If someone asked you what the most popular sport in the world was, what would be your guess? In Canada, you might think of hockey, and in the United States, the obvious answer would be American football. In reality, neither of those answers is correct.
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Soccer is, by far, the most popular sport in the world, but unlike other sports like the NHL (National Hockey League) or NFL (National Football League), FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) doesn’t have a mandate for their players to wear helmets.
This leads us to ask, should protective headgear be mandatory in soccer? Is soccer less aggressive than other sports? Does soccer pose less danger to players’ heads?
Since soccer, also known as Association Football, is so popular around the world, you might be wondering why protective headgear isn’t required in professional soccer. Without protective headgear, some other sports would be virtually impossible to play, so why is soccer any different?
Should Protective Headgear Be Mandatory In Soccer?
The question of whether headgear should be mandatory in soccer is a complicated one. On one hand, FIFA’s official rule, Rule 4 specifically, allows for headgear to be worn.
. . . headgear, facemasks and knee and arm protectors made of soft, lightweight padded material is permitted . . .thefa.com
On the other hand, headgear isn’t mandated in any professional soccer league as it is for hockey leagues, for example. Did you notice the word ‘mandated’ there and the wording of FIFA’s Rule 4, “headgear….is permitted”?
In other words, you can wear protective headgear if you want to but you don’t have to.
When looking at the question of ‘should’ headgear be mandatory, we need to consider all sides of the argument.
For example, a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine and Public Health has found that protective headgear does not result in fewer concussions in adolescent soccer players.
Yet another study focused on the soccer technique known as ‘heading the ball’, which is used both offensively and defensively, concluding that reducing the amount of air pressure in the ball and replacing balls that get wet due to their increased weight could effectively reduce potential head injuries by as much as 20%.
Why Don’t Soccer Players Wear Helmets?
There are a few different reasons why soccer players don’t wear helmets. Notice we have changed the wording to ‘helmets’ not ‘headgear’:
- Historically, professional soccer players have never worn helmets.
- Helmets could make directing a headed ball difficult.
- Studies are inconclusive about whether helmets or headgear prevent concussions.
- Helmets might partly obscure vision
The real reason that soccer players don’t wear helmets, though, is that helmets aren’t mandatory according to FIFA, which is the world governing body of professional soccer.
Soccer is a sport that involves endurance and footwork. Often, players will head the ball, goalies and field players alike. Heading the ball refers to the soccer player hitting the ball with their head to move it down the field, and this legal maneuver exists because soccer forbids players from touching the ball with their hands.
It’s unlikely that FIFA will make helmets mandatory for soccer players in the near future, especially considering Rule 4 (Player’s Equipment), in the FIFA rulebook, already permits the use of lightweight padded headgear, anyway.
Should Soccer Players Wear Helmets?
Soccer players probably shouldn’t wear helmets now or in the future, because not only are they unwieldy and not very functional for soccer as a sport, but for now they are illegal to wear on the field as per FIFA’s Rule 4.
Although it might seem like they’re the same thing, helmets are usually hard head coverings that encase the entire head, while headgear is soft-shelled and can even come in headband varieties. Helmets, like the ones NHL players wear, would not be a good idea for modern soccer.
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Lightweight padded headgear, such as the type of gear FIFA permits, doesn’t obscure vision as some helmets do, and it isn’t as difficult to head a ball in soft-shell headgear as it would be in a hard-shell helmet.
Should Soccer Players Wear Headgear?
The current rule which permits the use of lightweight headgear at the discretion of the players is most certainly the best way forward while researchers work to reach a unanimous decision about the best way to reduce concussions in the sport.
While soccer might seem to be a safe sport, it is more dangerous than most people realize. In fact, concussions and other head injuries are big problems that still need to be resolved, but it remains unclear whether headgear is the answer.
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Any form of head protection is better than no head protection, and while FIFA Rule 4 permits the use of lightweight padded headgear or headbands that means players have the choice available to them.
Should protective headgear be mandatory in soccer? Probably not yet, but we may see it slowly become the norm just as helmets have been slowly introduced into other contact sports. Only time will tell.