For most people, the name ‘FIFA’ is synonymous with the EA Sports game franchise that bears it. However, the foundation of the organization – an acronym for Fédération Internationale de Football Association – is second only to the foundation of the English FA in importance to modern soccer. Second in importance, that is, because FIFA was set up to govern soccer being played between countries, upholding the rules set out by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), which was founded on the regulations set out by the English FA. However, since its formation, FIFA has been pivotal to the game’s global popularity.
FIFA was founded in 1904 at the Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques, Paris. It was founded because of the increasing popularity of soccer, due to the FA and England’s colonial influence spreading the game around the Empire, and the need to ensure that every country played within the same framework of rules. Originally FIFA was exclusively for European countries, but from 1909 membership was made available to the rest of the world due to popular demand. Though FIFA was threatened only a decade after its foundation by WW1 Breaking out, the world’s love of soccer ensured its survival.
Aside from the video games, the name FIFA is most associated with the World Cup (see below). The great popularity of the tournament meant that FIFA members swelled from the original 8 in 1904 to 73 in 1950, somehow increasing from the 51 who were members before WW2 despite simmering mutual hostilities continuing after the war. Today there are 211 members of FIFA, and incredibly only 103 staff running the whole operation, which had revenues of $734 million in 2017. FIFA makes most of its money through selling marketing rights, sponsorship, hosting tournaments, and selling broadcast rights across the world.
If the photograph of its headquarters above makes you think of the lair of a Bond villain, you’re not far off. Unfortunately, with such vast amounts of money involved, FIFA has long been accused of corruption. There have long been claims of bribery and corruption, with the current World Cup in Russia and the 2022 tournament in Qatar particularly suspicious. In 2015, 14 FIFA officials were indicted for ‘rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted’ corruption by the FBI, and a further 16 were charged later that year for being ‘involved in criminal schemes involving well over $200m (£132m) in bribes and kickbacks’.
The organization’s power is truly terrifying. At World Cup 2014, FIFA made the host nation, Brazil, overturn a law banning alcohol at sporting events for the duration of the tournament. At every World Cup, the huge amount of money FIFA makes is exempt from taxation, losing the Brazilian government $250 million in 2014. At South Africa 2010, FIFA was even allowed to install 56 ‘World Cup Courts’ to try and sentence offenders. Appallingly, during the tournament, two Zimbabwean muggers were arrested on a Thursday, and the next day began 15-year prison sentences for their crime. Undeniably scary stuff.