sacramento Gold Miners in an attempt to broaden Canadian football's popular appeal and boost league revenues. After several years with a fluctuating number of American teams, the CFL returned to an all-Canadian format in 1996.

The teams in the East Division of the CFL are the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Montréal Alouettes, the Toronto Argonauts, and the Ottawa Renegades. The teams in the West Division are the British Columbia Lions, the Calgary Stampeders, the Edmonton Eskimos, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum opened in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1962.



Also known as Australian rules football, , Aussie rules, or simply "football" or "footy", is a code of football played with an prolate spheroid ball, on large oval shaped fields, with four posts at each end. No more than 18 players of each team are permitted to be on the field at any time and the primary aim of the game is to score by kicking the ball between the posts. The winner is the team who has kicked the highest total score by the end of the match.

There are several different ways to advance the ball, including kicking and hand passing. When hand passing one hand must be used to hold the ball and the other fist to hit it — throwing the ball is not allowed. Players running with the ball must bounce or touch it on the ground every 15 metres. There is no offside rule and players can roam the field freely. Australian rules is a contact sport. Possession of the ball is in dispute at all times except when a free kick is paid. Players who hold on to the ball too long are penalised if they are tackled by an opposition player who is then rewarded, whilst players who catch a ball (known as a mark) from a kick exceeding 15 metres are awarded uncontested possession. The duration of play varies, but is longer than in any other code of football.

Frequent contests for possession including aerial marking or "speckies" and vigorous tackling with the hands, bumps and the fast movement of both players and the ball are the game's main attributes as a spectator sport.

The code originated in Melbourne, Australia in 1858, and was devised to keep cricketers fit during the winter months. The first laws of Australian football were published in 1859 by the Melbourne Football Club. The dominant governing body and most prestigious professional competition is the Australian Football League (AFL), which culminates in the annual AFL Grand Final, one of the biggest club championship events in the world.

Structure and competitions

The football season, proper, is from March to August (early autumn to late winter in Australia) with finals being held in September. In the tropics, the game is played in the wet season (October to March). Pre-season competitions in southern Australia usually begin in late February.

The most powerful organisation and competition within the game, the AFL, is recognised by the Australian Sports Commission as being the National Sporting Organisation for Australian rules football. There are also seven state/territory-based organisations in Australia, most of which are now either owned by or affiliated to the AFL. Most of these hold annual semi-professional club competitions while the others oversee more than one league. Local semi-professional or amateur organizations and competitions are often affiliated to their state organisations.

The AFL is also the de facto world governing body for Australian rules football. There are also a number of organisations governing amateur clubs and competitions around the world.

Unlike most soccer competitions there are usually no separate "league" and "cup" trophies. The team finishing first on the ladder is often referred to as a 'minor premier', although this bears little or no significance. The McClelland Trophy in the AFL is considered a consolation prize. For almost all Australian rules competitions the focus is almost always on winning the premiership. The team which finishes at the bottom of the ladder at the end of the season is said to get 'the wooden spoon'.

The premiership is always decided by a finals series. The teams that occupy the highest positions play off in a "semi-knockout" finals series (The AFL finals system differs from many amateur competitions in that it gives some teams a double chance). The two successful teams meet in the Grand Final to contest the Premiership. The winner is awarded the Premiership Cup.

Rules of the game

Both the ball and the field of play are oval in shape. No more than 18 players of each team are permitted to be on the field at any time. Up to four interchange (reserve) players may be swapped for those on the field at any time during the game. There is no offside rule nor are there set positions in the rules; unlike many other forms of football, players from both teams disperse across the whole field before the start of play.

A game consists of four quarters. The length of the quarters can vary from 15 to 25 minutes in different leagues. In the AFL, quarters are 20 minutes, but the clock is stopped when the ball is out of play, meaning that an average quarter could last for 27 to 31 minutes. Games are officiated by umpires. Unlike other forms of football, Australian football begins similarly to basketball. After the first siren, the umpire bounces the ball on the ground, and the two ruckmen (typically the tallest man from each team), battle for the ball in the air on its way back down.

The ball can be propelled in any direction by way of a foot, clenched fist (called a handball or handpass) or open-hand tap (unlike rugby football there is no knock-on rule) but it cannot be thrown under any circumstances. Throwing is defined in the rules quite broadly but is essentially any open hand disposal that causes the ball to move upward in the air.

A player may run with the ball but it must be bounced or touched on the ground at least every 15 metres. Opposition players may bump or tackle the player to obtain the ball and, when tackled, the player must dispose of the ball cleanly or risk being penalised for holding the ball. The ball carrier may only be tackled between the shoulders and knees. If the opposition player pushes a player in the back whilst performing a tackle, the opposition player will be penalised for a push in the back. If the opposition tackles the player with possession below the knees, it is ruled as a low tackle or a trip, and the team with possession of the football gets a free kick.

If a player takes possession of the ball that has travelled more than 15 metres from another player's kick, by way of a catch, it is claimed as a mark and that player may then have a free kick (meaning that the game stops while he prepares to kick from the point at which he marked). There are different styles of kicking depending on how the ball is held in the hand. The most common style of kicking seen in today's game, due principally to its superior accuracy, is the drop punt (the ball is dropped from the hands down, almost to the ground, to be kicked so that the ball rotates in a reverse end over end motion as it travels through the air). Other commonly used kicks are the torpedo punt (also known as the spiral or screw punt; the ball is held at an angle and kicked, which makes the ball spiral in the air, resulting in extra distance) and the checkside punt, used to curve the ball towards targets that are on an angle. Forms of kicking which have now disappeared from the game include the drop kick (similar to the drop punt except that the ball is allowed to make contact with the ground momentarily before being struck with the foot) and place kick (where the ball is first placed on the ground when shooting for goal, similar to the place kick used in rugby union).

Apart from free kicks or when the ball is in the possession of an umpire for a ball up or throw in, the ball is always in dispute and any player from either side can take possession of the ball.


At each end of the field are four vertical posts. The middle two are the goal posts and the two on either side, which are shorter, are the behind posts, or point posts.

A goal is scored when the football is propelled through the goal posts at any height (including above the height of the posts) by way of a kick from the attacking team. It may fly through on the full or bounce through and must not be touched, on the way, by any player from either team. A goal cannot be scored from the foot of an opposition (defending) player.

A behind is scored when the ball goes across the line between a goal post and a behind post or if the ball hits a goal post or if it is touched by any part of the body other than a foot, but also the foot of an opposition player, (a rushed behind) before passing between the goal posts.

A goal is worth 6 points whereas a behind is worth 1 point. The Goal Umpire signals a goal with two hands raised at elbow height, a behind with one hand, and then confirms the signal with the other goal umpire by waving flags above his head.

The team that scores the most points at the end of play wins the game. A score of 10 goals and 10 behinds equals 70 points. A score of 9 goals and 18 behinds equals 72 points. The latter score would win the game despite the fact that that team scored one goal less.
The result would usually be written as:

    Team A 9.18 (72) defeated Team B 10.10 (70);

and said,
" . . . nine-eighteen seventy-two defeated . . . ten-ten seventy."


Type of football played principally in Ireland, where it originated and where it became popular in the 16th century. At that time a team consisted of all the able-bodied men of a town or parish; the number of players on each team ranged from 25 to 100. Frequently the game started at a point midway between two towns or parishes and ended when one team had driven the ball across a boundary line into its opponent's town or parish.

The rules of the modern game were promulgated in 1884 by the Gaelic Athletic Association; that body still controls and regulates the sport.

Fifteen players constitute a team in Gaelic football. The players may kick, punt, or punch the ball; or they may "hop" or dribble it, that is, keep bouncing it while advancing. Throwing or carrying the ball is not allowed. At each end of the field is a goal consisting of two vertical posts and a horizontal crossbar; behind the goal, under the crossbar, is a net. Kicking or punching the ball over the crossbar counts one point; punching or kicking it into the net counts three points.

The game is popular in Ireland today and is also played in large cities in Canada and the United States, principally in New York City, which has a club that competes in Ireland's National League.



General name for a variety of football. It was said to have originated when a boy at Rugby School in Rugby, England, picked up and carried the ball during a game of football in 1823. Previously, the rules had only allowed the ball to be kicked. The modern game of rugby dates from the 1860s, when it was adopted and modified by other English schools and universities. In 1871 the English Rugby Union was formed to standardize the rules. The game is played with an oval ball, blunter in shape than the American football so that it may easily be bounced and drop-kicked-that is, kicked on the rebound.

Rugby Scrum A scrum is an important way to restart play during a rugby match. To form a scrum, the forwards of each team pack together in a tight formation. The scrum half of the team in possession then rolls the ball between the two front rows of forwards, and each team tries to hook the ball backward with the feet. When the ball is released by the successful team's last forward, the scrum half takes the ball and runs, passes, or kicks, as play continues.

Rugby Football Rugby play begins with a kickoff and is often followed by a scrum, in which the forwards lock shoulders and push against the opposing forwards, as both teams try to hook the ball to their halfbacks with their feet. Once the ball is in play, backs run down the field and pass it to each other to attempt a try, or down, in the opponent's goal.

Rugby Union Football Field In rugby union football, the objective is to run the ball into the opposing team's goal area or to kick the ball through the uprights of the opposing team's goal. In a rugby match, play rarely stops completely, and players may only advance the ball by running or kicking. They are not permitted to make forward passes.

The form of rugby officially designated as Rugby Union Football played in more than 100 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, England, France, Italy, Fiji, and South Africa. The sport's international governing body is the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB), located in Dublin, Ireland. In the United States there are more than 1400 rugby clubs and more than 100,000 players, governed by USA Rugby, located in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Rugby was only played as an amateur sport until 1995, when the IRFB passed a resolution allowing national governing bodies and local rugby clubs to pay their players.

A rugby team consists of 15 players, generally divided into 8 forwards and 7 backs. Seven substitutions of players are permitted during a match in addition to injury replacements. Injured players, once having left the game, may not return. A game usually lasts for 80 minutes and is divided into two 40-minute halves with no time-outs.

A rugby field is not more than 100 m (109.36 yd) in length and 69 m (75.46 yd) in width, and is divided transversely by two lines 22 m (24.06 yd) from each goal and a halfway line. Not more than 22 m (24.06 yd) behind each goal line is the dead-ball line, beyond which the ball is out of play. The uprights of the goal are 5.6 m (6.12 yd) apart. They are connected by a horizontal crossbar 3 m (3.28 yd) above the ground.

Play begins with a place kick and is generally continued by a scrummage or scrum, in which the forwards of each team pack together with their arms across one another's shoulders and their heads down. Thus locked together, the forwards wheel and push against the opposing forwards, while attempting to hook the ball backward with their feet to one of the backs, called the scrum half. Having received the ball, the scrum half has several options: running with the ball until downed or until there is another chance to pass the ball, kicking the ball downfield, or immediately passing the ball to teammates. If the scrum half chooses to pass the ball, the teammates attempt to advance the ball forward and across the opponents' goal line. Once over the line the ball must be touched to the ground to score a try, which is worth 5 points. After scoring a try, a team is entitled to attempt a conversion similar to that in American football. In rugby the conversion kick is taken from anywhere on a line perpendicular to the goal line at the point that the ball was touched down. If the kicked ball passes over the crossbar and between the uprights, the team is awarded 2 additional points for the conversion.

No player on the team with possession of the ball is permitted to move downfield ahead of the ball, and any obstruction of a player not carrying the ball is a foul and is penalized. Thus, there can be no running interference or blocking as in American football. When a ball carrier is downed, that player releases the ball, and play continues.

Although the game appears complex, it is governed by only two major rules: (1) players may not pass the ball forward, and (2) players may not touch the ball while it is in play if it was last touched behind them (nearer their own goals) by players on their own teams. A minor infringement results in a scrummage. In the case of a serious infringement, or a foul, the referee, who is the only judge, may award a penalty kick against the offending team. A goal resulting from this kick scores 3 points. A goal scored from a dropkick (when during play a player drops the ball, lets it rebound off the ground, and kicks it over the crossbar and through the uprights) also counts 3 points. A mark occurs when a player standing behind that player's own 22 m (24 yd) line catches a ball on the fly from an opponent's kick and says, "Mark." The player making the mark may then attempt a free kick.

In a less complex form of the game organized in England in 1895, teams comprise only 13 players (two fewer forwards). A try counts 4 points, and the conversion counts 2. The Rugby League conducts professional, and some amateur, competition in this form of the game in northern England, France, Australia, and New Zealand.


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