Anybody who is a football fan will have heard of FIFA. Officially named the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, it is one of the world’s oldest non-governmental organisations and has more members than the United Nations – boasting 211 in total.
The Association is responsible for the global governance of football, the most popular sport in the world. However, this control was not gained overnight. Below, we’ll explore how FIFA became history’s most prestigious sports governing body.
The world’s first football organisation was the Football Association (FA). Founded in 1863, the body oversaw all professional and amateur football played in England, Ireland and Wales. Ten years after the FA’s creation, the Scottish Football Association was founded to develop the sport further and work alongside the FA.
With matches between international teams becoming more regular, having governing bodies that only looked after football in one region became impractical. A call for a global-level body for the sport was made. However, this was rejected by the existing football associations, which were led by Lord Kinnaird, president of the FA at the time.
By 1904, several footballing nations in Europe had grown tired of having no formalised body overseeing the sport’s various aspects. In particular, French journalist Robert Guerin was upset over the lack of a structured governing system.
Consequently, representatives from Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland met in Paris on 21 May 1904. This meeting was the foundation of FIFA. The same day, Germany joined the Association via telegram but is commonly not considered one of the founding nations.
At the time of its founding, the statutes of the Association were clear. Among the most crucial of these was that only national associations that were members of FIFA would be recognised. Additionally, players could only play for two associations at any one time.
Other statutes stated the required annual membership fee and the law according to which matches were to be played (set by the Laws of the Game of the Football Association Ltd). The rule that all member associations were to recognise the suspension of a player was also outlined.
The most pivotal statute, however, also happens to be the one that helped FIFA secure an early spot in the domination of international football. It stated that all international matches were required to be organised through FIFA and that no matches could occur outside of this framework.
Despite insisting that the governing body organise all international matches, FIFA achieved little in its first year. In 1905, things got better after the British nations became members, making organising games between European countries slightly easier.
During the body’s first decade, it saw substantial growth in members. However, due to a lack of administrative skills within FIFA, the FA still managed and organised large-scale events like the Olympics. FIFA also saw competition in the form of the Union Internationale Amateur de Football Association, which was scrapped in 1912.
During World War I, few sporting events took place. However, after the war, FIFA was allowed to organise the football event of the 1924 Summer Olympics. It was a huge success, and talk quickly began regarding a football world championship.
In 1930, the body held the first-ever FIFA World Cup, which took place in Uruguay. With the economic crisis plaguing Europe, only four European teams took part, and the event failed. Despite this, planning began in earnest for the 1934 World Cup to take place in Italy.
From the 1934 World Cup onwards, FIFA began to expand massively. The final of the event, which was the first football game to be aired live on radio, drew the attention of many nations, leading them to register as members over the next two decades.
Although things went on hold for the organisation during the Second World War, the body received £35,000 in 1946 to help re-launch. This enabled FIFA to organise the 1950 World Cup and helped attract more members, leading to 84 member countries by the Association’s 50th birthday.
From the 1950s to the 2000s, FIFA racked up more members, and the FIFA World Cup, which takes place every four years, became one of the most prestigious events worldwide. Many believe that only the Olympics holds more status.
After increases in the number of teams the World Cup hosted in 1982 and again in 1998, the governing body became more commercial. By 2010, during the World Cup hosted in South Africa, FIFA had grown to be one of the largest governing bodies internationally – not only affecting everything to do with football but also influencing the global economy and politics.
Additionally, the organisation has spawned a massive merchandise market and even launched games ranging from board games, card games, video games and even casino and online slots – fans today can enjoy 150+ of the best games across many platforms and formats.
As a powerhouse in sports and many other areas, FIFA has been the subject of several controversies across the years. Among these was the ban of South Korean residents from accessing the body’s website and the highly contested altitude ban.
The most significant controversies, however, occurred after it was announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup. Investigations by the ethics committee revealed large-scale bribery and resulted in a massive loss of reputation for the organisation. However, after replacing the members found liable, things quickly returned to normal despite public distrust.
FIFA is home to some of history’s most significant sporting events. While controversy still circulates over the organisation, particularly regarding the power it holds and the perceived corruption within, there is one indisputable fact. Without FIFA, football would be nothing like it is today. Therefore, for football fans, the continuation of FIFA is crucial to the international football events and wider football industry loved by so many.
Kenneth is a an avid soccer follower, fan and writer. He is a consistent follower of the sport and is a fan of Chelsea FC.