World football's governing body FIFA has made plenty of headlines in recent years. It is still marred by the legacy of the corruption scandal that saw multiple high-ranking officials banned from the sport for years in 2015.
More recently, it has been at the centre of the scandal surrounding Spanish football chief Luis Rubiales following his actions at the final of the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, with FIFA deciding to suspend the Spanish federation's president.
But FIFA didn't always have as much influence as they do today. Originally, the organisation was set up simply as a way of arranging international matches between a handful of European founding members including France, Germany, and Spain. The role of FIFA has developed significantly since then, and in this article, we'll be exploring exactly how.
We're going to explain the purpose of FIFA and dive into the meaning of the organisation's name and what it stands for. We'll also dive into the history of the world football governing body, providing information about when it was founded and how it operates today.
The FIFA World Cup Trophy is the world's most prestigious football tournament, bringing together the planet's best international players every four years in a carnival of football with a history dating back to 1930. The World Cup played an important role in FIFA's early development, but it isn't the only thing they're responsible for.
FIFA is the ultimate administrative authority for association football, or soccer. The organisation is responsible for governing all aspects of the global game, with its duties including regulating the rules of play, organising international competitions such as the World Cup, overseeing international player transfers, and setting up international standards for refereeing and coaching.
Since its inception, FIFA has aimed to grow the game internationally, increasing the number of people playing football and advocating for greater accessibility and fair play across the globe.
And while the organisation weren't the ones who came up with the official Laws of the Game — these were established by English public school footballers way back in the 1860s — FIFA are also responsible for implementing the Laws across all competitions.
Clearly then, the world football governing body is seen as an influential symbol of authority; but where does the organisation's name come from?
If you're wondering what FIFA stands for in English, you must first understand its original meaning. FIFA is an acronym, but it was created in the French language, standing for Federation Internationale de Football Association.
As you can probably imagine, this translates roughly as the International Federation of Football Association, broadly summarising FIFA's role as the federation responsible for overseeing the management and development of association football on an international scale. The reason the organisation's name is in French is because alongside a number of other mostly Northern European nations, France was a key founding member of FIFA.
FIFA was founded in 1904 by representatives from the national football associations of Belgium, France, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. The governing body was built to oversee and promote international competition between the member nations, and since then its membership has expanded far beyond those initial eight countries.
Today, there are 211 national associations comprised within FIFA, with each national association also existing under the banner of a regional confederation based on continent: CAF (Africa), AFC (Asia and Australia), UEFA (Europe), CONCACAF (North & Central America and the Caribbean), OFC (Oceania), and CONMEBOL (South America).
The increased popularity of international football fixtures around the turn of the 20th century was what sparked the need for a world governing body. It was on 21 May 1904 at a meeting in the back of the headquarters of the Union des Societies Francaises de Sports Athletiques (USFSA) in Paris that the organisation was created.
The first president was French founder Robert Guerin, who was replaced in 1906 by Daniel Burley Woolfall from England.
In the following years, FIFA membership expanded beyond Europe, with early additions from outside the continent including South Africa, Argentina, Chile and the USA; then in 1930, the first FIFA World Cup was set up in Uruguay as a way of pitting some of the world's best international teams against each other.
FIFA is the main organisation responsible for governing the global game, so it's hard to overstate the importance of its role. Probably the thing FIFA is most famous for is the organising of international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup (an annual men's football competition which sees clubs from each continent compete against each other for a trophy).
FIFA chooses the host nation for each tournament, and this decision-making process has come under huge scrutiny in recent years following the FBI investigation into substantial bribes being accepted by FIFA executives in exchange for votes for hosting rights.
However, the role of the world football governing body goes beyond just planning the World Cup and other FIFA tournaments. The organisation employs a wide network of people from over 35 nations and is comprised of a Congress, an Executive Committee, an Administrative Body and various committees that assist the Executive Committee.
The FIFA Congress, an assembly of representatives from each member association, is its supreme body — here, decisions are made relating to governing policies and how they should be implemented, the acceptance of new national associations, and the timing and results of elections, with each FIFA President and General Secretary chosen by the Congress.
According to FIFA, there is also a philanthropic duty at the heart of the organisation; FIFA states that it uses football as a tool to encourage social integration amongst communities around the world, enhancing playing opportunities and increasing participation in sport, with an ultimate mission to "develop the game, touch the world, and build a better future".
So, who is the figurehead currently in charge of guiding this mission?
The current president of FIFA is Gianni Infantino, a Swiss-Italian football administrator who cut his teeth at UEFA before joining FIFA's Reform Committee following the corruption scandal and becoming President in February 2016. Since then, he has faced several moments of controversy; just months after becoming president he was interviewed by the FIFA Ethics Committee over a suspected breaking of the FIFA code of ethics, and in 2018, he accepted an Order of Friendship medal given to him by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
More recently, some of his more misjudged and insensitive public comments — including declaring bizarrely before the controversial Qatar World Cup: "Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled" — have received criticism from many.
He has also been a vocal advocate of various sweeping format changes to FIFA tournaments and competitions. There are plans in place to expand to a 48-team World Cup and a 32-team Club World Cup format, increasing the number of nations that can be involved in these competitions but arguably reducing their quality and prestige as a result.
Infantino is not the only FIFA president who has split opinion; far from it. Before him, Sepp Blatter (impeached in 2015 following a 17-year spell at the top of the organisation) had his reputation tarnished irrevocably by his involvement in FIFA's FBI investigation for corruption.
Before Blatter, other FIFA presidents have included Brazil's Joao Havelange (1974-1998), Englishman Stanley Rous (1961-1974) and the French administrator Jules Rimet (the man who gave his name to the first ever World Cup trophy, whose reign from 1921 to 1954 makes him the longest-serving FIFA president of all time).
The headquarters of FIFA are located in Switzerland's capital, Zurich.
They are situated on the Zurichberg, a wooded hill in District 7 which has served as the home of FIFA since the complex was created in 2006. Here, there are extensive offices, as well as a fitness centre, a meditation room, a full-size international football pitch, various outdoor parks, and a full-size beach football pitch (FIFA is also the official governing body of beach football and futsal).
Much of the work done at the FIFA headquarters is done underground, with the main building only having two upper levels but five underground levels. This bunker layout is largely a result of Sepp Blatter's vision, with the former FIFA president once stating that "Places where people make decisions should only contain indirect light… because the light should come from the people themselves who are assembled there."
The history and background of FIFA is also recorded at a public facility in the same city, Zurich. The FIFA Museum is a football museum operated by the world governing body, across town from the private headquarters at Tessinerplatz in the heart of Zurich.
The FIFA Museum was opened on 28 February 2016, after a lengthy development project that reportedly cost over $500m. Initially, plans for the museum, which is dedicated to "the history of world football" were drawn up in 2012 by the FIFA Executive Committee and president Blatter, and the following year a 40-year lease was signed for the museum's location which allowed it to open to the public.
If you'd like to find out more about one of the specific tournaments organised by the international football governing body, check out our in-depth guide to the FIFA Club World Cup.