What is a white card in football? Meaning explained - why referee used one during Benfica vs Sporting Lisbon

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A white card was shown during a women’s cup match between Benfica and Sporting Lisbon - much to the confusion of fans

Football history was made in Portugal on Saturday (21 January) when a referee brandished the first-ever white card in the sport.

Its introduction came midway through a women’s cup quarter-final match between fierce Portuguese rivals Benfica and Sporting Lisbon. Benfica were leading 3-0 against their cross-city opponents when the card was shown, and the fans in attendance at the Estadio da Luz reacted positively to its appearance.

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Football fans have grown accustomed to the yellow and red cards which have been an integral part of the game since the 1970 World Cup, but what is the meaning of the new white card - and why was it used during the game between Benfica and Sporting Lisbon?

What is a white card in football?

The reason that fans haven’t seen a white card before is because they have only been recently introduced to the game.

White cards have been brought to football as part of an initiative for officials to recognise and praise clubs for fair play and good sportsmanship during games. White cards are designed to improve ethical values within the sport.

The white card is a part of several other measures that have been introduced in Portugal. Other initiatives include concussion substitutes and longer stoppage times - as seen in the recent World Cup in Qatar.

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Why was a white card shown in the Benfica vs Sporting Lisbon game?

Benfica were leading 3-0 in their derby game against Sporting Lisbon - however, just before half-time, play was halted as one of the substitute players in the dugout felt ill.

Medical staff from both sides rushed to assist the player. After the issue was dealt with, the referee Catarina Campos then brandished the white card to both of the medical teams prompting a warm reception from the fans.

Benfica went on to win the game 5-0 and advanced to the semi-finals, in front of 15,032 fans - a record women’s attendance in Portugal.

How have people reacted to the white card?

The introduction of a white card has been met with mixed reviews on Twitter and many were left confused at its appearance during the Portuguese cup tie.

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One fan claimed that it is strange to have the card in the game without a reward. They wrote: “What do you get for it? Seems odd to have a card that’s essentially a pat on the back.”

Another user commented: “There’s already so much time wasted with the ball out of play, are we seriously gonna stop play even more to hand out meaningless cards.”

Not all responses have been negative though, with some fans supporting the idea, stating that it will help protect supporters, players and managerial staff.

One user tweeted: “There are many instances of supporters and even managerial staff having some sort of issue with their health during the game, sad to see but good to see the white card introduced.”

Could we see the white card in other football leagues?

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So far only Portugal has adopted the white card, and it remains to be seen whether it will be used in other leagues around the world.

In the 2015/16 season a green card was trialled in Italy’s Serie B League to reward players for positive behaviour and fair play.

Serie B president Andrea Abdodi said at the time: “It’s a symbolic award. It could be something very simple. The important thing is to recognise it when a professional does something exemplary.”

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