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FIFA Presents the Best Soccer in the World: Learn How to Watch

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Every sport has a worldwide governing body, and FIFA is the one that oversees soccer. If you are looking for information on watching one of its World Cups, see one of these articles:

Although the competitions that the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) operates are focused on national teams, it is also intimately involved with the club side of the sport. One of the main ways that this is done is through the adoption of regulations related to player contracts and transfers. It also plays a significant role in soccer’s playing rules.

History

FIFA was founded in 1904, that moment occurring more than three decades after the first soccer match between national teams took place, an 1872 matchup featuring Scotland hosting England in Glasgow. However, those countries as well as Wales and Ireland were not interested in joining. FIFA’s initial members were Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Over the years, more and more countries joined. Today, it is home to 211 national associations.

The first major events organized by FIFA were the men’s football competitions at the Olympics although it did not start taking over that role until the 1920s. As it did, however, there was demand building for a similar competition featuring true national teams — ie, including professional players – and that is what prompted FIFA to organize the first World Cup in 1930.

What Is FIFA Responsible For?

Interestingly, one thing that FIFA is not responsible for is the writing of soccer’s playing rules. However, it does play a pivotal role in which ones are adopted and any changes that are made to existing ones as it comprises half of the eight bodies that make up the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

The other half is comprised of the United Kingdom’s four entities: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. With that said, FIFA applies and enforces the rules that are adopted.

FIFA does provide direct oversight of many other elements of this sport, including player contracts and transfers and, of course, the organization of major events such as the World Cup.

Another significant role that the organization plays is sanctioning and suspending national associations when they are no longer run independently of that country’s government or are otherwise not being properly operated.

The organization is also the world’s governing body for similar sports futsal and beach soccer.

Geographical Structure

Although FIFA is focused on the worldwide operation of this sport, it does oversee six continental confederations, which further break that down by continent with a few geographical exceptions.

Those entities are CONCACAF (North America), CONMEBOL (South America), UEFA (Europe), CAF (Africa), AFC (Asia), and OFC (Oceania). Exceptions include Israel (located in Asia but a UEFA member), Australia (located in Oceania but an AFC member), and Guyana and Suriname (located in South America but CONCACAF members).

Generally, fully independent countries are members of FIFA. However, exceptions exist, most notably England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland having their own national associations despite all being part of the United Kingdom. This allowance was essentially grandfathered in as it would not be permitted today.

Other examples of exceptions to that general rule are a pair of special administrative regions of China being included in FIFA (Hong Kong and Macau) as are four US unincorporated territories (American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands).

FIFA Events

FIFA World Cup (Men’s and Women’s)

Although the World Cup is the most known event operated by FIFA, the worldwide body also oversees all of the qualifying matches that precede that competition. For the 2022 edition, that involved 206 countries playing 865 matches, which were followed by 32 teams participating in 64 contests at the main event.

The Women’s World Cup has also started garnering tremendous interest, particularly in countries such as the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. The latter two countries are co-hosting the 2023 edition.

FIFA also oversees this event and its qualifying matches, which involved 172 national associations and 505 games in advance of that 2023 competition, narrowing that field to 32 teams.

Olympics

FIFA and the IOC share responsibility for the Olympic soccer competitions.

There are some major differences between these events and their respective World Cups.

The men’s competition at the Olympics features predominantly under-23 squads with the exception of three players per team who may be older than that age. However, matches that are qualifiers for this event may not involve any overage players.

Conversely, women’s soccer at the Olympics involves full national teams like the USWNT (knockout stage).

However, IOC regulations do not allow the involvement of independent teams from England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, so they can either come to an agreement to involve Great Britain sides in either or both competitions, if qualification is achieved, or not be involved.

These FIFA-IOC differences also affect other entities. For example, the Faroe Islands and Macau are not eligible for the Olympics but are eligible for the World Cups.

Youth World Cups

FIFA also oversees U-20 and U-17 World Cups for both men’s and women’s sides. These are held every two years with the men’s ones taking place in odd years and the women’s competitions occurring in even years so that they do not conflict with their respective senior World Cups.

Club World Cup

The lone club competition that FIFA directly oversees is the Club World Cup. It currently features the six continental champions and the league title holder of the host country, but that is due to change soon.

The organization has planned for a 32-team, every-four-year event to initially take place in 2025.

Other Competitions

FIFA also organizes the Arab Cup, an event that was initially held in 1963 but was only recently taken over by that governing body, in 2021, which was its first edition in nine years and its second in 19. Other events run by FIFA include the Futsal World Cups and Beach Soccer World Cup, the latter only one event, for men’s teams.

FIFA used to oversee the Confederations Cup, which featured the men’s national teams that had won their most recent continental championships as well as the defending World Cup champion and the host country. This took place every four years, scheduled for the year prior to the World Cup, but was last held in 2017.

International Match Calendars

The FIFA International Match Calendars delineate when national teams are allowed to play matches comprised of their top players. That is because clubs are only required to release players for national team matches that are played within those dates. They can refuse any national team call-ups for games played outside of these periods.

The men’s calendar has been extended out to 2030 while the women’s calendar currently lists relevant dates through 2025.

Wrapping Up

FIFA is responsible for most of the best soccer in the world. See our Men’s World Cup and Women’s World Cup guides for more information.

FAQs

What are the FIFA rankings?

FIFA publishes rankings of men’s and women’s national teams, which are not just done to spark discussion. They are often utilized to seed and place countries in pots prior to World Cups and related events, meaning that teams want to be ranked as highly as possible in order to receive easier schedules.

What is the FIFA Museum?

FIFA operates its own museum in Zurich, Switzerland, which is where the organization is headquartered. It opened in 2016 and features numerous exhibits, including World Cup trophies.

Is FIFA corrupt?

FIFA itself is not corrupt but there have been notable scandals including the 2015 indictment of FIFA officials regarding hosting rights for FIFA events. This led to the resignation of long-time FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the election of Swiss-Italian lawyer and then UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino.

Re-elected in 2019, President Gianni Infantino has brought much transparency to the organization and has largely put the previous scandal behind.

How do I watch specific FIFA teams?

We have team pages for all the men’s teams that made the FIFA World Cup 2022.

We are in the process of creating pages for the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Frank Moraes
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