The world’s biggest football tournament begins in South Africa in June. This quadrennial event often makes people wonder why many in the United States call the world’s most popular sport soccer, rather than football.
In fact, soccer is the word for football in several countries around the world. Canada, Australia, World Cup host South Africa and 2002 co-host Japan all use the term to varying degrees:
Canada has the Canadian Soccer Association.
Australia’s national team nickname is the Socceroos.
South Africa’s top league is the Premier Soccer League.
Japan has the Japan Soccer Association, as it’s known in Japanese, although it’s translated as Football Association in English.
And despite common perceptions, the word soccer is not American at all.
The term comes from Great Britain, where “association football” was the common label starting in 1863. England, widely credited with inventing the game, formed its Football Association (FA) to govern the game and institutionalize rules. Association football distinguished itself from rugby football, another popular sport, through its use of dribbling with the feet.
At the time, a game of rugby football was called “rugger.” To differentiate between the two, association football became known as “soccer,” an abbreviation of “association.”
As large numbers of immigrants from Great Britain arrived in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they brought the soccer nickname with them. The label was useful once American gridiron football gained popularity.
Today, the U.S. Soccer Federation governs the game in the United States. This name, however, was changed from “U.S. Soccer Football Association” in 1974. That name itself was changed in 1945 from “U.S. Football Association,” which the organization was named at its birth in 1913.