The world’s dirtiest league: Which leagues have the MOST BOOKINGS in the world?

April 3, 2023

There was a time when we would expect the most bookings from the Italian Serie A because it was considered the toughest league in the world due to its reputation for playing ‘hard football’.

Flying tackles, crazy fights, and referees waving play-on for players literally taking out their opponents weren’t unsurprising. However, Serie A no longer has that reputation. Neither does the Premier League, even though we still see a fair share of cards. 

Some pundits are even arguing that football is a contact sport and should not be rid of its edge due to too much protection of players. The likes of former Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane, a tough-tackling player in his heydays, love to see a tackle and doesn’t mind when it gets a little feisty. 

Recently, Fulham saw three players sent off in one game–an FA Cup match against Manchester United, with striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and boss Marco Silva getting bookings for violent conduct. 

Despite this, the Premier League remains one of the calmest leagues in the world, according to recent data released by the CIES Football Observatory.

CIES Football Observatory data analysed the number of cards handed out from January 1, 2020, to March 20, 2023, in a total of 76 divisions across six continents. They used the data to conclude that Europe’s top five leagues are modest on average.

This is despite over 1,100 yellow cards already handed in the Premier League this season. Furthermore, the data gathered by the report show that the league in which referees show the most cards per match over the three-year period in view, and therefore the world’s dirtiest league, was Bolivia’s Primera Division. 

The Bolivian top-flight saw a stunning 7.01 cards on average across 800 games in that three-year period, leading the way unsurprisingly for both coloured cards, with 6.46 bookings and 0.55 reds – meaning there was, on average more than one sending off every two games. 

The second place on that table went to Uruguay’s Primera Division, where referees pulled out 6.48 cards each match. Finally, with 6.43 per game, Venezuelan’s league completes a top three made up entirely of South American leagues. 

In fact, of the top 10 dirtiest leagues over those three years, seven were from Latin America, with the other three based in Europe. 

Primera Division (Bolivia) – 7.01 cards per game

Primera Division (Uruuguay) – 6.48 cards per game

Primera Division (Venezuela) – 6.43 cards per game

Liga Pro (Ecuador) – 6.18 cards per game

Segunda Liga (Poortugal) – 6.04 cards per game

Primera Division (Costa Rica) – 6.02 cards per game

Primera Division (Peru) – 6.02 cards per game

Primeira Division (Portuga) – 5.90 cards per game

Primera A (Colombia) – 5.77 cards per game

Premier League (Ukraine) – 5.76 

Portugal’s Segunda Liga is the highest-ranked European side in fifth with 6.04 – the Portuguese top-flight was not far behind in the eighth spot, with 5.9 cards per game.

Of the Top Five European Leagues, La Liga, in 15th place, saw the most cards shown per game on average, with a total of 5.36 cards handed a game (5.08 yellows and 0.28 red cards). They are followed by Serie A in 30th (4.95 cards), Ligue 1 in 57th (4.18 cards), the Bundesliga in 62nd (3.95 cards), and last but not least, the Premier League in 71st (3.49).

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