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The game of association football, also known as soccer, involves two competing teams of 11 players. The players attempt to maneuver the football into the opposing team’s goal, using any part of the body except the hands and arms. Only the goalkeeper is permitted to handle the ball, and then only within the penalty area surrounding the goal. The winning team scores most goals over a set time period, usually 90 minutes.
Association football is to be distinguished from those “football” codes that allow general ball handling and arm tackling, notably American football, Australian Rules football, rugby union, and rugby league. Football is sometimes known as the “simplest game”: its 17 basic laws and minimal equipment (a ball) ensure that games may be improvised and played in informal settings.
Football is the world’s most popular team sport in participant and spectator numbers. The global governing body, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), estimated in 2000 that there are 250 million registered players, and over 1.4 billion people interested in football. At the time of writing, FIFA boasts 205 member states, more than the 191 members of the United Nations, and, as a global organization, is eclipsed only by the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) with 211 members.
The social and institutional aspects of football’s global spread are of sociological interest. Football’s international diffusion between the 1860s and 1914 was largely dependent upon British trade and educational influence overseas. In Europe, British migrant workers would form teams and attract challenges from local sides; or young local men would return from their education or peregrinations in Britain with a ball and rulebook to teach the game to their compatriots. In Latin America, British engineers, railway workers, sailors, teachers, and pupils were largely responsible for introducing local people to football. A similar story arises in Africa, though British soldiers also introduced football in occupied territories such as modern-day Nigeria and South Africa. Thus football became more firmly established in the “informal” British Empire (and where the game was introduced by working- and merchant-class colonizers), in contrast with other British sports like cricket and rugby, which became popular in those countries formally subject to British imperial rule (and where sports were introduced by colonizers who were public school educated and held elite administrative roles in the host societies).
Football was thus probably seen by non-British peoples as more “neutral” culturally, less compromised by imperialistic mores, as well as the most materially accessible form of modern sport.
- Giulianotti, R. (1999) Football: A Sociology of the Global Game. Polity Press, Cambridge.