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FIFA (International Federation of Association Football)



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The first thing you’ll notice about FIFA is that the name should be IFAF. Well fear not, the governing body of world football isn’t dyslexic, it’s just that the name in the title is the English translation, it’s proper name is Federation Internationale de Football Association. The name’s origin came over a century ago at FIFA’s very beginnings in Paris, way back in the summer of 1904, when the world was still black and white and the internet was a long way from being invented (apparently there once was a time when people got through life without relying on the world wide web!).

International football was still in it’s infancy at the time, but the need for a governing body had become apparent. The huge global success it is today was still a long time coming though, with wars being one of the large contributing factors hindering its growth.

FIFA’s original members were the nations of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland, who together agreed on a charter of rules for the new official body to uphold. By the time of the first World War, these member nations had been joined by Argentina, Austria, Canada, Chile, England, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, South Africa, USA and Wales.

Through its years the Presidents of FIFA have mainly been Europeans, the only exception being Joao Havelange, a Brazilian who preceded current man, Sepp Blatter. Three Britons have held the job and 2 Frenchmen, the most well known of which is Jules Rimet, whose name adorns the old trophy.


FIFA organise the daddy of all competitions, the biggest sports event in the world, de-de-de de-de-de derrrr; The World Cup. The four yearly competiton pits pretty much every nation on the planet against one another in a tournament to find the world’s greatest footballing country.

The first ever World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930, after 3 decades in the making and a number of ‘dress rehearsals’ in the form of the football competition at the Olympics since 1908. A number of nations were keen to be the host of the much awaited new competition, but Uruguay won over the FIFA decision makers, not just with the fact that the country would be celebrating 100 years of independence but also with their generous offer to pay all the costs of the organisation as well as the travel expenses of all the participants.

An economic crisis in Europe saw Jules Rimet have to make last minute changes to the format as only 4 nations could be talked into making the trip to South America. Despite hiccups, the tournament was a roaring success and the FIFA World Cup was born. It’s popularity was already growing at the time, but even better times were ahead.

Since 1950, the World Cup has taken place uninterrupted every four years and has been televised since 1954, seeing the popularity grow massively. The tournament is now the biggest sporting competition in the world, both commercially and viewer-wise. The last World Cup totalled over 25 billion viewers, cumulatively over all the matches, with more than 10% of the population of the entire world watching the final. Bearing in mind that this match only involved 2 countries and how much of the world doesn’t have easy access to television, these figures demonstrate the amazing popularity of FIFA’s competition.

The qualifying rounds begin almost 3 years prior to the finals in some of the federations and last for around 18 months. Each federation has its own format and timelines for qualification but generally the games take place on the same designated weeks, in order for players who compete in foreign leagues in their club football, to be available to play. The qualifying rounds are designed to determine the 32 best teams in the world to compete on the main stage of the World Cup Finals.

The finals last for a month with a game everyday until the quarter finals, keeping the excitement of the competition pretty constant for the entire duration. At the finals, nations compete first in a league format, playing each other once. Then the top 2 teams in every group compete in a round of 16, at which point the competition becomes a one-game knockout, leading to the prestigious final.

FIFA World Rankings

There are currently 207 member associatons of FIFA, who are ranked by a system of points awarded on the results of games played (click here for the current rankings). The system is much criticised due to the regular surprises in the rankings table, which led FIFA to reconsider the system used to calculate the points in 2005 (click here for current system, NB it’s very complicated, so there’s a briefer version here). The current system is first based on win (3 points, or 2 for win by penalties), lose (0, or 1 for loss by penalties) or draw (1) and then the points are multiplied by 5 factors to ensure that, for example, a World Cup win against Brazil nets you more points than a friendly win against San Marino.

The factors are;

  1. Importance of match (eg World Cup games are worth 4 times more than a friendly)
  2. Strength of opponent (the FIFA ranking of the opponent is taken into account)
  3. Regional strength (eg a win against a UEFA team is worth more than a win against an OFC team)
  4. Period (a win last week is worth more than a win 3 years ago)
  5. Number of matches played in last 12 months

The dominating federation in the FIFA rankings is without doubt UEFA, with 8 of the top 10 teams being members of the European body. You could argue that the Europe weighting in the points system makes it biased towards this happening as most of the time countries will be playing against their own federation.

Back to the main Football Federations page.