World association football history, structure and tournaments

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Of: Max Schaefer


As the world football association, FIFA takes care of the organization of competitions, including the World Cup. But what sets the organization apart?

Zurich – FIFA is the world association for football and, with nearly seven million members, is one of the largest sports associations in the world. The central task of FIFA is the organization of international tournaments. FIFA is also hosting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The flagship events are the men’s and women’s world championships. It’s not just about sports. There’s also a lot of money at stake from sponsorship revenue and television rights. Time and again, FIFA also makes negative headlines through scandals.

International Federation of Football Association
May 21, 1904 in Paris
Non-profit organisation
Zürich, Switzerland
Gianni Infantino
Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura
211 national federations

FIFA: When was the World Football Association founded?

FIFA was founded on May 21, 1904 by a number of national football associations. The aim was to simplify the organization of international tournaments and individual matches. French journalist Robert Guerin was FIFA’s first president. The founding members of FIFA all came from Europe:

  • France
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Swiss
  • Spain (represented by Real Madrid)
  • Germany (via Telegram)

Other nations have joined the International Football Association over time. In 1909, South Africa became the first non-European country to join, followed by Argentina in 1912. The first tournament organized by FIFA was held as part of the 1908 Olympic Games in London.

History of FIFA: First setback and strong growth

The first crisis in FIFA’s history was the First World War. After the end of the war, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland withdrew. FIFA members belonging to Great Britain initially did not want to play against the teams of former opponents.

FIFA therefore had only 20 member states until 1921. The World Football Association experienced a revival under the presidency of Julies Rimet. Many nations joined him, so that at the time of his resignation, 85 national associations were already members of FIFA.

1930 FIFA World Cup: the first major tournament

Rimet was one of the driving forces behind the organization of the first football World Cup in 1930 in Uruquay with Uruquayer Enrique Buero. However, the tournament was much smaller than later editions: there were only 18 matches and only four European teams, Belgium, Romania, Yugoslavia and the French national team, competed.

In 1932, FIFA moved its headquarters from Paris to Zurich, where it opened the €180 million Home of Zurich building in 2007.

FIFA: Who is a member of the World Football Association?

211 national associations are members of FIFA. These are in turn divided into six continental associations or confederations:

Asia Asian Football Confederation (AFC)
Africa Confederation of African Football (CAF)
North and Central America, Caribbean Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Football (CONCAF)
South America Confederacao Sul-Americana de Futebol (CONMEBOL)
Oceania Oceania Football Confederation (OFC)
Europe Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)

However, the different nations are not necessarily in higher associations of their geographical continent. For example, the states of Israel, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan, which are already in Asia, are members of European UEFA. Australia moved football to Asia in 2006 because, apart from New Zealand, they had no equal opponent in Oceania.

The organization of FIFA

The most important organs of FIFA are the Congress and the Council. The FIFA Congress is an important decision-making body in which the 211 associations have a say. Together, they decide on the FIFA Statutes and the terms of their application. In addition, the body decides on new admissions, adopts an annual report and, among other things, elects the president.

Shows where football should go: The world football association FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino.  (archive picture)
Shows where football should go: The world football association FIFA and its president Gianni Infantino. (File image) © Christian Charisius/dpa

The FIFA Council, on the other hand, is made up of 37 members. It is made up of the president, eight vice-presidents and 28 other members elected by the associations for four years. Each continental federation must be represented by at least one woman. Also, after the 2016 reforms, presidents and other board members are only allowed to serve three terms.

FIFA: the role of the president

The President of FIFA chairs the Council, however, following the reforms of the office, he exercises only the function of Chairman of the Board of Directors. The current president of the World Football Association is Switzerland’s Gianni Infantino, who succeeded Sepp Blatter. Infantino previously served as UEFA General Secretary from 2009 to 2016.

An overview of his predecessors as FIFA President:

  • Robert Guerin (1904-1906)
  • Daniel Burley Woolfal (1906-1918)
  • Carl Hirschman (1918-1920)
  • Jules Rimet (1921-1954)
  • Rodolphe William Seeldrayers (1954-1955)
  • Arthur Drewry (1956-1961)
  • Ernst Thommen (1961)
  • Stanley Rouss (1961-1974)
  • João Havelange (1974-1998)
  • Sepp Blatter (1998-2015)
  • Issa Hayato (2015-2016)

What competitions does FIFA organise?

FIFA aims to regulate football and promote the sport worldwide. However, the association not only acts in the background, but also organizes its own competitions. FIFA’s most important tournament is the Men’s World Cup. All FIFA competitions at a glance:

  • Men’s and Women’s World Championship
  • Club World Cup
  • Confederations Cup
  • U20 Men’s and Women’s World Cup
  • U17 Men’s and Women’s World Championship
  • Arabian Cup
  • Futsal World Cup (since 1989)
  • Beach Soccer World Cup (since 2005)
  • Men’s and Women’s Olympic Football Tournament
  • Women’s Olympic Youth Futsal Tournament
  • Men’s Olympic Junior Football Tournament
  • Blue Stars/FIFA Youth Cup

It’s not just national teams that take part in FIFA tournaments. Since 2000, the best clubs from the six confederations have taken part in the Club World Cup. Europe is therefore represented by the winners of the Champions League. As with other competitions, the host is seeded. Real Madrid are the record Club World Cup champions with four wins.

FIFA Men’s World Cup

Since the first tournament in Uruguay in 1930, the World Cup has grown in importance and prestige. Since 2002, the 32 best national teams in the world compete against each other. In three group matches and a knockout phase, in which 16 teams still participate, the world champions are cut. In the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the United States, the number of finalists should be increased.

Brazil is the record world champion with five titles. The German national team and Italy follow with four titles each. All previous tournaments and world champions at a glance:

Uruguay 1930 Uruguay
Italy 1934 Italy
France 1938 Italy
Brazil 1950 Uruguay
Switzerland 1954 Germany
Sweden 1958 Brazil
Chile 1962 Brazil
UK 1966 England
Mexico 1970 Brazil
Germany 1974 Germany
Argentina 1978 Argentina
Spain 1982 Italy
Mexico 1986 Argentina
Italy 1990 Germany
United States 1994 Brazil
France 1998 France
Japan/South Korea 2002 Brazil
Germany 2006 Italy
South Africa 2010 Spain
Brazil 2014 Germany
Russia 2018 France
Qatar 2022

Today’s World Cup trophy was designed by Italian sculptor Silvio Gazzaniga. The trophy has been awarded since the 1974 World Cup in Germany. The trophy can be seen at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich. Until 1970, the world champions received the Jules Rimet Cup.

FIFA: How long has there been a Women’s World Cup?

There has only been a Women’s World Cup since 1991. The United States crowned themselves the first women’s world champions in soccer at the tournament in China. Since then, the Women’s World Cup always takes place one year after the men’s tournament. The record world champions are the United States, which has already won four tournaments. Germany are in second place with two World Cup victories. Japan and Norway have each celebrated the title once. All Women’s World Cups at a glance:

Sweden 1995 Norway
United States 1999 UNITED STATES
United States 2003 Germany
China 2007 Germany
Germany 2011 Japan
Australia/ New Zealand 2023

FIFA under fire: corruption and nepotism

However, football has long been more than just a sport, but a lucrative business. Additionally, hosting a World Championship can serve as a platform to present oneself in an effective public way. There have also been instances of abuse of power, nepotism and corruption at FIFA. The awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia or the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar are particularly criticized in this context. (Mrs)

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