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The World’s First Football White Card

On Saturday the 21st of January 2023, Benfica’s women’s football team played out a 5-0 victory against fierce rivals Sporting Lisbon.

However, the game drew attraction due to the potential emergence of a new era of football – what is this new era? The brandishing of the world’s first football white card for “fair play”.

So what is a white card? A question asked by many and an answer you’re about to find out.

History Of Referee Cards

Firstly, let’s look back at referee cards.

Cards have been no stranger in football following their introduction to the sport over 50 years ago for the 9th edition of the FIFA World Cup hosted in 1970 by Mexico.

Anyone who calls themselves a football fan is well familiar with the functions of yellow and red cards – but for those who aren’t, they are disciplinary symbols shown to players or coaching staff in the event of a foul or rule-breaking offence.

When cautioning a player, the referee always takes note on the back of the red or yellow card of the crime committed, a way to identify the player in question, and the exact time in the match the event occurred – all so that suitable action can occur once the game has concluded.

What is a white card in football?

A white card shown during a football match signals recognition for a moment of sporting “fair play”.

After years of associating referee cards with the negative aspects of football and being seen as a form of punishment, many were quick to presume that white cards would also follow suit.

Quite the contrary, it is a positive signal.

History Making Match

On this occasion, after a fan fainted in the stands, both medical teams put the rivalries to one side and rushed to help the supporter in need. This led to referee Catarina Campos issuing the historical world’s first football white card.

After the un-well fan had successfully recovered, the card was shown to both medical teams in separate motions. The card was raised in the same fashion as if it was a yellow or red card.

However, eagle-eyed spectators may have noticed that, unlike when brandishing a disciplinary card, no notes were taken on the back of the white card.

Unless the TV footage missed this, the standard note-taking process didn’t occur, suggesting that there was no intention to follow up or to congratulate the fair play at hand further.

White Card Controversy

Like many things in football, this has sparked controversy and an array of differences in opinions.

Whilst many appreciate the positive intent of the white card, others find the token of appreciation somewhat empty, claiming the award reaps no real form of reward.

Where does it go from here?

Well, several avenues could be taken to give this card a bit more substance – perhaps the most obvious of those being a financial reward.

As the saying goes, “money makes the world go round”; sadly, football seems to follow suit.

It’s no secret the crazy amount of money in football these days, with the vast majority of club owners being multi-millionaires, if not billionaires, who own a multitude of businesses aside from the club.

It’s also no secret that the best way to grab the attention of a businessman is to bring money into the equation. Hence, it has been suggested that in return for acts of good sportsmanship and ethics, the person involved or perhaps their affiliated club, should be financially awarded.  

Of course, this money can’t just be plucked from thin air.

Some would argue that whenever a fine is collected as a punishment from a player or member of staff due to a misdemeanour, that money could be awarded to those who have made a positive contribution. For example, to those shown a white card during a game.

It could be seen as punishing wrongdoings and rewarding fair play.

Furthermore, if a monetary incentive was introduced, it could push players and staff alike to work more ethically. Creating a more fair, safe and more positive game – something everybody would want to see more of.

FIFA Incentives & The White Card’s Future

The white card is one of FIFA’s many new incentives recently introduced.

Another incentive you might have noticed is the extensive but accurate “added time” minutes at the Qatar World Cup. This was a way to prevent time-wasting and maximize every playable minute during the matches – so the fans got the best value and experience.

Of course, there are always disagreements about any new changes in football. However, the general consensus surrounding this rule was that it was good.

Nonetheless, despite the success and favourable response the “added time” rule received, we are yet to see the rule come into practice following the World Cup. This suggests that a lot more “practice runs” are required before it makes an appearance in the big domestic leagues.

There would be no surprise if this same pattern took shape with the introduction of the white card.

Differences in opinion arose like they always do; however, the general feeling around the new white card was positive. That was evident from the cheers both sets of fans inside the Estadio De La Cruz made upon the emergence of the white card.

Despite this, the rule has been only introduced into the Portuguese leagues, and we are a long way off seeing it making its way into the English Premier League or WSL any time soon, if ever.

Summing Up The New White Card

I believe the referee’s fair play white card can do some good to a game that, at times, is overrun by poor sportsmanship, cheating, and rule flouting such as being banned for betting.

Although it still has a long way to go to become a more formidable method of positivity, there is no reason why this card couldn’t be the start of change and reward the sometimes unnoticed beauty in our beautiful game.

Hal Van Geesbergen

Hal Van Geesbergen

About The Author

Ever since I was a little boy I’ve been immersed in football. Be that playing it, watching it, or talking for hours about it - football is where I find happiness. Nowadays I spent much of my time writing about it. Sharing my thoughts and opinions on all matters to do with the beautiful game. Connect on LinkedIn

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