Fútbol (soccer) is one of those games that just seem a natural for playing barefoot. It’s played on a large grassy field. You see kids all over the world playing that way. It’s probably safer played barefoot; with all that kicking going on, I sure would prefer that a misaimed kick come from a bare foot.
But you sure won’t see a World Cup game played barefoot.
I thought I’d try to find out more about it.
All I could find in the newspapers was one litte story in March of 1950:
Barefooted Players Puzzle Commission
The Organising Commission of the World Soccer Cup Games settled many problems in its meetings here, but one thing stumped the group—what to do about teams whose members want to play barefooted.
After giving the problem due consideration, the Commission passed the buck. It agreed to leave the decision to the referees.
Officials said that many Asian Soccer players prefer to play barefooted.
Well, that doesn’t sound too bad. Though, it’s not clear just why it would be left up to the referees, or what criteria a referee would use to decide whether bare feet were okay or not.
In fact, the ruling seems ambiguous enough that another paper attached this headline to it (don’t forget that newpapers get/got their stories over the wire, and then attach their own headlines):
SOCCER PROBLEM SOLVED; BAREFOOT PLAYERS OKAYED
Well obviously, it wasn’t “okayed”.
It’s not as if this was the first time that India had played world-class soccer barefooted. After independence in 1947, they attended the 1948 Olympics, where, in their first round match, they lost to France 2-1 when France scored the winning goal in the 89th minute.
Of course, everybody was aghast for that, too. Here’s a story (from 1948):
What?–Indians ‘Shoeless Joes’
LONDON, July 15 (UP)—Raised eyebrows and shocked looks greeted the Indian Olympic soccer team here.
The Indians couldn’t understand why, just because they will play barefoot.
“We are here to play soccer, so why do we need boots?” they asked. “You aren’t going to crush glass on the field, are you?”
The Indians explained that nobody wears shoes or socks play the game, which is probably tougher on the feet than any other sport.
They will be the first team in the history of English soccer to play with their feet out in the open.
The only two exceptions were the goalie and the right half, whom the rest of the players consider slightly effete.
So, why weren’t they allowed to play barefooted in the World Cup. Here’s the official explanation that came out of the Zurich meeting:
The organising committee is of the opinion that all players should use footwear. However, it is known that football is played barefoot in some countries, especially in India. A letter was sent to the Indian Football Association highlighting Article 4 in the Laws of the Game, which states that football boots are considered part of the necessary equipment and that a referee can therefore prevent a team from playing barefoot.
So we see that they already had a rule that required shoes (boots) to play. I’m not sure why they needed to rule. After all, as the Indian player said, “You aren’t going to crush glass on the field, are you?”
And of course, no organising committee could consider the idea of actually changing a rule that made no sense. Just like no library would remove a shoe rule—how dare anybody challenge their authoritay?
But it is there in the rules. I don’t know exactly what they said back in 1950, but here’s what they say now (page 21):
The basic compulsory equipment of a player comprises the following separate items:
- a jersey or shirt with sleeves – if undergarments are worn, the colour of the sleeve must be the same main colour as the sleeve of the jersey or shirt
- shorts – if undershorts or tights are worn, they must be of the same main colour as the shorts
- stockings – if tape or similar material is applied externally it must be the same colour as that part of the stocking it is applied to
You know, if they discarded the footwear, maybe they wouldn’t need the shinguards either (or the stockings to hold up and cover the shinguards).
In one way, you could even consider it a form of cheating (rather like the swimming teams that are wearing those special sleek suits these days).
Here in the U.S., we take some heat for calling a game that rarely uses the foot “football”.
Well, maybe the rest of the world ought to realize that they are playing “bootball”, not “football”.