The Players’ Equipment – Law 4



There are four major principles behind Law 4 of the soccer Laws of the Game, “The Players’ Equipment:” 1.)  Safety of the players is paramount; 2.)  Specific gear is required to be worn; 3.)  Colors are used to distinguish participants; and, 4.)  Other gear is optional that is permitted to be worn.  The wording regarding each of these principles as contained within Law 4 is fairly straight-forward.  In addition, the Law includes sections on what kinds of slogans or statements may appear on clothing and what kinds of sanctions are to be applied for non-compliance with each aspect of the Law.

  1. Safety of the players is paramount

Law 4 states,

“A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous [to themselves or to other players]. All items of jewelry (necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings, leather bands, rubber bands, etc.) are forbidden and must be removed. Using tape to cover jewelry is not permitted. The players must be inspected before the start of the match and substitutes before they enter the field of play. If a player is wearing or using unauthorized/dangerous equipment or jewelry the referee must order the player to:

  • remove the item
  • leave the field of play at the next stoppage if the player is unable or unwilling to comply

A player who refuses to comply or wears the item again must be cautioned.”

  1. Specific gear is required to be worn

Law 4 states,

“The compulsory equipment of a player comprises the following separate items:

  • a shirt [jersey] with sleeves
  • shorts
  • socks – tape or any material applied or worn externally must be the same color as that part of the sock it is applied to or covers
  • shinguards – these must be made of a suitable material to provide reasonable protection and [be] covered by the socks
  • footwear

Goalkeepers may wear tracksuit bottoms [instead of shorts]. A player whose footwear or shinguard is lost accidentally must replace it as soon as possible and no later than when the ball next goes out of play; if before doing so the player plays the ball and/or scores a goal, the goal is awarded.”

  1. Colors are used to distinguish participants

Law 4 states,

  • “The two teams must wear colors that distinguish them from each other and the match officials
  • Each goalkeeper must wear colors that are distinguishable from the other players and the match officials
  • If the two goalkeepers’ shirts are the same color and neither has another shirt, the referee allows the match to be played.

Undershirts must be a single color which is the same as the main color of the shirt sleeve or a pattern/color which exactly replicate(s) the shirt sleeve; undershorts/tights must be the same color as the main color of the shorts or the lowest part of the shorts – players of the same team must wear the same color.”

  1. Other gear is optional that is permitted to be worn

Law 4 states,

“Non-dangerous protective equipment, for example headgear, facemasks and knee and arm protectors made of soft, lightweight padded material is permitted as are goalkeepers’ caps and sports spectacles [sports glasses]. Where head covers (excluding goalkeepers’ caps) are worn, they must:

  • be black or the same main color as the shirt (provided that the players of the same team wear the same color)
  • be in keeping with the professional appearance of the player’s equipment
  • not be attached to the shirt
  • not be dangerous to the player wearing it or any other player (e.g., opening/closing mechanism around neck)
  • not have any part(s) extending out from the surface (protruding elements)”

The use of any form of electronic communication between players (including substitutes/substituted and sent off players) and/or technical staff is not permitted.  Electronic communications between coaches is permitted.  Electronic Performance and Tracking Systems (EPTS), also known as Wearable Technology (WT), worn by players is permitted.  Where EPTS is used (subject to the agreement of the national football association/competition organizer):

  • they must not be dangerous
  • information and data transmitted from the devices/systems is not permitted to be received or used in the technical area during the match
  • they must meet the requirements for wearable EPTS under the FIFA Quality Program (FQP)
  1. Further

Law 4 states,

“Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer`s logo. For any infringement the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organizer, national football association or to be justified by FIFA.

Law 4 applies to all equipment (including clothing) worn by players, substitutes and substituted players and to all team officials in the technical area.  The following are (usually) permitted:  the player’s number, name, team crest/logo, initiative slogans/emblems promoting the game of football, respect and integrity as well as any advertising permitted by competition rules or national FA, confederation or FIFA regulations; and, the facts of a match, such as teams, date, competition/event, [and/or] venue.

Permitted slogans, statements or images should be confined to the shirt front and/or armband.   In some cases, the slogan, statement or image might only appear on the captain’s armband.”

Sanctions for Non-Compliance

Law 4 states,

“For any offense [infringement of this Law,] play need not be stopped and the player:

  • is instructed by the referee to leave the field of play to correct the equipment
  • leaves when play stops, unless the equipment has already been corrected

A player who leaves the field of play to correct or change equipment must:

  • have the equipment checked by a match official before being allowed to re-enter
  • only re-enter with the referee’s permission (which may be given during play)

A player who enters without permission must be cautioned and if play is stopped to issue the caution, an indirect free kick is awarded from the position of the ball when play was stopped.”

Soccer Coaching Tips:


–       Coaches may be put in the position of having to purchase equipment for the team.  Research everything!  For example, there are still cotton jerseys around that shrink dramatically when they are washed and dried.  In addition, there are all types and styles of shirts, shorts and socks.  Jerseys may have collars, v-necks, crew-necks, or long or short sleeves.  Shorts for older players should have built-in draw strings.  Socks do not come in standard lengths.  See additional detail in the items listed below.  Also see the information contained in Soccer Field Player’s Kit and Soccer Goalkeeper’s Kit.

–       Under Law 4, it is extremely important for coaches to find out and understand the “local rules” that apply to their competition and to their team.  See: “Soccer ‘Local Rules’”

–       Under Local Rules, exceptions to policies, such as wearing religious items, must be requested and approval obtained in advance of games.  It is best to have the approval in writing.

–       Coaches must not make assumptions about local rules.  Some high school rules, for example, do not insist on sleeves on jerseys.

–       Coaches must instruct their players that different referees may provide different answers as to what is going to be permitted, and what is not, based on their individual discretion.  The players will then need to comply without complaint.

–       Coaches need to teach young players and their parents early about the rules regarding equipment, and the information needs to be reinforced often.  “Local rules” may allow for differences at early ages, but the Law will be enforced in its entirety as the players get older.  Eventually, corrections must be addressed and exceptions must not be allowed.

–       Unless modified, Law 4 applies to all players, regardless of age or gender.

Safety and Inspection –

–       Coaches must teach their players about the pre-match and pre-substitution inspection procedure.  Players must respond to all directions from the referee or other match officials regarding equipment.  This will likely include showing the soles of both shoes In order to demonstrate compliance with the Law or local rules.  Establishing a procedure of lining up in a disciplined fashion for the pre-match inspection goes a long way in assisting the referees with the conduct of the game.

–       Player passes, if they are used, are likely to be reviewed during the pre-match inspection.  These need to be handed out to the players in advance and be in proper order.

–       The prohibition against jewelry is very explicit and will be enforced.  There are no exceptions.  This includes stud earrings and any other piercing inserts, and wedding bands.  Hard hair clips and watches are also included in the ban on jewelry, including barrettes.

–       Cleats with replaceable studs that are worn, pointed, or have exposed shafts are not permitted and must be rejected upon inspection.  No American football shoes, track, baseball, or shoes with any pointed spikes, are permitted.  This includes “toe cleats” and any cleats that have sharp metal studs.

–       Arm casts, hand casts, and finger splints may be permitted if they are sufficiently padded and the referee deems them to be safe.

–       A full knee brace may be permitted if it is completely padded, usually with materials provided by the manufacturer, and there are no exposed metal parts or sharp edges, and the referee deems it to be safe.

–       Religious items (jewelry) mandated by a person’s faith may be worn, but only if they are well padded and the referee deems it to be safe.

–       Medical-alert bracelets or necklaces (usually identified as jewelry) may be worn, but only if they are well padded and the referee deems them to be safe.  (This must be done in a way that still allows the safety information to be visible.)

–       Spectacle guards are not permitted.

–       Elastic hair bands for women (“scrunchies”) are generally considered to be acceptable.

–       Referees are also not permitted to wear jewelry, except for a watch or other timing device.

Required Equipment –

–       Coaches may use a memory trick known as the “Five S’s” to ensure that they address each part of the mandatory equipment with their players.  From head-to-toe, these are:  Shirt, Shorts, Shinguards, Socks, and Shoes.

–       Law 4 does not specify that cleats are required, just shoes (“footwear”).  General sports shoes (“tennis shoes”) would be allowed.  Cleats, however, are essential for effective outdoor competition.

See: “Outdoor Soccer Shoes (‘Cleats’).”

–       Shoes need to be properly laced and tied so that they will stay on.  See: “Tying Soccer Shoe Laces.”

–       Shirts must have sleeves, but both short- or long-sleeves are acceptable.  No “vest-style” shirts are permitted.

–       Shirts and shorts must be separate pieces of clothing.  No “unitards” or skirts are allowed.

–       Goalkeepers must also wear all of the mandatory equipment (with the exception of “track-suit bottoms” instead of shorts).

–       There is a wide variety of commercially available shinguards that meet the requirements of Law 4.  See: “Shin Guards.”

–       Shinguards must be covered by the socks at all times.  As such, the socks cannot be allowed to fall down during play.  Players may use tape or garters to hold them up, but the tops of the socks must be folded over to cover these devices unless they are the same color as the socks.

–       It is strongly recommended that shorts have drawstrings and that they are secured tightly.

–       Local rules need to be checked regarding the use of sponsor-identifications, logos, badges, crests, and similar patches on shirts before they are applied.

–       Oddly enough, the Law does not specifically address printing numbers on jerseys or shorts.  These are usually required by local rules, often mandating that numbers be placed on both the backs and fronts of jerseys and sometimes on the lower-right leg of shorts.  In addition, last names, first names, or nicknames may be allowed to be placed on the backs of jerseys above the number.

–       Referees may insist that jerseys that are designed to be tucked into the shorts be kept that way.  This is within the rights of the referee.  Similarly, a referee may insist that jerseys with long sleeves have the sleeves kept down (unrolled).

–       The IFAB explains that a player who loses a shinguard or shoe by accident is allowed to keep playing until a stoppage because it is unfair for them to be required to stop playing immediately; “…it seems fair to allow the player to have until the next restart of play to put it back on.”  Players must promptly repair the problem, preferably off the field.  Referees do not stop play for repairs.  If “unlimited substitutions” are available, the coach should just send in a substitute.

–       Shinguards that have been cut down in size or made from unsuitable material, such as cardboard, are not permitted and must be rejected upon inspection.

–       Clothing manufacturers have been creating jerseys that are designed to better fit women.  These still must have sleeves.

–       Ankle socks and (shin) guard “stays” worn outside of the game socks must be the same color as the part of the socks the cover.

Colors –

–       Because of potential jersey-color conflicts between teams, coaches need to address having as many as three sets, “home,” “away,” and “third.”

–       Coaches should coordinate colors with the opposing coach in advance of a match.

–       Note that the color of soccer shoes is not addressed in the Law, thereby allowing players to wear any color of cleats that they want.  (This may be affected, however, by Club, Team or League administrative rules.)

–       It is understood that referees and other match officials are also expected to wear matching uniforms with a shirt that is different from the players and the goalkeepers.  Although Law 4 places the onus to change shirts on the players, officiating teams generally try to coordinate colors in advance or have different-colored shirts available.

Optional Equipment –

–       Captains of each team may be required by local rules to wear elastic armbands designating their position.

–       All players are allowed to wear gloves.  Field players usually only wear thin, tight-fitting gloves in cold weather.  Goalkeepers almost always wear specially-designed gloves that assist them in catching the ball, but they are not required.  (See:  Goalie Gloves.)

–       Goalkeepers are not permitted to apply any artificial spray-on or tacky substance to their hands to assist in catching balls.

–       Goalkeepers are permitted to wear soft caps with flexible bills to prevent glare from the sun or from floodlights.  Goalkeepers are permitted to have clothing with built-in hip pads, thigh pads, and elbow/arm pads.  Goalkeepers are also permitted to have separate elbow and knee pads.

–       Sports glasses (“spectacles”) are specifically allowed as long as they are not considered to be dangerous.  The determination of what qualifies as “dangerous” is still left to the discretion of the referee before the start of a game. Parents of young players who need glasses are strongly encouraged to check with their league organization to obtain a definitive statement regarding the use – or non-use – of particular frames and lenses.  If the use of certain frames and lenses is allowed, it should be explicitly stated in the “local rules” of the competition.  Youth coaches are expected to provide a copy of local rules to the referees before each game.  Parents, however, should not assume that this is being done and should have their own copies at the ready to be made available at the time of player equipment inspection prior to a match.  If the local rules do not contain such a statement, parents should obtain a signed statement from the organizing authority pertaining to their child and the specific equipment involved.  If this is not done, parents run the risk that their child may not be permitted to participate without taking the equipment off.  Without a “local rule” or a specific statement, it is perfectly within the rights, duties, and responsibilities of the referee to deny participation if the equipment is determined to be dangerous and it continues to be worn.  See: “Soccer Eyesight.”

–       Mouthguards are permitted, but they must be made of a soft, pliable material.  Mouthguards are strongly encouraged for youth with braces on their teeth.

–       External orthodontic headgear/mouth-gear that cannot be removed is not permitted.

–       Headgear, for both field players and goalkeepers, is permitted, as long as it is soft and clearly designed for protection.  Any headgear that is hard or could be interpreted to provide a player with an advantage (in “heading,” for example) is prohibited.

–       Undergarments, such as T-shirts, sweatshirts, compression shorts, slide pants, tights or thermal underwear (cold-weather gear), are permitted as optional equipment.  In addition, outer clothing, such as ankle socks and tape, is also permitted.  All of these items, however, are subject to the color requirements of Law 4.  If any portion of these items is exposed (visible; not covered entirely by the mandatory equipment), it must match the corresponding color of the shirt, shorts or socks as indicated above.

–       Only the one designated goalkeeper on the field for a team can wear goalkeeper-style equipment, e.g. – goalie gloves, while playing.

–       The portion of the Law allowing head coverings is generally directed toward the hijab.  Other religious head coverings may include a turban or a yarmulke, again as long as the referee determines them to be safe and to not provide an advantage.

–       No clothing is permitted to cover the jersey or to interfere with the ability of the players and the referee to distinguish between teams and the goalkeepers.

–       Bandanas and neck-kerchiefs are not permitted.

–       Players are to be responsible for having the proper equipment.  See: “Field Player’s Kit”  and See: “Goalkeeper’s Kit.”

Infringements –

–       The IFAB explains that a player who has changed equipment only has to undergo inspection and the referee’s signal to re-enter the match, rather than wait for a stoppage, because “…this does not happen for a player returning after an injury.  Allowing the player to return… during play removes an ‘unfair’ situation which is often a source of conflict between players and officials…”

–       Players shall not tape over, cover up, or hide prohibited items.

–       A player who is cautioned (yellow-carded) for refusal to comply with the provisions of Law 4 is done so as “unsporting behavior.”  Failure to again comply after having received a caution is likely to result in an ejection (red card).

–       Disciplinary sanctions for willful violations of this Law, particularly the display of slogans, advertising, or political, religious or personal statements, may be imposed by the competition organizer.

–       If an approved item becomes dangerous or is used in a dangerous manner during a match, it is subject to the provisions of the Law requiring correction or removal.

–       Associated with slogans, statements, images and advertising, the IFAB has added an entire section on Interpreting the Law:

“When interpreting whether a slogan, statement or image is permissible, note should be taken of Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct), which requires the referee to take action against a player who is guilty of: using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or actions; or acting in a provocative, derisory or inflammatory way.  Any slogan, statement or image which falls into any of these categories is not permitted.

While ‘religious’ and ‘personal’ are relatively easily defined, ‘political’ is less clear but slogans, statements or images related to the following are not permitted: any person(s), living or dead (unless part of the official competition name); any local, regional, national or international political party/organization/group, etc.; any local, regional or national government or any of its departments, offices or functions; any organization which is discriminatory; any organization whose aims/actions are likely to offend a notable number of people; [and,] any specific political act/event.

When commemorating a significant national or international event, the sensibilities of the opposing team (including its supporter) and the general public should be carefully considered.

Competition rules may contain further restrictions/limitations, particularly in relation to the size, number and position of permitted slogans, statements and images.  It is recommended that disputes relating to slogans, statements or images be resolved prior to a match/competition taking place.”

 NOTICE:  This article is based on the soccer Laws of the Game as maintained by The International Football Association Board (IFAB).  As represented in the article, the Laws may be paraphrased, edited for “American English” readability, or quoted in whole or in part.  Supplemental wording presented by® should be provided in brackets.  Every effort has been made to be faithful to the letter, spirit, and intent of the Laws however, since the Laws are subject to modification annually by the IFAB, recent changes may not be currently reflected.  Although national associations are permitted to institute local rules changes to the Laws, particularly for “youth, veterans, disability and grassroots football,” the IFAB is the original source for the official English-language version of the Laws of the Game.  If there is any question, the Laws of the Game may be found at

© Copyright, John C. Harves