Is Stepping on Someone’s Foot a Foul in Soccer?

Is Stepping on Someone’s Foot a Foul in Soccer?

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Soccer referees around the world are put into situations that require them to make a split-second decision every day. Calling an offside or calling a straight-forward foul can be taken as examples of just some of those situations. However, some situations bring even the most experienced referees to confusion, not to mention regular soccer viewers. One of those is the ever-popular and confusing question of is stepping on someone’s foot a foul in soccer?

Stepping on someone’s foot is not commonly called a foul in soccer. However, in some cases, stepping on someone’s foot can be a foul if the player who stepped on the opponent’s foot does so while making the contact with the player before making contact with the ball. It’s also a foul if the referee finds the stepping to be intentional and opposing to the rules.

There are numerous occasions in which calling the foul is the right choice to make by the referee. Stepping on someone’s foot is not always one of those occasions. In this article, we will explore the situations that warrant the call of foul when a player steps on an opponent’s foot. Let’s begin!

When is a foul for stepping on an opponent’s foot awarded in soccer?

The Football Association’s laws of the game are very clear when it comes to awarding a foul. According to the FA rule book, the referee awards a foul when they consider that a player commits a violation against an opponent in a way that is considered careless, reckless, or involves excessive force. These can include:

  • Charges
  • Jumps
  • Kicks or attempts to kick
  • Strikes or attempts to strike
  • Trips or attempts to trip
  • Tackles or challenges
  • Pushes and shoves

As we can see from the list of potential offenses, stepping on an opponent’s foot isn’t specifically listed. However, if we further explore the FA’s definition of the terms careless, reckless, and involves excessive force, we can draw further conclusions:

Careless is when a player shows a lack of attention or consideration while tackling or challenging an opponent. Even though these situations don’t necessarily warrant a sanction from the referee, they can include accidentally stepping on an opponent’s foot.

Reckless is when a player acts with no regard for the dangers and consequences of their move. This can also include stepping on an opponent’s foot but must lead to at least a warning from the referee.

Using excessive force is when a player puts an opponent’s safety in danger by exceeding the necessary use of force. If this behavior is recognized by the referee, the player must be sent off. This involves the situations when a player intentionally steps on an opponent’s foot.

All of the situations above, if the referee decides they are violations, lead to a direct free kick or a penalty. Players who act recklessly can be further sanctioned with a yellow card, while those who the referee finds to be using excessive force receive the red card.

Other situations when stepping on someone’s foot is a foul

Not all situations when there’s a foul warrant a direct free kick. There’s a couple of situations that are not as severe, and that can also include a player stepping on an opponent’s foot. An indirect free kick is awarded if a player plays in a dangerous manner or commits any offenses not mentions in the FA Laws for which play is stopped to caution or send off the player.

Let’s clear out the apparent mess that this rule is:

Playing in a dangerous manner is when a player who is playing the ball takes any action that threatens injury to someone, including themselves, and includes preventing a close opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury. This means that even a threat of stepping on someone on purpose can be a violation that leads to an indirect free kick.

Even when not playing the ball, players can be penalized for stepping on an opponent, as the second part of the rule states. 

Another cause for calling a foul when someone gets stepped on soccer is the rule that states that impeding the progress of an opponent is a violation, even without contact.

How does the referee decide if stepping on someone’s foot is a foul?

Even in situations when a player has been knocked down, kicked, or stepped on, it’s up to the referee to decide whether there was a foul involved. Judging according to the rules of the game and their experience, the referee is to decide whether the tackle involved an act of carelessness, recklessness, or the use of excessive force. The referee also uses the rule book, their experience, and the overall situation to determine whether the play was made in a dangerous manner.

Based on all of the aspects mentioned, the referee decides whether to make the foul call or keep the game going without stopping it. Determining the outcome of these situations is never easy, that’s why referees need to be experienced and confident in any situation.

For this reason, FIFA requires all of its referees to go through all the necessary ranks; from local soccer level, to regional and national. Becoming a certified international referee takes more than a decade of experience, as well as nomination by the national association. FIFA then chooses the best candidate.

Sitting in front of the TV, we might have multiple issues with determining whether a soccer player stepped on someone purposefully or on accident. The distance from the game and our lack of experience in the situation, as well as our bias, all account for the judgment. Rest assured that the referees at a professional level don’t have an issue distinguishing between what’s intentional and unintentional and that they are able to recognize all of the offenses with no shadow of the doubt, for the most part. For the times they go wrong, there are assistants and VAR.