Inspired by this question, I am wondering if there has been a game where a player or team was punished for taunting the opponents (or the fans) with unsporting behaviour, i.e. scoring in an unconventional way with intent of insulting the defence.

I am not sure if unsporting behaviour (besides physical or verbal violence) is an offence in itself, and if so what's the appropriate punishment for such; yellow/red card? Can a goal be disallowed for instance?

Has this ever happened in a top division game?

  • "Unsporting behaviour" is a term within the laws that covers many offences, including diving, and fouls designed to stop the opponents developing an attack and is always punished with a yellow card. Are you interested in these, or just in taunting?
    – Fillet
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:23
  • 1
    I've edited the title, to reflect the question more. "Unsporting behaviour" (without qualifying it further) includes tactical fouls and reckless tackles, which happen in the majority of top-flight games. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 23:13
  • Just to make it clear; "unsporting behaviour" does not necessarily have to be aimed towards a person (opponent, team mate, referee, supporters, et cetera). It can also be against the game itself, for example by trying to circumvent (spelling?) the rules of the game. As an example, consider the situation when a wants to play the ball back to the keeper. It has happened that players juggle the ball and then play it back with their head (as that's usually allowed), but this is clearly a way of avoiding the rule. Thus, the player will be given a yellow card, and an indirect free kick will be given
    – Qvist
    Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 13:47
  • The Arsenal / Man Utd match from maybe 10 years back lept straight to mind. Van Nistleroys penalty miss, and Keowns reaction. I believe some of the Arsenal players were retrospectively punished.
    – queeg
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 23:52

2 Answers 2


I asked the original question as I wanted to see what answers the community would come up with.

There are potentially hundreds of ways that you can humiliate your opponents in association football. Some other examples I can think of are

However, the key difference here is that all of these serve a purpose other than humiliating your opponents, ie. to maintain possession in a tactically superior position, or to score an otherwise uncertain goal.

When the ball is on the goal line, between the posts and all opponents are a number of metres away, the goal is practically certain. There is no other purpose in doing some otherwise difficult stunt than to humiliate and/or taunt your opponents, in order to "rub in" the goal.

On page 123 of the 2014/15 FIFA Laws of The Game:

There are different circumstances when a player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour, e.g. if a player:


  • acts in a manner which shows a lack of respect for the game


While the following is in relation to the celebration of a goal, I believe that this point on page 124 of the 2014/15 FIFA Laws of The Game constitutes unsporting behaviour at any point in the match:

A player must be cautioned if:

  • in the opinion of the referee, he makes gestures which are provocative, derisory or inflammatory. ...

I find it hard to believe that any refereee would not find this to be "provocative, derisory or inflammatory" and acting "in a manner which shows a lack of respect for the game". It is mandatory for all football referees in the US to consider it to be unsporting behaviour, and generally considered by IFAB to be unsporting behaviour (here). On asktheref.com, which consists of a highly experienced panel of referees from around the globe, they almost all agree that is is unsporting behaviour (here and here) .

The correct action to take when such a stunt is performed is to disallow the goal, caution the player concerned for unsporting behaviour for acting in a manner which shows a lack of respect for the game, and award an indirect free kick to the opponents to be taken from any point within their goal area. Since the unsporting behaviour occurred before the goal was scored, cautioning the player and allowing the goal is not an option here, as on page 34 of the 2014/15 FIFA Laws of The Game it states:

A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no infringement of the Laws of the Game has been committed previously by the team scoring the goal.

To focus on this question generally, rather than the specific example given, yes, unsporting behaviour is in itself an offence. However, it is a cautionable offence, but not a free kick offence. Normally, a direct free kick offence is committed (such as a reckless tackle, or careless tackle for tactical purposes), and the match is stopped for that, and then the caution is given in the stoppage.

When a cautionable (or sending-off offence) is committed on its own and play needs to be stopped, the restart is an indirect free kick to the opponents.

An indirect free kick is also awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player:


  • commits any other offence, not previously mentioned in Law 12, for which play is stopped to caution or send off a player


In a match in 2005 between the Netherlands and Andorra, Ruud van Nistelrooy taunted an opponent after scoring a goal. He was promptly cautioned for unsporting behaviour. The goal was allowed however, because the taunt happened after the goal had already been scored, not before. Arguably, the Andorran defender should have been cautioned for unsporting behaviour earlier, as he initially taunted van Nistelrooy after he missed a penalty. There is a video of the incident here.

As an aside, in your question, you mentioned offences that are "physical" or "verbal" in nature. While you are correct in that most physical offences are offences in themselves (usually resulting in a direct free kick), "verbal" offences are only offences if they are considered to be unsporting behaviour. There is no way in the Laws of The Game for a referee to punish any player for a verbal offences without cautioning the player for unsporting behaviour.


See this video where a stupid unsporting behaviour happens. It is a football game in France between Rennes and Reims.

The only punishment obtained by the player (Ntep) is the withdrawal made by the coach a few seconds latter.

I think the punishment that the official can give to the player depends on the unsporting behaviour.

  • Another example is Mario Balotelli's miss against L.A. Galaxy. While behaviour like this is unnecessary I don't believe it should be punished by referee. Panenka penalty probably falls into this category as well. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 3:20
  • Good catch, this is exactly what I was talking about.. So the goal was allowed in the end?
    – posdef
    Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 7:34
  • Yes it was. The result was 3-1 for Rennes against Reims. Commented Jul 25, 2014 at 7:36
  • @defaultlocale Are you suggesting that Panenka penalties are "unsporting"? How so?
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 18:26
  • 1
    @F1Krazy I wrote this comment more than 9 years ago. I don't even remember what I was trying to say back then :) Anyway, I don't think Panenka penalties or unnecessary trick shots are "unsporting". Players should not be punished for them. Commented Dec 3, 2023 at 13:21

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