Why is it called soccer in North America and football in the rest of the world?

The sport that involves kicking a ball into a goal is known by different names in different parts of the world. In most countries, it is simply called football, or a variation of that word, such as fútbol, Fußball, or futebol. However, in North America, the term soccer is more commonly used, to distinguish it from other types of football, such as American football or Canadian football. How did this linguistic divergence happen, and when did it start?

The origin of soccer and football

The word soccer comes from a slang abbreviation of the word association, which was part of the original name of the sport: association football. This term was coined in England in 1863, when the Football Association (FA) was formed to standardize the rules of the game, which had many variations at the time. The FA’s version of football became the most popular and widely played one, but it was not the only one. Another form of football, which allowed players to carry and run with the ball, was known as rugby football, named after the Rugby School in England, where it was developed. Rugby football later evolved into American football and Canadian football, among other variants.

To differentiate between association football and rugby football, students at the University of Oxford in the 1880s came up with nicknames for both sports: they called rugby football “rugger” and association football “assoccer”. The latter term was further shortened to “soccer”, and the name quickly spread beyond the campus. However, soccer never became much more than a nickname in Great Britain, where association football had earned the right to be known as just plain football by the 20th century.

The spread of the game

As football became a global phenomenon, the name soccer followed it to some parts of the world, especially those where another form of football was already popular or dominant. For example, in the United States, a sport that combined elements of rugby and association football emerged in the late 19th century, and became known as gridiron football, or simply football. To avoid confusion, American players and fans of association football adopted the term soccer to refer to their sport. The same happened in Canada, where Canadian football, a variation of American football, was the main football code. Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland are other countries where both rugby and soccer have a significant presence, and where the word soccer is used to a varying degree.

However, in most parts of the world, especially in Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia, association football remained the undisputed king of sports, and the word football, or its equivalent in other languages, was the natural and preferred way to refer to it. Even in countries where other sports have a large following, such as cricket in India or baseball in Japan, football is still widely recognized and played.

The current situation

Today, soccer and football are both accepted and understood terms for the same sport, although one may be more common or preferred than the other depending on the context and the audience. According to a 2014 survey by YouGov, a British market research firm, 71% of Britons call the sport football, while 11% call it soccer, and the rest use both interchangeably. In the United States, 77% of Americans call it soccer, while 12% call it football, and the rest use both. In Canada, the results are similar, with 70% preferring soccer and 15% preferring football. In Australia, however, the situation is more balanced, with 46% using soccer and 43% using football.

The popularity and influence of the sport have also led to some changes and adaptations in the terminology. For instance, the official governing body of soccer in the United States changed its name from the United States Football Association to the United States Soccer Football Association in 1945, and later dropped the word football altogether, becoming the United States Soccer Federation. Similarly, the Major League Soccer (MLS), the top professional soccer league in the United States and Canada, was founded in 1993 as part of the country’s bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, the most prestigious tournament in the sport. FIFA, which stands for Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is the French name of the international governing body of football, and is widely used as an acronym in English and other languages.

On the other hand, some countries that traditionally used the word soccer have recently embraced the word football as well. For example, in 2005, Australia’s soccer governing body changed its name from Soccer Australia to Football Federation Australia, and its national team, the Socceroos, became the Footballroos. In 2007, Canada’s soccer governing body followed suit, changing its name from the Canadian Soccer Association to the Canadian Soccer Federation. In 2013, New Zealand’s soccer governing body also rebranded itself as New Zealand Football, replacing the previous name of New Zealand Soccer.

The conclusion: soccer or football

Soccer and football are two names for the same sport, but they have different origins and histories. The word soccer comes from a British slang term for association football, the original name of the sport. The word football comes from the general term for games that involve kicking a ball. Depending on where and when they were born, people may have different preferences and associations with these words, but they can also appreciate and respect the diversity and richness of the sport’s culture and language. Whether you call it soccer or football, the beautiful game is a universal source of joy and passion for millions of fans and players around the world.