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What is serious foul play in soccer? Definition, Result, Referee Signal, Examples

serious foul play in soccer

Smooth build-ups, fancy skill moves, and continuous possession are all expressions of the beauty of the game of soccer. Any interruption, especially after a violent foul, impacts the quality of the sport. An interruption of the game because of a serious foul play not only alters the pace and quality of the contest but, most importantly, represents a serious threat to the players’ safety.


Serious foul play in soccer is defined as any challenge or tackle that threatens the opponent’s safety. These tackles represent some of the hardest-hitting types of fouls in a game, and they are one of the main causes of serious injuries. A player tackling an opponent with both legs or a goalkeeper tripping a player that is about to score are common examples of serious foul play.

The rulebook states that a tackle will automatically qualify as serious foul play if a player lunges at an opponent with their legs using excessive force while playing the ball. Any other type of tackle that endangers an opponent is also considered serious foul play. Players who frequently commit serious foul play fouls undermine the sportsmanship of soccer. The ability to recover balls and play defense without having to rely on serious foul plays can aid players in competing at higher levels.


Serious foul play is sanctioned with a red card. While referees in lower series might be more tolerant, serious foul play is severely punished in the top professional leagues. The impact of the red card, which leaves the team down one player for the rest of the game, matches the potential threat to safety created by endangering the opponent with a serious foul play.

Referee Signal

Following the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), referees have been forced to adapt their signals to the presence of this technological aid. This has also influenced calls on serious foul play. In most cases, the referee will blow the whistle and point to the spot of the foul. Subsequently, the referee will review the play thanks to the VAR, and when necessary, a red card will be shown to the player that committed the foul.


  • A player tackles an opponent with both legs, causing serious trauma to the player’s lower leg.
  • When a player takes down an opponent who is running at full speed by grabbing or tackling them.
  • Any tackle that involves the use of elbows or punches. Jumping for a high ball with an extended elbow can lead to serious head injuries for the opponent.
  • A violent tackle committed by a goalkeeper can be considered serious foul play.