What Is a Red Card?

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Red cards have been present for several years. However, quite a number of people still don’t know what is a red card, why it is used and how it impacts players in different sports.

What Is a Red Card?

A red card is a cautionary, disciplinary measure given to players in various sports. The goal of the card is to stop a game and penalize an offender for their infraction. Referees or umpires usually give red cards under the laws of a specific sport.

A referee is not allowed to show favoritism towards any player when issuing a red card. In this article, you will find some examples of how red cards are used in different sports.

A soccer referee holding a red card

When Is It Appropriate to Use a Red Card?

The appropriate time to use a red card varies depending on the sport. Different sports have various rules and regulations on penalties and faults.

Use of a Red Car in Different Types of Sports

Many different types of sports use red cards such as:

  • Soccer
  • Rugby
  • Hockey
  • American Football
  • Australian Football
  • Boxing
  • Ice Hockey
  • Field Hockey
  • Lacrosse
  • Water Polo
  • Volleyball
  • Cricket
  • Basketball

Using a red card in these various sports helps keep the games fair and safe for all participants involved while maintaining discipline. Let’s narrow it down to each individual sport.


In soccer, a player gets a red card after being ruled as deliberately committing a severe infraction of the rules. In most cases, this removes the player from the game, and their team must continue playing with one less player.

Depending on the league and association, a player with a red card may also be banned for future games. According to statistics, red cards are used in 20.1% of matches.


A red card in rugby results in sending the player who has committed an offense to a so-called “sin bin” for at least ten minutes of playing time. 

A second yellow-card offense will result in automatic dismissal from the field of play, and that person must take no further part in the game.

American Football

In American football, an official may throw a red flag to indicate that the game should stop and restart from the point of interruption. This usually occurs when a foul or violation on the previous play does not result in “downing” of the ball.

It includes loss of yardage, out of bounds behind the spot of the first down). The play stops only if the referee decides it was a “major” foul or violation.

Australian Football

Referee issues a red card in Australian football to indicate that a player has been reported for an incident on the field. The field umpire must submit a report, and the player automatically sits out for at least five games.


In boxing, a red card indicates that the referee feels it necessary to stop the fight and award victory (by “technical knockout” or TKO) to one of the contestants.

This comes before any round’s end for the officials to announce the winner.

Ice Hockey

A red card is also used in ice hockey, with players receiving “game misconduct” for any number of infractions beyond two unsportsmanlike penalties. This means players must leave their team’s bench.

The players cannot take part in play until replaced on the roster (and thus allowed back onto the ice) by another player.

Field Hockey

In field hockey, players receive a “red card” for any number of yellow-card offenses against them which would generally warrant their sending off. In this sense, the difference between the two cards is that an offending player must leave only one team’s bench rather than the entire playing area.


In lacrosse, players receive a “red-card” for dangerous or flagrant fouls that put other players at risk of injury. Players get suspended for yellow card accumulation. If players get two yellow cards, they are out of the current game, although they can participate in the next one.

However, a player caught committing a serious infringement of the rules may receive an automatic red card. This will result in suspension from participating further in that game and also receive a one-game suspension.

Two lacrosse players from opposing teams

Water Polo

Players receive a red card indicating they have committed a number of fouls or infractions against their opponents. Suppose the referee deems that the infractions were intentional to harm another player.

In that case, they will be off the game and must leave the pool area. There is a one-game suspension for the offender and the filing of an official report to the significant governing authority. When players receive a second yellow card, a red card must follow immediately.


Players receive a red card in volleyball if they commit three levels of offenses which are rude conduct, passing aggression, and offensive conduct. Offending players must leave and remain outside of the playing area until the set ends.


A red card in cricket indicates a sending-off offense. This means that once the player receives the red card, he should immediately leave the field and not remain on the sidelines.

Cricketers receive a red card when they commit any act of violence, either to the officials or spectators.


In basketball, players get red cards for aggressive or unsportsmanlike conduct, such as coming into contact with an opponent after the whistle. It warrants immediate ejection from the game and suspension for at least one additional game.

Related Questions

Can a Player Play the Next Game After Receiving a Red Card?

No. A player who receives a red card must sit out the next game. They may also get benched for future games, depending on the league and association.

When Was the Red Card Introduced in Soccer?

FIFA World Cup™ in 1970, Mexico saw the introduction of both the yellow and the red cards, which have since become an integral part of soccer culture.


A red card is common in many sports in penalizing players for fouls or other infractions. In some cases, these cards serve as warnings before the player accrues enough yellow cards and must leave the game entirely.

Tim Frechette is an avid athlete, having played sports like soccer and basketball his entire life. He brings a wealth of athletic knowledge to his writing.