Summer Olympics: All About Soccer

All About Soccer

Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. The Olympics are one of the world’s most popular sporting events. So why is that soccer at the Olympics isn’t a bigger deal? It’s because soccer’s World Cup run by soccer’s own corrupt international organization, has established itself as THE biggest and best soccer tournament in the world. The Olympics are resigned to being the world’s second (or perhaps third or fourth) most important soccer tournament. Still, Olympic soccer has its own charm.

How Does Soccer Work?

At its heart, soccer is a very simple sport. Eleven players on a team try to kick a ball into the opposing team’s goal. The ball is round, nearly everything else is rectangular. The field is a big rectangle, about 120 yards long and 80 yards wide. It’s broken up into two rectangular halves. Around the goal are two more concentric rectangles. The little one is mostly meaningless, but the larger one, called the 18 yard box, defines the area in which one player, called the goalie or goaltender, can use their hands. Otherwise, all players must only touch the ball with their feet, head, or other non-arm body parts. Players are not allowed to trip each other or collide in an aggressive manner. The most impactful other rule is the offside rule. Although this rule is quite easy to understand, it is responsible for three quarters of all world conflicts. Games are 90 minutes long with thirty minutes of extra time if an elimination game is tied. If no team has scored more goals than the other after that, a shootout will decide the winner. One of the things that makes soccer so tough on its players is that substitutions are limited to three per game. Most of the people who start a soccer game have to finish it — often running more than six miles a game.

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Why do People Like Watching Soccer?

There are as many reasons why people like watching soccer as there are people who watch soccer. And that’s a lot of reasons! More than other sports, soccer is closely tied to national identity and the relationship moves in both directions. Teams are shaped by their country and countries by their teams. The Italians play defensively, the Dutch beautifully, the Japanese with precision. Because soccer is low scoring, it creates enormous feelings that build up inside its fans and then explode when something — a goal, a missed call from a ref, an amazing save — happens. Soccer also has a good balance between individuality and team play. Single brilliant players can do a lot in soccer, and they are wonderful to follow, but they can’t win a game on their own.

Check out some highlights from the 2012 Olympics:

What are the different events?

The Olympics have a men’s soccer event and a women’s one.

How Dangerous is Soccer?

Soccer players get a lot of grief for being wimps who fall to the ground at the least provocation. While this is somewhat true (mostly on the men’s side but creeping into the women’s game as well) it draws attention away from what is actually a quite physical sport that demands toughness from its players. I already mentioned that most players have to play the full 90 minutes or more of a soccer game. During that time, there are aerial collisions, sliding tackles, and clipped ankles galore. The next time a soccer player has his or her head stapled shut on the sideline so they can get back into the play, try telling me that soccer players are wimps.

What’s the State of Gender Equality in Soccer?

“Soccer is in a strange state when it comes to gender equality. The game is identical as played by men or women. No rule differences, no uniform differences. On the other hand, there’s infinitely more money involved in the men’s game. This leads to and stems from different levels of investment by country’s into their men’s and women’s teams. This is particularly strange in this country where the men’s team is mediocre and the women’s team is the reigning world champion and three time Olympic gold medal winner.

In the Olympics, there’s another strange gender wrinkle. The men’s Olympic soccer event has a soft age restriction. Men’s teams may only have three players older than 23. This makes the men’s event a distinctly second rate event. For women, who have no age restriction, the Olympics is the second biggest tournament in the world.”


Bookmark the full Olympics schedule from NBC. Soccer is from Wednesday, August 3 to Saturday, August 20.

Read more about soccer on the official Rio Olympics site.